How to Grow Vegetables in the Midwest

Growing vegetable in the northern and central Midwest is fraught with challenges. The growing season is short, the winters are severe and the annual rainfall is decidedly unpredictable. The good news: you can adapt your approach to vegetable gardening and successfully grow vegetables in this region; it just takes a little more effort and an earlier start than in other more temperate climates.


  1. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 1
    Decide during the winter which types of vegetables, fruits, and herbs you wish to grow. Take into account the size of your garden and the amount of sunlight it gets.
  2. 2
    Calculate how much space your vegetables will require by the time they mature. You may have to pare down your list or enlarge your garden space.
  3. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 3
    Buy all the seeds you will need to plant your garden. Order seeds from a seed catalog or visit your local greenhouse nursery for seeds (and for transplants in late spring).
  4. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 4
    Start sowing seeds indoors no later than February. You will have to start all seeds indoors that require a long maturation; vegetables like like cool weather, such as spinach, can be sown directly in the ground in early spring.
    • Germinate seeds in peat pots, small clay flower pots or a shallow pan.
    • Water the seeds thoroughly, but gently using a fine mist spray bottle.
    • Place the containers in a sunny window that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. You can supplement sunlight with fluorescent tube lighting. Place the lights about 8” (203.2 mm) above the seed containers.
    • Seal off all drafts from the window and keep the room reasonably warm or the seeds won’t sprout.
    • Keep the soil moist; never let the soil dry out.
    • Transplant your seedlings to larger containers once they have developed leaves.
    • Harden your plants gradually or several weeks before you put them in the ground. Hardening, or toughening, prepares your vegetables to withstand the outdoor weather. You can harden the plants by placing them outside on a porch or patio for a few hours each day, or by decreasing the amount of water you’ve been giving them. Lowering the temperature in the room they grow in will also help toughen them up.
  5. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 5
    Test your garden soil to make sure it contains all the proper nutrients. Contact your local agricultural extension service to see if they perform soil samples, otherwise check your local garden store to see if they offer that service.
  6. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 6
    Amend your soil as needed. This often means simply adding organic compost matter to enrich the soil.
  7. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 7
    Plant all cool-season vegetables and herbs as soon as the ground can be worked. These can be planted before danger of frost is over.
  8. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 8
    Transplant your hardened seedlings after all danger of frost is over. In some parts of the Midwest, you may not be able to do this until mid-June.
  9. Image titled Grow Vegetables in the Midwest Step 9
    Keep your garden mulched. A thick layer of mulch around the plants will help the soil retain moisture and control weeds.


  • Cover your indoor seed starts with clear plastic wrap. The plastic will diffuse the light and help hold in moisture.
  • Try planting tall vegetables on the east side of your garden and planting shorter ones on the west side so that the taller plants will eventually shade the shorter ones.
  • Root vegetables can stay in the ground after a frost, but you should dig them up before the ground gets frozen or mulch them very heavily so that you can continue to dig up your root vegetables in the winter.


  • Consider your time and energy levels. Start with a small garden and see how well you can tend it. Once you have a feel for how much time and labor is required, you can start expanding the size of your garden.
  • Pay attention the directions on the seed packages, particularly about the planting depth. If you plant seeds too deep or too shallow, they may not germinate at all.
  • Inspect your plants at least once per week to see if there are any pests or bugs eating them. You can mix dish detergent or a mild children’s shampoo with water and spray the leaves. This simple mixture repels garden pests without hurting your vegetables or coating them with harmful pesticides.

Things You’ll Need

  • Seeds
  • Planting trays or pots
  • Potting soil
  • Fluorescent lights (optional)
  • Shovel or tiller
  • Garden trowel
  • Hoe

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Growing Vegetables