High Tunnel Planting Scheduling – Working Out a Schedule for Successive Plantings

Rose Ogutu, Horticulture Specialist, Delaware State University rogutu@desu.edu

High tunnels offer flexibility in crop production and can handle diverse crops from asparagus to zucchinis and many crops in between. High tunnels create an environment, one hardiness zone warmer than the field. The only time not to plant is when daylight does not allow any growth at all, but one can schedule crops in high tunnel to continue all year long. Once day length exceeds 10 hrs per day in late January, seeding of plants in high tunnels can commence, especially with adequate soil temperatures (>55°F). The cropping system should take advantage of season extension while ensuring good use of high tunnel space. The capability of starting your own seeds or having a source of seedlings or planting material whenever needed is important. Growers involved in supplying their CSAs, local restaurants and wholesale markets are always thinking ahead and should develop a good successive planting schedule.

At this time high tunnel producers are done with winter production season and have moved on to spring production. In hind sight, and with this past winter season in mind, early planting and establishment of crops is very important. October 15 should be the latest fall planting date considered for winter harvesting. Having gone through a long, comparatively cold winter, some lessons have been learned. Provision of minimal supplemental heating during extreme cold situations and an inside layer of row covers help a great deal. During the winter months, one needs reliable production of spinach, lettuce, radish, carrots etc. Cultivars of these crops that may be tolerant of freezing temperatures should be considered. Part of the winter’s activities involves pulling out some fall plantings in January or February to open space for re-seeding. The crops to be removed could be lettuce, cilantro, Asian greens, claytonia, corn mache, kale or any other crops in the decline. End of winter and spring management of the high tunnel is often marred with uncertainties of what best to plant and plans for the main planting season.

Succession planting can continue in spring. Crops that could be planted between end of winter and summer include leaf lettuces, spinach, bulbing onions, spring carrots, cilantro, kale, baby chard, and arugula, which may reach maturity in the 12th week window (May 1 to June 1). Tomatoes should be in the high tunnel by May 15. (The last day of frost in Delaware is May 1, but attention has to be paid to the weatherman.)

Summer high tunnel crops considerations. Temperatures in the hot summers soar high. Temperatures can rise well above 90°F and temperatures above 85°F reduce pollen formation in most crops. For the 2012 growing season, high tunnel temperatures at Smyrna Outreach and Research Center (DSU-SORC) averaged 12.0°F warmer than the outside air with the maximum averaging 18.3°F and the minimum averaging 5.2°F. Good ventilation depends on high tunnel design and orientation with regard to adequate air flow. Growers normally wonder about a summer high tunnel crop that will yield in a three-month window with an advantage of being grown inside, rather than in the field. Eggplants (oriental) and hot pepper tolerate the high temperatures. Use of shade cloth (30-50%) lowers air temperatures within the high tunnel by as much as 5 – 8°F. Shade fabric will reduce light intensity and air temperatures and reduce water and nutrient uptake by plants. Evaporative cooling with mist nozzles can be used to keep leafy greens cool.

Fall high tunnel production. A succession planting plan for direct seeded spinach or leaf lettuce in the fall, followed by transplanted heading varieties in the early spring can be used to achieve a nice, diverse crop offering. Carrots and scallions must be planted early in August to size up for winter. For success, crops should be seeded by October 1 or transplanted by October 15. Note that there are some fall plantings that can be left until the summer crop is planted. These are crops like spinach, parsley, dill, chamomile, chard, scallions, beet root, kale and leafy lettuce (var. Tango).

Table 1. High Tunnel Cultivar and Scheduling Examples from the Delaware State University (DSU), Smyrna Outreach Research Centre (SORC).

Cultivar suggestions are based on experiences from DSU-SORC and other high tunnel locations within Delaware. The cultivars are not a result of extensive comparison trials, other varieties can be considered with good or better results.

Crop Cultivar Suggestions Direct Seed (DS) or Transplant (TP) Seeding Date* Calendar Week
Asian greens; Tatsoi, chois, komatsuna, Chinese cabbage Various TP: Jan 14 3
Baby Salad mix and baby leaf crops; red and green oakleaf lettuces, mizuna or waido, red mustard, red Russian kale, spinach, bull’s blood beets, arugula etc. Various fast and slow DS: Jan 14 to Feb 1 3-5
Beets Kestrel, Red Ace, Ruby queen, Zeppo DS: Jan 14 to Feb 1 3-5
Broccoli Arcadia, Belstar, DeCicco, Eureka TP: Feb 21 7
Brussels Sprouts Jade Cross E TP: Feb 21 7
Carrots Envy, Moonraker, Sugar Snax, Napoli DS: Feb 1 5
Cabbage Quick Start, Ramada TP: Jan 14 2
Chard Bright Lights TP: Jan 14 2
Cilantro Santo DS: Feb 1 5


Collards Champion, Flash TP: Jan 14 2
Cucumber Cortez, Indy TP: Mar 27 12
Egg plant Epic, Nadia, Orient Express TP: Mar 1 9
Kale Vates, Red Russian, Blue Knight TP: Jan 14 2
Lettuces Aruba, Emosa, Various TP: Jan 14 2
Pepper Ace, Carmen TP: Feb 21 7
Raddichio Indigo TP: Jan 14 2
Radish Easter Egg, D’avignon, Cheriette DS: Feb 21 7
Scallions Evergreen Hardy White DS: Feb 1 5
Spinach Space, Tyee, Renegade TP: Jan 14 2
Summer Squash Zephyr TP: Mar 13 10
Tomato Various, Better Boy, Prudens Purple, Mountain fresh TP: Feb 21 7
Turnips Hakurei, Scarlet Queen DS: Feb 1 5
Zucchini Sultan TP: Mar 13 10


Baby Salad various DS: Aug 27 to Oct 1 34-39
Beet Ace, Golden DS: Aug 8 to Sept 15 31-37
Carrots Sugar Snax, Napoli DS: Aug 6 31
Chois Various TP: Jul 24 to Aug 7 29-31
Cilantro Santo DS: Sept 4 to Sept 20 35-38
Collards Flash TP: Jul 24 to Aug 7 29-31
Kale Red Russian, Winterbor TP: Jul 24 to Aug 7 29-31
Lettuce Aruba, Emosa, Winter Density TP: Aug 13 33
Radish D’avignon, Cheriette DS: Sept 1 to Sept 30 35-39
Scallion Evergreen Hardy White DS/TP: Aug 6 31
Spinach Space, Tyee, Renegade DS/TP: Aug 20 to Oct 15 33-41
Swiss Chard Bright Lights TP: Jul 24 to Aug 7 29-31

*Dates refer to approximate date of seeding, whether you are direct seeding or transplanting at a later date. Consider dates as ranges.

Amstrong and Neely Kynyon. Early Planting of Tomatoes in High Tunnel with Plant Coverings. http://www.ag.iastate.edu/farms/10reports/Armstrong/EarlyPlantingTomatoes.pdf

Craig Chase and Linda Naeve. January 2013. Vegetable Production Budgets for a high tunnel.  http://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/html/a1-23.html

Hoophouse cultivar and scheduling. Michigan State University Organic Farm. http://www.hoophouse.msu.edu/assets/custom/files/General%20High%20Tunnel%20Planting%20Schedule.pdf

Lewis W. Jett. June 2013. http://hightunnels.org/high-tunnel-temperature-management/

Taunya Ernst, Dan Drost and Brent. March 2012. High Tunnel Winter Spinach Production. http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/Horticulture_HighTunnels_2012-02pr.pdf

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