It is important to know when to plant your vegetable garden so that your plants do not get damaged by frost or stunted by cold temperatures at night.
I will discuss many popular plants that you may grow and what you can do if you plant early to protect your plants.
To Know When to Plant your Vegetable Garden you must Know the growing zone you live in
The USDA zone map will tell you what zone you live in and when frost dates are in your area. This map should be updated with changes that have occurred over the last few years to our climate. To do this it is recommended that you adjust your zone by 1/2 to 1 zone change. For example is, I live in zone 8b but I would adjust based on climate change to 9a or 9b for a more accurate zone rating.
How to protect your plants from frost
The best protection is to wait until you are past the last frost date for your area. If you have planted and frost is due in your area you should protect your plants with some type of frost protection.
Here are some different types of frost protection you can use in your garden.
Frost Protection Fabric or Cloth
This is a light cloth that will protect plants from a light frost but not a deep freeze, the nice thing about this product is that it allows light to penetrate so that you can leave it on all day as long as it is not going to get to warm. If it is going to get very warm during the day you can open it to allow good airflow to keep plants from getting over-heated.
This covering can also keep damaging insects from getting access to your plants so it is a dual-purpose protection for your plants.
This is another product that can protect your individual plants from frost and cooler temperatures.
Tomatoes are sensitive and need protection from cooler temperatures, if possible wait until after the last frost, if you plant and frost is due in your area you need to protect with frost fabric bags that can be opened at the top to allow airflow in the warm afternoon temperatures.
Cucumbers are very sensitive and I would highly recommend you wait to plant until you are beyond the last frost date, I usually plant in late May to early June in Pacific Northwest.
Peppers are sensitive and I usually plant at the same time as my tomatoes or use fabric or domes to protect them if planted in late April or early May.
Peas are one of the vegetables that you can plant early before last frost date, I will plant my peas outdoors in late February or early March so that I have a spring harvest.
Beans need a warm soil temperature and they will grow rapidly so they should not be planted until temperatures warm in late May to early June.
Spinach and Lettuce
These are plants that you can plant early as long as it is light frost and not a freeze, I usually will plant these in the garden in early Spring when there is still a chance of frost but after any chance of a freeze.
Squash is sensitive so I recommend waiting until the last frost date has passed, if you plant early you should use frost fabric anytime the temperature dips to close to 32 degrees.
To be safe the best protection is to wait to plant until the last chance of frost in your area has passed. The second best protection is to use some type of dome or frost protector to cover your plants at night and in the early morning hours when it is the coldest part of the day.
If you plant early you risk damage to the plant or stunting the plant for growth and production.
I would recommend you keep frost fabric on hand just in case you have planted and frost is forecast for your area. You do not want to lose your plants after planting while adding to your cost and delaying your harvest.
The When to Plant Your Vegetable Garden article has been filled with lots of information to get you started on the right path.