I get quite a few new gardeners asking me, “When should I start seeds?” It really depends on where you are and what you are planning to grow. Thankfully, most seed companies will label the packets with basic growing information. (Check out, “Starting Seeds: How to Grow Healthy, Productive Vegetables, Herbs, and Flowers from Seed” for more detailed information.)
A planting schedule can help you to spread your planting out so you don't feel rushed. When you try to cram too much to do in too little time, it doesn't get done properly. Gardening is supposed to help relieve stress, not cause it. In this article I'll share my seed starting schedule, organization strategies and printable indoor seed starting and outdoor seed sowing charts to help you get organized, too.
Start Seeds of Similar Crops Together for Easier Planting
If you're anything like me, you have dozens of little seed packets waiting for you to give them some love and some quality dirt time. I like to sort mine into families of similar crops. Similar crops generally need to be planted at similar times, so this helps me to group my plantings.
The Crop Families I use are:
- Herbs – Start Indoors and Direct Sow
- Flowers – Start Indoors and Direct Sow
- Tomatoes – Paste, slicing and small-fruited
- Other Nightshades – Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatillos, Ground Cherries, Cape Gooseberries, Huckleberries
- Leafy greens – Spinach, strawberry spinach, mache, lettuces
- Brassicas – cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
- Cucumbers – pickling, slicing, and Armenian
- Melons – Muskmelon, Watermelon, Honeydew and other heirloom melons
- Root vegetables – Carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips, rutabagas, kohlrabi, radishes
- Beans – Snap and Shell
- Peas – Snap, Shell and Snow
Some herb and flower seeds require stratification (time in the freezer) for germination. This should be noted on the packages. Also, if you want really early flower blooms, you have to do like the nurseries do and start your plants very early. Some of those decorative spikes for flower basket are started nearly a year in advance. I don't like the extra hassle of starting things super early, so I don't get things going until around mid March – except for onions, which I start in February.
How to Use the Seed Starting Calendar
To use the seed starting calendars, you need to determine the average last date of spring frost and the average first date of fall frost in your area. You can do this based on experience, by contacting your local cooperative extension office, or by checking online at a site like Dave's Garden Frost Date by Zip Code calculator.
Please note that these dates are somewhat like a serving suggestion – what you see may not always be what you get. Mother Nature has her own ideas about each given year. I've been caught on several occasions scrambling to cover transplants when an extra late frost hits.
What Does “Harden” Your Plants Mean?
In the chart, you'll see the word “harden”. When you start plants inside, they need a gentle adjustment period before moving out to the garden full time. This is referred to as “hardening off”. You make your plants tougher (harden them) so they are able to withstand the wind and sun of the garden.
To harden off seedlings, I place them outside in a protected location on a nice day. One the first day they go out for a few hours, then longer as they have a chance to get used to the change. Make sure they are not in strong direct sunlight. This can bake little seedlings very quickly. Indirect sunlight out of strong winds is best to start. I usually move mine out to my cold frame, and then lift the lid to expose them to moving air. Once they are used to that exposure, I move one batch out of the cold frame and the next batch in. We have a lot of wind, so I still tend to keep seedlings near our home or cold frame until transplanting out in the garden. Be mindful that small seedling containers may dry out much faster outside than indoors.
When transplanting into the garden, it's best to pick a not too windy day that is slightly overcast, if possible. I plant later in the afternoon, so the small plants aren't exposed to the midday sun on their first day out. For a more detailed explanation and photos of how I plant out my tomato transplants, visit “How to Grow Lots of Tomatoes Organically“.
Calendar of Indoor Seeding and Outdoor Transplanting
My average date of last frost is May 26. I start seeds over the spring months based on that date. Adjust your planting schedule based on your average frost free date. For instance, if your last frost free date is May 15, you should seed early cabbage indoors in Late March, harden in Late April, and transplant in Early May.
Spring Schedule of Outdoor Seed Sowing
* Best as transplants
Summer Schedule of Outdoor Seed Sowing
To get the printable version of the charts, click the link below. The pdf displays the calendars more nicely than they display on screen. Adjust the dates for your area and keep them in your garden planner.
Some of my favorite garden helpers, about ten years ago.
I was hunting through old photos for this post, and this was too cute not to share. Now they've grown into strapping young men. 🙂
You may also enjoy our Gardening page, which lists all of our gardening articles, and specifically:
- Simple Record Keeping Tips for the Garden with Printable Seed Starting Chart
- Build Your Own Simple Seed Starting Shelves
- My Favorite Seed Sources, Seed Storage and Germination – With Printable Seed Storage Longevity and Expected Germination Charts
Some of my favorite gardening books.
Originally published in 2014, updated in 2017.