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Cold-hardy Vegetables and Flowers for Minnesota’s Short Spring

If you’re anything like me, I spend much of February and March dreaming about gardening, and I clear out space in my home for my modest seed-starting setup. The months of April and May are spent checking the garden almost daily after work to see which early perennials may have poked through the soil.

Despite my excitement about the gardening season, and the fact that meteorological spring starts March 1, it’s often much too cold to even think about getting out into the garden. Even in a mild Minnesota winter, the Twin Cities average date for last frost is mid-May, and it can be well into June for the most northern parts of the state.

Trying to work in your garden too early can put sleeping pollinators at risk of emerging before there is enough food for them. There are, however, ways to ensure you have some flower color to start the season and even a start on planting vegetables.

Sow some cool-season vegetables as early as the later part of April. While you’ll want to wait on putting the tomatoes and peppers in your vegetable garden, these cool-season vegetables can be planted in the ground from seed:

  • Lettuces

  • Arugula

  • Radishes

  • Peas

  • Kohlrabi

  • Beets

  • Turnips

These cool-season vegetables can be planted outdoors just before the last frost, but seeds need to be started indoors for at least 6-8 weeks:

  • Kale

  • Broccoli

  • Cauliflower

  • Swiss chard

  • Collards

Another option for starting these cool-season vegetables is to try winter sowing. This should happen about the same time you’d start seed indoors, and only requires a few simple items, including plastic gallon jugs. For more information about winter sowing, check out these articles from the Minnesota State Horticultural Society and Penn State Extension.

Plan ahead by planting spring perennials in late summer/fall

September and early October can be great times to plant perennials, especially if scattering seeds of Minnesota’s native flowering plants. It is also the time to plant your spring bulbs.

Flowering plants that are native to Minnesota provide important food for native pollinators. Native seeds need to go through a cold-stratification process, so directly sowing them in the fall will work best. For more information on seed stratification indoors, see Ramsey County Master Gardener Joe Baltrukonis’s 2022 article, “All About Seed Stratification.”

An important thing to note is that some natives may not bloom their first year, but if you’re patient enough to let them fill in, you won’t be disappointed when their delicate pop of color shows up. Some popular and relatively easy-to-find, early-blooming (as early as April!) Minnesota native flowers include:

For shade:

  • Snow trillium

  • Wood anemone

  • Dutchman's breeches

  • Canadian wild ginger

  • Trout lily

  • Virginia bluebells

  • Bloodroot

  • Early meadow rue

  • Rue anemone

  • Large-flowered bellwort

  • Jack in the pulpit

  • Wild columbine

For sun/part-sun:

  • Pussytoes

  • American pasqueflower

  • Prairie shooting star

  • Prairie smoke

Spring bulbs and rhizomes are best planted in the fall. These include crocus, tulip, narcissus/daffodil, hyacinth, and iris. For more information on planning for and planting spring bulbs, see Ramsey County Master Gardener

Elizabeth Lorenz’s September 2023 article, “Spring Flowering Bulbs: A Primer.”

You may be wondering about annual flowers, but unless they are covered and protected, they cannot withstand frost. Many annuals can be winter sown, or you can start them indoors. Just be sure to keep them safe from our late frosts.


Lahr Schier, Mary. “Winter Sowing Seeds for Your Vegetable Garden.” Minnesota State Horticultural Society, 14 Jan. 2013,

“Minnesota Wildflowers Blooming in April.” Minnesota Wildflowers,

“Starting Seeds in Winter.” Penn State Extension, 13 July 2021,

“Vegetable Seeds.” Seed Savers Exchange,

Writer Biography:

Melissa Andersen (she/her/hers) is an educator and a gardener, particularly interested in native plants and pollinator-friendly garden practices. She has been with the Ramsey Country Master Gardener program since 2019.


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