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.
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.
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.
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.