For more information, read my articles How to Start Seedlings Indoors, and Caring For Newly Planted Beds.
Set Up a Customized Seed Starting Calendar
It isn’t difficult to set up a customized seed starting calendar according to your gardening zone. The first thing you need to know is the average date of your last frost in the spring. Here is a handy site to help you find that information. Keep in mind that the date given for your area is the average date of your last frost. You could be frost free for a couple weeks before or you could have frost for a couple weeks after that date. There are no guarantees in nature.
Find a free calendar or print out the appropriate months from a free calendar printing site. Make a note on the last average frost date. Now you can count back from that point to find the dates to plant your seeds indoors or directly in the garden.
Here’s an example: I live in zone 4b and the average date of our last frost is on May 13th. I have lots of sweet and hot pepper, eggplant, and tomato seeds to plant this spring. The seed packets call for starting these varieties indoors 6-8 weeks before the average date of our last frost. Counting back from that day (May 13th) on my calendar, I find that these seeds should be planted indoors any time between March 20th and April 3rd. So I made notes on my calendar to start these plants during that time period. Easy, right?!
Plug In the Dates
Now that you have the general idea, go through all of your seeds and plug in the dates that you need to plant them in the spring. You can go even further and fill in the dates that you should start your fall crops. Some veggies can be planted twice, in spring and fall. These include lettuce, cabbage, peas, beets, and turnips…to name just a few.
Should I Start My Seeds Indoors or Direct Seed In My Garden?
Some plants will do best if the seeds are planted directly in the garden and others may need a head start on the season. A lot of information is available on the back of the seed packet. Here is a general guideline to help you decide whether to transplant seedlings or direct seed.
- Quick growing herbs – cilantro, dill, parsley
- Onion sets
- Potato sets
Start Indoors 2-3 Weeks Before Last Frost ~ Or Direct Seed
- Winter squash
- Summer squash
Start Indoors 4-6 Weeks Before Last Frost
- Marigold, alyssum, and other annuals
- Brussels sprout
- Summer Savory
Start Indoors 6-8 Weeks Before Last Frost
- Sweet pepper
- Hot pepper
- Onions and leeks from seed
Are There Exceptions?
There are always exceptions! The general guidelines above apply to areas with shorter growing seasons… places like Illinois, where I live. If you live in southern areas with longer growing seasons, you may be able to direct seed most of your crops in your garden. In fact, you will have a much different strategy for planting your garden, as you may need to get certain crops harvested before the scorching heat of summer sets in. It might be beneficial to start some of your seeds indoors at the end of summer to give them time to mature before the next heat wave.
Some varieties don’t fit these general guidelines, such as hybrids that mature early or old fashioned varieties that need even more of a head start.
Check the Seed Packet!
You’ll want to check each seed packet for instructions for the varieties you are planting. They may vary from the general guidelines. For example: My hot pepper seeds need to be planted 6-8 weeks before my last frost, except jalapenos. The packet instructions specify starting these seeds indoors 2-4 weeks before the last frost. So be sure to read the instructions.
Early, Mid, and Late Spring ~ Planting in the Garden
Not all crops will be transplanted or direct seeded in your garden at the same time. Some crops like cool weather and can handle light frost, while others need warm soil and a frost free environment. Depending on your climate (and possibly your microclimate) you may already have the early spring crops in the ground…or you may have to wait until much later in the spring. Check with your local Extension Office for more information if you aren’t sure. Here are the general guidelines for planting your crops in the garden.
Early Spring (as Soon as Soil Can be Worked)
- Onion seeds
- Potato sets
- Onion sets
- Cabbage starts
- Broccoli & Cauliflower starts
- Brussel sprout starts
- Pansy and Alyssum starts
After Danger of Frost
- Squash (winter and summer varieties)
- Tomato starts
- Pepper starts (once night time temps are over 60 F)
- Eggplant starts
- Marigold and Zinnia starts
This whole business may sound a bit complicated, but once you sit down and read the backs of the seed packs, read through these guidelines, and start filling in your calendar, you’ll find that it isn’t really all that complicated. It just requires a bit of organization…and if I can do it, then you can too. You might even want to use Google Calendar or another online calendar that will send you reminders to plant your seeds.
Once I get through the process of filling in my seed starting calendar, I like to gather up all of the packets of seeds that will be planted at the same time and put them together in a ziploc bag with a label on it. I write the date that the seeds will be planted and whether they will be direct seeded or started indoors. (You can also add planting notes if you like.) Then I can go through and organize them in the order in which they will be planted. This really helps simplify my seed starting process. I hope this it helps you too!