What to Plant Right Now

Take advantage of southwest Missouri’s long planting seasons, and choose colorful plants that will spruce up your beds all year long.

by Lucy Caile, Katie McWilliams, Katie Pollock Estes, Michelle Lewis

Mar 2024

Four marigolds in full bloom
Photo courtesy Baker Creek Heirloom SeedsMarigolds are not only beautiful, but also work well as pest repellents in a vegetable garden.
When to Grow

What to Plant in Spring

Experienced and aspiring home gardeners, listen up. It’s almost time for you to start getting your hands dirty in the soil and working on your vegetable garden. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the estimated date for the last spring frost in southwest Missouri is April 10. That means you should be able to safely plant seeds and starts in the ground without having to worry that a late-season frost will wipe them out prematurely. (Of course, this is an estimate. Mother Nature does what she wants.)

Test Your Soil

Ideally by now, you’ve already tended to your soil. If not, don’t worry. The University of Missouri’s Greene County extension office is super helpful when it comes to soil prep. You can bring a sample in, and they’ll report back with your soil’s level of pH, phosphorous, organic matter and more with treatment recommendations for how to improve your soil for your growing goals. Adding fertilizer or other materials to prep your soil for growing could make all the difference in how productive your plants are. With local pros who can guide you along the way, digging into soil health is a no-brainer.

Start with Seeds

At Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. (2278 Baker Creek Road, Mansfield, 417-924-8917), you can find a huge variety of vegetable and flower seeds, many of them rare heirloom varieties that can add some funky colors and interesting flavors to your garden. The Springfield company’s website is super-handy, with descriptions of the flavor and hardiness of the plants and helpful reviews from customers. But we recommend visiting the seed store in person, so you can flip through seed packets and peek at the farm. The spot hosts numerous events too.

Start with Plants

If you would rather grow from starter plants instead of seeds, there are lots of places that can get you started. Most local nurseries, like Schaffitzel’s Flowers & Greenhouses, Wheeler Gardens and also Wickman’s Garden Village have tons of flowers and plants—both annuals and perennials—that you can transplant into your home flower beds and pots. And they can help you determine what will work in your space if you let them know how much sun or shade the plants will get.

At the Annual Master Gardener Plant Sale on April 29, 2023 (starting at 8 a.m. at the Mizumoto Japanese Stroll Garden Pavilion, 2400 S. Scenic Ave., Springfield), you can spruce up your flower beds or veggie gardens by buying plants from the pros. Expect to see everything from ground cover and perennial flowers to herbs and veggies. They even have shrubs and trees.

So get out and shop for the little plants that will help you make up for lost time in your backyard garden. Whether you’re looking for large green foliage or blooming flowers, these bulbs will put your spirits in a sunshine daydream.


Canna bulbs thrive in a moist setting with full sun but can be grown in partial shade, says Lynne Reynolds from Wheeler Gardens & Florist. Best of all, cannas require very little maintenance once planted, and after they bloom, the flowers are perfect for bouquets.

Elephant Ear

“Favoring rich, moist soil, elephant ear bulbs can be grown in full sun or filtered sun or shade depending on variety,” Reynolds says. Although they do not have a bloom, these plants provide great foliage and mix well with vibrant-colored flowers. Plant the bulbs 5 to 6 inches below ground level and water frequently during dry spells. Not seeing much growth? Not to worry—elephant ear bulbs grow slowly, says Kathy McFarland with Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.


Correct water and nutrients are crucial in the early life of caladium bulbs. Fertilize soil before or after planting to strengthen bulbs for next season. Keep bulbs moist but not so wet that they’ll rot, Reynolds says. If you’re unsure, err on the drier side. Plant the bulbs 1 inch below the ground and four to six inches apart for the best results.


Offered in a wide variety of colors, lilies are perfect for customizing your garden. Oriental, Asiatic or Madonna lilies offer a summer bloom, and Reynolds says their one requirement is well-drained soil. Plant the bulbs six to eight inches beneath the surface and watch their beauty come to life. To strengthen their droopy stems, McFarland recommends stalking the plants as they grow taller.

What to Plant in the Summer

If a vegetable garden is more your speed, summer is the perfect time to plant for some attractive blooms on those veggie plants. Okra plants make beautiful lotus-type flowers, while runner beans produce lovely itty bitty flowers. The meaty blooms that grow on zucchini plants look nice but are edible to (try them battered and fried.)

Here are some more ideas to help you decide what to plant in July and August to have a delicious fall harvest.

When to plant:
the first week of August
Days until harvest: 55 to 65
How to use them: Roasted beets are flavorful and so simple to prepare. Once you’ve made them, you can use them a variety of ways, like as a salad topper or a side dish. Our favorite, though, is serving them chilled with goat cheese and herbs. Raw beets make great juice blends, too (if juicing is your thing). Although raw beets store well, you can make them last even longer if you try pickling. It’s easier than you might think, and it is a great way to preserve a bumper crop.

