It is fast approaching the time when we will be starting the first seeds indoors. Parsley is at the head of the list scheduled for the second week of March, followed closely by the brussels sprouts, cabbage, pepper, and broccoli. But wait, how do you figure out when to plant your seeds?
There are many things that go into planning a garden, but timing is a very important element to a successful harvest. It doesn’t matter how good the soil is if you plant something at the wrong time. It is so easy to get behind when starting seeds indoors but starting them too early can make for long leggy unhealthy plants that might not thrive. If you plant them too late there may not be enough time for them to produce a harvestable crop. But don’t despair it just takes some research and planning and you can avoid many of these problems.
There are two very important things every gardener should know: your zone and your frost free dates.
You can find your zone by using the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Your “zone” will be a number follow by a or b and is based on the average annual minimum temperature in your area. We are located squarely in the 5b zone, so our average minimum temp is -15 to -10 F. If you are right on the edge of two zones, plan for the colder of the two but you can experiment with the warmer range once you are more comfortable. Your hardiness zone is more important if you plant trees, shrubs, berry canes and other perennials, but can impact annual plants as well.
The second thing you need to know is your frost free date. You can type in your zip code HERE to find your frost free info. Be warned, this is not a hard and fast date, it is a range based on how likely you are to get a frost based on historical averages. This can be a delicate balancing act between being too cold for tender plants and making sure you have enough season to harvest the crop.
Here is the information for our area:
Now that you are armed with that knowledge you can start the real planning.
On most seed packets you will find a wealth of information, but we also found this book to be exceedingly helpful. Based on your frost free date and the information on the seed packet you will need to determine which ones will be direct seeded (DS) in the garden and which ones need to be started indoors in flats (F). I had already compiled this information for our garden in an excel sheet HERE.
Most of the seeds will have a range of start dates, like “start indoors 3-5 weeks before last frost”. Counting either forwards or backwards of the frost free date I marked out, on my paper calendar, the week when I should be planting the seeds. For the most part I picked the middle of the range, then adjusted it as needed to keep things spread out and manageable. The thinking here is to create a weekly list of things that need to be planted. In addition to the stating week I included some more information: (F) for starting indoors in flats, (DS) for direct seed out in the garden, (Garden) when it needs to be moved from the flats into the garden, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. for secession plantings. I would suggest you do all this in pencil as things are likely to change.
Now, so long as I check the calendar each week I will not fall behind or have long leggy plants dying to get out from under the grow lights.
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