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 What's the Difference? Cool Season and Warm Season Crops

If you’re new to gardening in Kansas, you’ll need to know that there are a wide variety of temperatures during the growing season. So, we have cool season and warm season crops.
Cool season crops like it when it’s cool. They tolerate a small amount of frost, and they germinate (start growing) when it’s cooler. Then, when it gets hot, they usually go to seed and they’re done for the season. The good thing is that we can grow cool season crops twice in Kansas – once in the spring and again in the fall.
Here is some lettuce that has just been seeded. Lettuce is a cool season crop. It likes it cool. Most salad crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, green onions, and Swiss chard all like cool temperatures. These types of crops can be planted in March or early April, and you’ll have a salad by the end of May.
The other important point about cool season crops is that you can stagger the plantings and extend the growing season. This lettuce is up and growing, so you can plant another row or two now. Then, in ten days it will be as tall as these original rows, and you’ll have continuous cropping. Just remember, cool season crops like cool weather: March, April, September and October. They’ll grow in the cool weather months and tolerate a small amount of frost. 
However, many of our other crops are warm season crops. Tomatoes are everyone’s favorite garden vegetable, and they’re the perfect example of a warm season crop. They don’t like cold weather, and you can’t plant them until the chance of frost is past. And, they thrive when the weather is hot.
Other examples of warm season crops include: peppers, eggplants, sweet corn, cantaloupe, melons, and cucumbers. They all like it when it’s warm. If you plant them too early, the seed may not germinate. You have to have patience and wait until it’s warm enough.
So, how do you know when to plant these vegetables? K-State has a helpful, new publication called the Kansas Garden Guide. In the back of the Kansas Garden Guide you’ll find a calendar that shows when to plant and when to harvest a variety of vegetables. For instance, with cool season crops, it shows when to plant them in the spring, and when to plant them in the fall.
So, if you’re just getting started, and you’re not sure when to plant vegetables in Kansas, take a look at the Kansas Garden Guide. And remember, we have cool season and warm season vegetables in Kansas.
This feature story prepared with Evelyn Neier, Kansas State University Research and Extension Youth Gardening Specialist, 4-H Youth Development. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.