Knowing when to start seeds is important for starting your garden season off right. I’m sharing what you need to know to start your herb, veggie, and flower seeds at the right time for your growing zone.
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Growing Zone vs Last Frost Date
A common misconception is that people in the same growing zone can follow the same planting schedule. A growing zone only tells you how cold an area can get. This is only useful for knowing what perennials will survive in your zone.
When starting seeds, what you really need to know is your last frost date. To find this, just google “last frost date” and your zip code. This gives you an estimate but it isn’t guaranteed. Talk to other local gardeners or call your local extension office to determine when your area is safe from frost.
When to start tender annual seeds
For tender annuals (zinnias, cosmos, tomatoes, peppers, ect.), take your last frost date and count back the number of weeks that you can start the seed indoors. This information can be found on the back of each seed packet. Johnny’s also has a lot of great information on their website. For example, if your last frost date is 5/30 and you want to know when to plant your peppers, you would start at 5/30 and count back 8-12 weeks. You would need to start your pepper seeds between 3/7 and 4/4.
When to start hardy annuals & perennial seeds
Hardy annual and perennial seeds can be started a bit sooner. For cold hardy varieties (like calendula, snapdragon, radish, carrots, ect.), you can plant them before your last frost date. Cold hardy annual transplants go out 6-8 weeks before the last frost. So you need to count back 6-8 weeks from your last frost to know when to transplant, and then another “X” number of weeks to know when you need to sow the seeds indoors. For example, if your last frost date is 5/30 and you want to grow calendula, you would count back 6-8 weeks from 5/30, which is 4/4 – 4/18. Then count back another 4-5 weeks to know when to sow them indoors. That means you could start seeds any time between 2/28 – 3/21 for the earliest planting.
Planting directions for cold hardy annuals
Typically seed packets direct you to plant seedlings out after all danger of frost has passed. Information about how and when to plant out cold hardy annuals before the last frost will not typically be on the back of the seed packet. I highly recommend checking Lisa Mason Ziegler’s book “Cool Flowers.” It has opened my eyes to the realm of possibility for starting certain semi hardy plants earlier than your last frost date. She shares cut flower varieties that can be planted out early in her book. The varieties I share in this post are just the ones I’m planning to grow this year; not a full list from the book. This same concept can be applied to several veggie seedlings as well!
Advantages and considerations of starting seeds
There are several advantages to starting seeds. It can be a great way to grow more plants for less money. It also allows you the opportunity to grow plants that aren’t offered at garden centers or farmer markets. Starting your own seeds also allows you to get cold hardy seedlings started earlier. When you plant out hardy annuals before your last frost, you will make the most of your growing space by creating more room to start your tender annual seedlings, your plants will be hardier, and you will get an earlier harvest.
Things you need to start seeds
To set yourself (and your seedlings) up for success, its important to have the proper equipment. Things you’ll need to consider are the space it will take, germination time, your last frost date, heat mats, lights, fertilizer, and how you will harden your seedlings off before planting them outdoors. This can feel overwhelming but you can easily create a small set up that will allow you to start several seedlings. I shared my seed starting set up HERE and links for everything I use.
Save seeds!! Seeds are pretty affordable, but they add up! It’s fun to push the limits in an attempt to get food earlier, but its hard to risk it when you paid a price for a select ammount of seeds. When you save seeds, you often have more than you need. This makes it much easier to experiment and not worry about potentially losing your crop. Things like radish, dill, and cilantro produce a ton of seeds (most things do actually). Last year I used some extra saved radish seeds and planted them way earlier than I “should have.” I was fully expecting them to die, but I was eager to get my hands in the dirt. Since I had so many saved, I had nothing to lose. To my surprise, I was harvesting radish roots a month later!
Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope this was helpful if you are wanting to start your own seeds. There are so many benefits to starting your own seeds. I look forward to sharing more throughout this years gardening season. Be sure to check out what herb & veggie seeds and flower seeds I plan to grow this year to get some ideas of what you might want to grow.