It's that time of year when gardeners around the Billings area start planning for another growing season. After all, the first day of Spring is about a month away. The sun is getting stronger and the days are getting longer. It's still pretty wintery outside but some of us are already ordering seeds and preparing to get plants started indoors (note: wait a month). The local greenhouses have posted "help wanted" signs and soon we'll be playing in the dirt.

If you're a newbie, here are some general guidelines for a planting a successful garden.

Know your Zone.

Downtown, most of the west-end and the lower elevations in Yellowstone County are USDA Zone 4b. The slightly higher elevations by the airport or in the South Hills are Zone 5a. HERE'S A MAP. Your zone is important because that's how you'll know when to plant.

Don't plant too soon.

In Zone 4, the average last day of frost is May 15th. If you plant those beautiful looking tomato plants that you'll soon see at the box stores during that warm spell we always get in March, I can almost promise you they will freeze. Then you'll have to start over.

Start your plants indoors.

It's tempting to start seedlings indoors now, but you should probably wait at least another month (think late March). Unless you can supplement your indoor plants with special lighting, they will grow spindly and won't transplant well. When you do plant your seed trays, keep them moist and placed in a warm, sunny window. A heat mat helps. Some plants are more difficult than others to start from seed, like tomatoes.

Don't overdo it.

Tilling up your entire 3/4 acre backyard and turning it into a giant garden will almost certainly turn into a MUCH bigger project than you anticipate if you are new to gardening. Even the most efficiently designed, minimal work garden will require a lot of time and attention.

Ask a local greenhouse.

Don't get me wrong. I shop the box stores for a lot of things. I don't for garden plants, and you shouldn't either. Local greenhouses and nurseries actually know what plants do well in Billings. They'll probably know what plants do better in the Heights, compared to what grows best in Briarwood. Seriously, spend a little extra and get plants from a local pro. Their advice is priceless.

Additional Resources:

Every garden is different, but the following vegetables have generally done well in the Billings area.

Best Veggies for Billings

LOOK: 20 tips to help your houseplants survive the winter