When to Start Seeds

The Best Time to Start Vegetable Seeds

Feb 2, 2018
When to Start Seeds

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Frost Dates

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The seeds are rolling in, and if you are as eager to get the garden party started as I am, it is hard to refrain from starting them too early. When should you start your seedlings?

There is always some debate about when is the best time to start seeds indoors. If you plant seeds too early, you need to be prepared to keep potting them up into bigger pots.

I run a plant business with my partner and Memorial Day is usually our biggest plant sales weekend. So, we gear our seed starting to have the plants looking their best then. As soon as I get my new calendar in January, I turn to May and mark that weekend as ground zero. Then I number each Saturday back from there into February; 15 weeks is when we begin and as the season gets busy we even do some planting on Wednesday—hence the half weeks. As the seeds roll in we sort them by the number of weeks recommended on the packets.

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Every location is different, but here’s an example of the way we plant:

  • Week 15 - Gazania & calibrachoa. We want these plants to be blossoming by the end of May.
  • Week 13 - Onions, shallots, and slow-germinating perennials.
  • Week 12 - Petunias & ‘Profusion’ zinnias.
  • Week 11 - Impatiens & more perennials.
  • Week 10 - Parsley, thyme, coleus, last of the perennials.
  • Week 9 - Eggplant, snapdragons, cleome, hollyhocks, dahlias.
  • Week 8 1/2 - Peppers. We grow about 50 varieties so they get a start day of their own.
  • Week 8 - Cole crops, asters, stevia, salvias, nicotiana, and other slow to start annuals.
  • Week 7 1/2 - Basil, cilantro & dill.
  • Week 7 - Tomatoes. This is another marathon planting day since we grow over 80 varieties.
  • Week 6 - Marigolds, cosmos, zinnias, lettuce, and fast starting annuals. Vines are planted in individual peat pots so they don’t get their roots disturbed after they germinate.
  • Weeks 4 & 5 - Cukes, squash, melons, and sunflowers (get started in individual pots instead of the community flats)

For your planting dates, look at the last frost date as your ground zero.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has a seed starting date calculator based on your last frost date, which makes it really easy. 

It is best to err on the side of caution if spring is usually slow to arrive where you live. To avoid having leggy weak transplants, it is better to sow a little later than too early. Younger, vigorously growing transplants will make the transition to the garden much more successfully than spindly overgrown ones.

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Bear in mind that small seeds usually take a lot longer to germinate than big ones, but germination time is usually on the packet. There might be a few seeds that need special treatment before planting so look for that when you are sorting them. You don’t want to find out at planting time that the seeds needed a month in the fridge first. Been there, done that!

If you haven’t ordered your seeds yet it is not too late.

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See the Almanac’s tips on starting seeds indoors.

Also, are you using the Almanac’s Garden Planner tool? It’s amazing and free for the first week—enough time to plan out a garden and give it a go.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

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No frost date - when should I sow?

Hi Robin,

I live in Malta, where we never really have any frost. We have wet, cool winters and very hot, dry summers. Sometimes in hails in Winter, but it's very rare. No snow. Zone 11a. In this case, when should be my week 15, which is in February in your area? Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us!

seed starting

Hi Nadia, We only handle the U.S. and Canada. Malta might be comparable to USDA planting zones 11a (Hawaii). However, we do have a Garden Planner which works globally if you’d like to try it (free trial) here: https://gardenplanner.almanac.com/

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