When to plant:
late July to early August
Days until harvest: 70 to 80
How to use it: Pretty much everyone knows how to cook this calcium-filled veggie. But there are some perhaps less-obvious applications than the steamed, stir-fried or roasted options you’re used to. Mince them and mix them with an egg, breadcrumbs, cheese and seasoning, then form them into “tots” that you can bake in the oven for healthy finger food.

Brussel Sprouts
When to plant:
late July to early August
Days until harvest: 60 to 90
How to use them: Quick fry them in a super-hot pan with lemon juice and garlic, and you can’t go wrong. The smell alone is intoxicating. But Brussels sprouts offer a lot of freedom to experiment. They are delicious raw, shaved into a salad or slaw. They can be tossed whole onto a barbecue grill and cooked alongside your protein. And perhaps the easiest application: Roasting them in the oven. Perfection.

When to plant:
Late August
Days from planting to harvest: 60 to 80
How to use them: Because they’re the ultimate snack veggie, you could just munch on your carrot harvest. Or you can make a tasty slaw with some warm spices. Try adding pumpkin seeds and curry powder to mix it up. They taste great together.

Lettuce and Salad Greens
When to plant:
early to mid-August
Days until harvest: 35 to 50
How to use them: There are so many varieties of lettuce that you can plant that will thrive in southwest Missouri and create a plentiful fall harvest. Experiment with different leafy veggies to see what you like best in your salads: spicy arugula, tender butterhead lettuce and crunchy loose leaf lettuce. Toss them with some fresh herbs and your favorite toppings for something way more delicious than the bagged salad you get at the store.

When to plant:
anytime in August
Days until harvest: 25 to 35
How to use them: Pickle these pups! A quick and easy pickling recipe for classic red radishes calls for vinegar, salt, sugar, red pepper flakes, cilantro and fresh jalapeño. The result is something spicy and tart that looks as good as it tastes on top of homemade tacos.

When to plant:
early to mid-August
Days until harvest: 40 to 50
How to use it: There are the obvious applications (like salads), but spinach is also fun to use for creative entrees. Purchase some pre-made phyllo dough, and make a batch of spanakopita. The savory Greek pastry is packed with this green leafy vegetable, along with pungent feta cheese. It’s a great, shareable way to show off your harvest.

When to plant:
late July to mid-August
Days until harvest: 50 to 60
How to use them: Gather up a variety of root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes), the ground meat of your choice and lots of fresh herbs, celery and other flavor-makers, and whip up a dish of shepherd’s pie topped with mashed potatoes.

Winter Squash
When to plant:
late may to early June
Days from planting to harvest: 60 to 110
How to use it: Despite it's name, Winter Squash is a great choice for summer planting. We recommend you get your hands on some acorn squash. If you slice them in half and de-seed them, you can roast them in the oven and then stuff with a rice and sausage mixture.

What to Plant in the Fall

While most gardeners plant vegetables in late spring or the summer months, there are many vegetables that can flourish in colder temperatures. Local University of Missouri horticulture specialist Kelly McGowan has five fall vegetables for you to plant this year. She says to ensure you have plenty to harvest, plant these vegetables with enough time to start growing before frost hits.


Lettuce is a plant that has numerous varieties, is easy to grow and is great for fall temperatures. Place lettuce seeds right into your soil and make sure to keep them watered as the season goes on. If there is a freeze warning, cover your plants until the next morning. Once the leaves are out of the ground and around three to four inches in height, they are ready to harvest. McGowan recommends only harvesting what you need at the time of harvest to allow the lettuce to continue to grow and create a more bountiful harvest.


As the temperature of the soil drops in the fall, the sweetness level of carrots increases. This makes them an excellent choice for fall planting, says McGowan. Direct sow your carrot seeds into the soil and thin the plants to about one inch between each once they start to sprout. While carrots are cold-weather hardy, McGowan encourages covering them on frosty nights. You’ll know carrots are ready to harvest when you see the top of the carrot poke out of the ground.


Garlic is a highly recommended vegetable to plant during the fall. “Garlic will survive all winter and be ready for harvest in June or July,” says McGowan. Plant individual garlic cloves one to two inches apart and place a layer of straw over the soil. Next year, when the bottom leaves of the plant start to brown, it means it’s time to harvest.

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar snap peas are a climbing plant; after planting seeds directly in the ground place something in your garden to help them climb. If frost is predicted, make sure your pea plants are covered.


Parsley is more cold hardy than people realize, says McGowan. Seeds can be started indoors or directly sown into your garden. If parsley is not something you enjoy, other herbs like cilantro and chives will do great in the garden this time of year.

