When to Start Seeds: Not Too Early!

How to Know When To Start Seeds

January 26, 2021
When to Start Seeds

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 seeds indoors?

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. Therefore, 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.

Now—The Old Farmer’s Almanac has an online planting calendar based on your last frost date, which makes it really easy to figure out how early you can plant each crop.

But it helps to have an idea of how this all works because every vegetable variety can be a bit different. Look at the number of weeks recommended on each seed packet. We sort our seed packets by week.

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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)

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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I hope my insight helps. For more information, here’s the Almanac Guide to Starting seeds indoors.

Also, are you using the online Almanac Garden Planner tool? This tool also not only calculates your dates for seeding indoors and outdoors based on zip code, but also helps you design your garden space based on each crop’s “days to maturity,” taking into account succession planting to squeeze in additional crops. Try it out! 

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.

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