When to Start Seeds: Not Too Early!

How to Know When To Start Seeds

January 29, 2019
When to Start Seeds

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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.

Here in New Hampshire, I run a plant business with my partner and Memorial Day is usually our biggest weekend for selling plants. 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 Memorial Day weekend as our end date. 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 your local last frost date and use that as your end date.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an online planting calendar based on your last frost date, which makes it really easy to figure out when to plant what. 

Better Late than Never (or early)

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 seeds a little late than it is to sow them 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’s not too late! Here’s a list of free seed catalogs you can get in the mail or view online.

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Learn More

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 and tricks. 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.

2019 Garden Guide

Reader Comments

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Gardening for my yard

Just moved in looking forward to planting a garden but we have maple trees all around the yard we get filtered sun thru out the day i would like to know what plants i can get that will thrive in my garden with filtered sun.

If you will be planting in

If you will be planting in the soil near those maple trees be aware that there will be a lot of root competition for moisture and digging may be difficult. You will need to look for plants that can handle not only shade but dry soil - a tough situation for many plants. I have a dry shade bed that I have been working on for years and have found that epimediums, forget-me-nots, yellow woodland foxgloves, coneflowers, columbine, white wood asters, heuchera, tiarella, and ferns do well there. We also have planted things that might be aggressive in sunny, moist conditions such as gooseneck loosestrife, goldenrod, lamium, ajuga, and sedums that manage to survive the tough conditions but not take over. Keep any new plantings well watered until the plants become established and add as much compost as you can to your planting areas. Good luck!

Confused

I'm a little confused. It looked like you were basing this off the Memorial Day date and working back. I'm in zone 7a and have always planted with the rule of thumb of planting on or around Mother's Day. That is almost a month after the last frost date on the Farmer's Almanac. Do I go with the frost date or the Mother's Day date as the starting point to count back from?

If you always plant around

If you always plant around Mother’s Day then by all means plan it so your seedlings will be ready for that date.

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/

Old seeds

I have some little peppers seeds that someone gave me but they are about 8 years old and I try to germinate them but none came out ,do you have a way to help those seeds to grow?i would appreciate your help.thanh you,claude

help

Try putting the seeds in the freezer for about 7 days and then try again to germinate them

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