COLUMBIA, S.C. — Temperatures are in the 70s, rain is in the forecast, and no freezes are expected through at least mid-March. Tomato plants have officially hit the shelves at some stores and this might have some gardeners ready to open up the garden for summer. While there are plenty of frost hardy plants that can safely be grown now, it's too early to keep the warm weather crops in their permanent spots this early in the season.
The growing season officially begins on the date of the last freeze. It's the official end to winter for gardeners because tender plants will no longer be killed by the cold after this date. Of course there's no way to predict exactly when the last freeze will happen, but on average the growing season begins in late March in the South Carolina Midlands.
Many winters, especially in recent years, have ended much earlier than average. In 2016 and in 2012, Columbia recorded the last freezing temperature of the winter in February! Spring is a very flirty month in the southeast. That's why even during mild winters, gardeners can't rule out a quick late freeze that ruins everything.
Freezing temperatures as late as April aren't unheard of. It's actually more common to have a last freeze in April than a last freeze in February in the South Carolina Midlands. Since 2000, Columbia has reported freezing temperatures in April 4 times, most recently on April 3, 2019 (just last year!).
While the weather is warm enough to confidently purchase tender vegetables and keep them in their pots, avoid planting tender plants in the ground until the end of March (and hold off even longer if our forecast for the first week of April is looking freezing cold).
In Gandy's Garden we planted Spinach, Broccoli, Peas, and Arugula seeds in January and February and transplanted lettuce plants. These are perfect March plants for the garden and are compliment the parsley and collard greens that are still green
It's possible that we are finished with freezing temperatures and the growing season has officially started in the Midlands. In fact, in 1908, the growing season started on February 8th!