Other Veggies to Try

Broccoli, beets and a variety of greens including arugula, kale, spinach, collard greens and tatsoi can handle the colder temperatures wonderfully if planted in early September.

Kale and collard greens should be started six to eight weeks before the first frost, and spinach should be started four to six weeks before the first frost. Kale and spinach can survive temperatures down to 10 degrees, and collard greens can survive down to 5 degrees.

After the Harvest

Of course, when your fall vegetables are ready to be harvested you need to know how to prepare or preserve them so your hard work does not go to waste. If you want to save your vegetables for later, try closing them in a vacuum-sealed bag and placing them in the freezer until you’re ready to use. Or, use up your fresh greens by making a hearty, Tuscan kale soup or kale pesto that you can eat or freeze for later.

Plant Some Bulbs

When it comes to flowers, if you’re just starting your gardening efforts in the spring you’re going to miss out on one of the season’s prettiest payoffs: the first flower bulbs bursting out of the ground. To ensure those early spring delights add color to your yard, get started in the fall. In October plant tulips, crocus, iris, daffodils, hyacinths and other perennial bulbs in the ground.

They’ll stretch out their roots under the earth all winter long and reward you with bright pinks, oranges and violets as soon as the weather warms up.

Once you’ve purchased your bulbs, plant them as soon as you can. (If you have any unplanted bulbs, you’ll need to store them in a cool, dry place.) Then give them a nice long drink from the garden hose and cover them with mulch. After that, you can sit back and forget about them until they pop up in the spring.

What to Plant in Winter

You might be surprised to know that many greens grow well once planted outdoors or sown indoors through the final days of unwelcome frost.

Start your garden’s harvest at a slow and steady pace by planting greens known for toughing out cooler weather like peas, lettuce and arugula. Spinach is a good choice to start with if you’re beginning really early, as it is cold tolerant and often planted during the final days of the fall and through the winter seasons. Late winter is also a great time to start planting kale. This hardy green has the richest flavor after it’s harvested in the thick of cold weather, but you can also plant the seeds inside and set out young kale plants just before spring begins.

Other veggies you might consider fitting into your planting schedule before the spring heat arrives are Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.

If you’re really serious about getting your garden going, you can invest in season extending devices such as cold frames, hot beds, cloches or floating row covers. Several plants can thrive just as well with more budget-friendly tools like indoor planters, so there’s no one-size-fits-all technique for gardeners to use as they brave the chilly conditions.

Ready to get started? Use local resources like the extensive seed options at Mansfield-based Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and the seeds and starts that will soon start to fill the aisles at your favorite nurseries like Schaffitzel’s Greenhouse and Wickman’s Garden Village.

Southwest Missouri Winter Favorites

Eastern Wahoo

This large shrub-like tree can grow up to 25 feet tall and is often confused with another (and invasive!) species called burning bush. That’s no surprise thanks to the fiery color it takes on during colder months. But unlike burning bush, the Eastern Wahoo is native to southwest Missouri. Starting in fall and extending into winter, it erupts with flowery, four-lobed purpley-red fruit. As cute and temptingly plump as these little fruits are, they are not edible to humans. The birds, however, love them.

American Holly

This classic symbol of Christmas is native to the southeastern United States but grows really well in Missouri. Plus, it’s covered in lovely little bursts of color during the winter months. It has the familiar pointed (and honestly quite prickly!) leaves that are thick and waxy year-round. But the bright red berries come out in the winter. If you’re lucky enough to have one in your yard, you can pluck some of the leaf bundles off to decorate during the holidays.

Southern Magnolia

Another southern tree that can thrive in the Ozarks is the Southern Magnolia. Unlike other varieties of deciduous magnolia that we see bursting with blooms in the spring and dropping their leaves in the fall, the Southern Magnolia is an evergreen. That means its huge and glossy leaves will hold their color and stay on the trees year-round. Its wide, buttery, white flowers are visible only in warm months, but the seed pods and any fallen leaves can be dried and make great additions to winter floral and greenery arrangements.

American Beautyberry

Starting in early fall, the American Beautyberry shrub begins to produce clusters of deep purple berries that hang on well into the winter. If you’re feeling really industrious, you can even collect the berries and use them to make jelly. Bonus for the warmer months: This plant also repels mosquitos, giving you a summertime bonus as well. Native to the southern United States, including Missouri, this shrub can grow up to 5 to 9 feet tall.


Hawthorns are native to the Eastern United States, with Missouri on its far western range. Although this plant grows some pretty gnarly thorns, hence its name, it also pops with color thanks to its bright red berries. They appear in September and October and hang on through the winter. In the spring, the plant will erupt with clusters of white flowers.

Photos courtesy Shutterstock
Photos courtesy Shutterstock
Photos courtesy Shutterstock
Photos courtesy Shutterstock

Where to Buy Your Bulbs

Here are a few places you can pick up your plants for the spring.