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by | May 10, 2022 | Gardening, Resources

Find Your Frost Dates

The first sunny, 60-degree Michigan day is a highly-coveted and celebrated time of year. Michiganders everywhere rejoice when we finally get a chance to say goodbye to iced water troughs and pitch-black morning adventures in snow-capped barns and coops. We know the thaw is fleeting, and snow is likely to fall again soon, but for those first few warm spring days, we allow ourselves to get lost in dreams of green and bountiful harvests.

Every experienced Michigan homesteader, however, knows midwest weather is tricky and can be deceiving. Temperatures rise to the 80’s one minute and fall to the 20’s the next. This is why knowing your frost date is critical to avoiding loss and hardship in the garden. Frost dates are calculated by keeping track of the average date when frost is first and last expected in your area. While not a guarantee, frost dates can be helpful with spring planting and final harvest. 

Last Frost Dates for Spring Plantings

Springtime in Michigan is fickle and filled with a variety of weather patterns. From snowstorms to thunderstorms, beach days to nestling beside the fire, and hail to high winds, Michiganders can rely on only one thing during the spring growing season: unpredictability. Circumvent early-season seedling loss by familiarizing yourself with your area’s estimated last frost date. 

Michigan State University provides a last frost date chart that includes percentages based on the likelihood your area will experience a frost on the indicated date. For the least-risky option, follow the dates listed on the far right of the chart, labeled “Last.” This “last” date gives you the best probability against experiencing a hard frost in your area when temperatures dip at or below 32 degrees and threaten to kill your tender garden plants. 

Check the back of your seed packets or spend a little time online researching your specific varieties to learn whether to start your seeds indoors or plant them directly in the ground. Most seed companies provide clear instructions for best planting practices and reference a specific window of ideal planting time to get your plants started on the right foot and avoid frost loss. 

First Frost Dates for Fall Harvest

Michigan’s 6 different USDA hardiness zones offer a wide variety of harvesting possibilities, including springtime snap peas, summertime tomatoes, and autumn pumpkin patches. We want to make the most of our growing season by planting and harvesting as much as we can before the snow flies and ground freezes. Keep track of your area’s average first frost date to ensure your kitchen table is overflowing with bounty. Use your seeds’ “days to maturity” or “time to harvest” information to plan your fall garden and allow plenty of time to harvest before the tender, well-earned fruits of your labor are frozen solid.   


Frost Dates and Garden Clean Up

The last thing any Michigan homesteader wants is to miss a harvest by cleaning their beds up too early or too late. Use your last frost dates to plan spring garden cleanup and ensure your beds are primed and ready to go by your area’s ideal planting time. Use average first frost dates to plan fall clean up and prepare your beds for their long winter sleep.

Frost Dates and House Plants

For many of us, the first sign of spring is moving all of our tender houseplants outside. Last and first frost dates indicate the perfect time to make the big move in or outdoors. Keep in mind that your average last and first frost dates are not guaranteed! Protect your heirloom ferns, spider plants, and succulents by following the most conservative frost date timelines and keeping a close eye on your local forecast.  

It’s tempting to get your seedlings in the ground as soon as that spring sunshine hits your face or start a fall garden when you’re basking in the heat of a Michigan September, but taking time to understand your homestead’s microclimate is vital to keeping your precious seedlings alive and harvests healthy. Familiarize yourself with your local average first and last frost dates, and don’t be afraid to experiment! Plant extra seeds to mitigate losses while you hone in on which planting dates works best for your individual homestead and try seasonal extension to grow garden goodies late into the fall season. Your garden, pantry, and harvest table will thank you! 



About the Author

Jen Buck owns Dancing Feathers Farm in Bloomingdale, Michigan. Her first-generation family farmstead produces cut flowers, heirloom veggies, dairy goats, handmade salves, and coconut oil soaps. Jen’s favorite activities include riding horses, dancing, and learning new things.

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