In Tennessee, long summers and mild winters mean growing your own produce is relatively easy, even if you don’t have a green thumb.
Why should you?
- Growing vegetables, herbs and fruit makes eating fresh foods easier and more affordable.
- Gardening is an activity the whole family can do together.
- It gives you more control over what goes into your food, which is great if you’re trying to eat organic or pesticide-free foods.
One key to gardening at home is knowing what grows well in Tennessee when.
Here are 3 ways you’ll be most likely to succeed:
Lesson #1: Start small
Don’t plant everything
Seeing beautiful seed packet photos and blooming plants may inspire you to want to grow everything, but getting overwhelmed and killing your whole crop is the fastest way to burn out on gardening. Try growing a few things, see which succeed and add on to those next year.
Let an expert get you started
Seed packets are often the cheapest way to start a garden, but they can also be difficult to grow. Consider purchasing young plants that a gardener or farmer has already sprouted so you know your produce has taken hold. If you do use seeds, remember many need to be started indoors during cold months preceding spring.
Lesson #2: Know what will grow
Tennessee gets plenty of sun and rain, so it’s good for gardening in general.
The farther south you go in the state, the longer the growing season gets.
Excluding the mountains, Tennessee is considered a humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and cool, mild winters. Even so, some things will not grow here — citrus, avocado, romaine lettuce — so understanding which plants are hardy (able to survive unfavorable growing conditions) is key.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) classifies the country into hardiness zones based on average low temperatures. While some experts can grow plants outside their zones, new gardeners will be more successful selecting plants zoned for their area. Tennessee’s zones range from 5-8 with most of major cities falling into zone 7.
These dates are the last time Tennessee’s largest cities are likely to have a killing frost (one that will wipe out anything not hardy to your zone).
Late April (21-30)
Early May (1-10)
Late May (11-20)
- Johnson City
If you do experience a cold snap once you’ve planted your produce, bring potted plants inside and cover outdoor plants for the best chance of survival.
Lesson #3: Know when to plant
Since Tennessee spans 4 zones, planting schedules vary. Below are, in general, the best times to plant spring crops in Tennessee, starting with the earliest possible planting date (dates will shift later as you travel east across the state). To find your exact planting dates, click here.
Late March/Early April
- Swiss Chard
Late April/Early May
- Bell Pepper
- Herbs (Basil, Chives, Mint, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage)
Late May/Early June
- Sweet Potato
No matter what you grow, remember: plants must be watered frequently and liberally to survive Tennessee’s scorching summers.
For information on how to prepare your homegrown produce, click here.
Want to get serious about gardening? Check out the University of Tennessee’s home gardening guide.