There are different ideas about when to start seeds indoors. Some gardeners like to start very early, and others like ourselves follow a later indoor seed-starting schedule. In this post, we want to take a look when and why we start seeds following this schedule.
The Seed Starting Schedule
Plants grow best when planted out small. It does not disturb the roots so much and it is much easier to plant. Some plants like lettuce only need about 3 weeks from seed to planting out. Peppers and eggplants need the longest, but we still like to plant them out before they put out buds.
The indoor seed-starting schedule we follow is from the All New Square Foot Gardening book. I start the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants a bit earlier then he suggests, because we grow them either in the greenhouse or in the sheltered window protected garden bed. The last frost day in the greenhouse is about a week or two ahead of the last frost day outside. So we adjust accordingly.
If you grow ground cherries they need to be started earlier as well, along with broccoli would be a good time, simply because they need longer to germinate. But overall it is a great chart. The dates are adjusted for our climate, yours might be different.
To make your own schedule, click on one of the pictures below to make it full screen. The first is the picture without the dates, you will have to write your dates into the schedule counting back from your last frost day. To find your date go to the link for Canada and USA. If your last frost dates are the same as ours, choose the second picture with the dates on it.
It is a free printable for you. 🙂
Starting time for cold weather crops
Following this schedule, you will be starting cold weather crops plants like brassicas and onions first. The reason is that they also can be planted out first. The schedule does not just give you a starting time, but also a plant out time. Cold weather crops can take some frost, but you will still have to watch the weather. See also how different plants survive frost.
The advantage of planting cold weather crop out earlier is to prolong your growing season, but also cold weather crops do like it cool and often will grow better in cooler conditions. Also, the cabbage butterflies tend to come out in late summer, so to harvest the broccoli before that is a win-win.
Of course, not all plants we might grow are on the chart, only the main crops from a plant family. So if you also grow Brussels sprouts and shallots, start them with other brassicas or onions.
Starting time for summer crops
Summer crop plants like it bright and warm. In our area, the daylight from October 28 to February 14 is below 10 hours.
If you start your seeds before or right at the edge of the 10 hour day, they will grow very slowly and become spindly. Spindly and weak seedlings, for the most part, are no good. They do recover after being transplanted, but that takes time, precious time that a short growing season gardener does not have.
To avoid having spindly seedlings you can use a grow light, but then your seedlings will grow fast and result in overgrown plants. It is much better to wait till spring progresses and there is enough natural sunlight and warmth. And even if you use grow light, it is still better to wait.
The focus of every plant is to bring forth seeds. If the plant is healthy and the growing conditions are right, the plant will concentrate on getting a good root system, leaves, flowers, and then fruit – and lots of it. However, if a seedling sits for too long in a small pot, it gives the plant the signal that it neither can’t get any better roots nor leaves. All it wants to do now is to produce some fruit before it perishes.
As a beginner gardener, you might be excited to see the first flowers and even fruit on your seedling, thinking that you really got a head start. But that is not true. What you got is a desperate plant that has put all its energy into producing that one fruit. It will not have the energy to produce much more than that.
Starting summer crop seeds 6-8 weeks before planting them out, is much better. If you are not sure about the weather, start at 6 weeks; in this case, if you have to wait longer, the seedling will not overgrow.
Seedlings that are at a stage where they are almost putting forth buds are just right. The roots are still young and will adapt easily to the new location, and the plant is ready to grow and produce a lot of fruit. Read more about when to start tomatoes here.
Starting time for cucumbers family plants
Cucurbits family plants are squash, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, etc. Most of them are very fast-growing plants, and they too like it summery bright and warm. Most of them also don’t care much about being transplanted. If you want or need to start them indoors, give them a bigger pot (4-6inch), and do not start too early.
Personally, we start spaghetti squash and winter squash indoors and wait to plant them out a week or two after the first frost. Zucchini we mostly just start in the garden directly. Cucumbers can be sprouted to give them a head start and planted directly into the garden or greenhouse.
I hope this helps you to understand spring indoor seed-starting schedule times better.
Do you like to start your plants from seeds or would you rather buy seedlings?