Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Seed Starting Schedule

Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Developing a Seed Starting Schedule | Grow a Good Life
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Starting transplants from seeds indoors can be very enjoyable for a gardener, especially after a long winter. I love watching life emerge from the tiny seeds and flourish into healthy seedlings. Starting transplants from seed is also less expensive per plant and offers a greater variety than buying nursery plants.

If you have been following along you read how to Make a Seed List and how to Map Out the Garden Beds so you know where everything will be planted and how many transplants you will need to start.

Now the challenge is to figure out when you should sow the seeds.

Start some seeds too soon and you will end up with lanky plants under the lights. Too late and the plants will be too weak when transplanted to the garden or may not mature in time to produce before your frost.

To help keep you organized, it is a good idea to develop a seed starting schedule. A seed-starting schedule provides a guideline of when to sow seeds and when to transplant seedlings to your vegetable garden.

Planning a seed starting schedule for the first time can be a bit daunting. It becomes easier the following year because you can use the same schedule and adjust according to your notes and observations.

Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Developing a Seed Starting Schedule | Grow a Good Life

How to Develop a Seed Starting Schedule:

1. Find Your Last Expected Frost Date. The key information to establishing the seed-starting schedule is the last expected frost date for your area. This date will be used as a starting point for your schedule.

There are various sources of finding the date such as asking your neighbors, your local nursery, extension office, or enter your zip code here at PlantMaps.com. Don’t become too concerned if you find that different sources provide you with slightly different last expected frost dates. It is only an estimate and may vary from various sources, year-to-year, or even from one side of town to another. Select the average date among the sources as your starting point.

2. Set Up a Chart. I use a spreadsheet with the following headers: Description, # of plants, Seed Starting Date, Actual Seed Starting Date, Germination Date, Transplant Date, and Actual Transplant Date. For simplicity, I round my dates to the nearest Sunday date.

3. Figure Out the Sow and Transplant Dates of Each Seed. Most often, the back of the seed package provides instructions on when to sow your seeds indoors and when to transplant the seedlings into the vegetable garden.

Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Developing a Seed Starting Schedule | Grow a Good Life

For example, the tomato seed package above says to “start seeds indoors 5-7 weeks before planting outdoors.” If my last frost date is May 20th, counting 6-weeks backwards on a calendar lands me on April 8th. The seed package also tells us when to transplant the seedlings, “…after all danger of frost has past.” This means that tomatoes should be sown around April 8th and transplanted to the garden after May 20th, my last frost date. I usually add a week to be on the safe side and schedule tomatoes to be transplanted on May 27th.

Below is a general guideline on when to start you seeds based on your estimated last frost date:

  • 10 weeks: Celery, Leeks, Onions, Parsley, Shallots, and some Herbs.
  • 8 weeks: Asparagus, Eggplant, Leeks, Onions, Peppers, Shallots, and some Herbs.
  • 6 weeks: Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, and Tomatoes.
  • 4 weeks: Cucumbers, Lettuce, Melons, and Squash.

4. Record the Dates in Your Chart. In my spreadsheet, I fill in the name of the seed in the description column, the number of seedlings I will need based on my vegetable garden layout, the date to sow the seeds, and the date to transplant the seedlings into the garden. I continue this for each seed I plan on growing.

5. Keep Notes for Next Year. You will notice that I have a column in my spreadsheet where I can record when the seed germinated and the real dates of when the seed was sown and transplanted into the garden. That way I can see whether I need to make changes next year. One adjustment I made the second year was the seed starting date for peppers. My seed starting area is in an unheated basement so peppers tend to grow more slowly in cooler temperatures. I added on a couple weeks of growing time under the lights.


Tips:

Direct seeded crops: Some crops should not be started indoors because either they won’t transplant well or won’t benefit from an early start. Sow the following directly into the vegetable garden according to the instructions on the seed package: Beans, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Radish, Turnip, Parsnip, and Peas. See my post on Homemade Seed Mats for sowing small seeds such as carrots. Also see 13 Easy Vegetables to Direct Sow.

I have also found that Spinach, Cilantro, and Pak Choi are sensitive to having their roots disturbed and it may cause the plants to bolt or go to seed prematurely. Using Soil Blocks for Growing Seedlings reduces transplant shock. Or you can direct seed in the garden in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked.

Hardening off: Start hardening off your seedlings about 2-weeks before their transplant date. Hardening off is the process of adapting plants to the outside so they can adjust to sunlight, cool nights, and less frequent watering. Watch your weather for freezing temperatures. If the days are warm enough, begin hardening off your seedlings in a sheltered location for a few hours on the first day, increase a little each day, until the seedlings are outside overnight. Also see How to Harden Off Seedlings for more info.

Developing a seed starting schedule is the last step in my yearly vegetable garden planning. Soon it will be time to sow some seeds and tend to the young seedlings under the lights. I find making up a schedule ahead of time makes it easy to know what seeds should be started each week. Also, the schedule provides a record of when each seed was started and makes it easy to adjust from year to year.

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The Gardening Notebook is custom printable e-book to help you keep track of everything that is important to you in your gardening.The Gardening Notebook by Angi Schneider is a custom printable e-book to help you keep track of everything that is important to you in your gardening. Included is information on how to begin gardening, how to improve your garden soil, a garden planning calendar, how to find your frost date, garden layout pages, pests and solution worksheets, and plenty of room for your own notes. > Click to learn more.

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13 thoughts on “Planning Your Vegetable Garden: Seed Starting Schedule

  1. Thomas

    I’m pushing back my seed starting this year because of all the snow we’re getting. 5 feet outside and more on the way. I can’t imagine being able to plant anything out anytime soon. I like the physical chart that you’ve set up. I’m not the most computer savvy person so I think I can handle that.

    Reply
  2. Lady Locust

    This is great. I’ve recently been in almost panic mode just thinking about it. My seeds are ordered but haven’t even arrived yet:) We don’t even start them indoors until April.
    Happy green thumbs.

    Reply
  3. Lori jones

    I see that you start your seedlings in an unheated basement in Maine. I also have an unheated basement, and the temperature right now is around 50 down there. I’m going to have six grow lights given to me and so I was thinking of starting some seedlings but I wasn’t sure if that was warm enough ambient temperature to start them. Is there a minimum temperature that it needs to be with grow lights?

    Reply
    1. ~Rachel Arsenault Post author

      Hi Lori, My basement is unheated as well. Spring greens and cole crops will do fine growing in cooler temperatures. In fact, I find that the cooler temperatures make for a heartier transplant. Heat lovers, like tomatoes and peppers like it a little warmer but I won’t start those until later when the temperatures warm. I do often use a seedling heat mat to add heat so the seeds germinate quicker, but once they sprout they are removed from the heat mat and placed under lights. If you don’t have a heat mat, just placing your tray in a warm location will speed up germination.

      Reply
  4. Nicky

    Hi Rachel! I saw this earlier in the week and it’s a great reminder that I need to get started. There is nothing quite like fresh vegetables and fruits from your own garden. Thank you for linking up and sharing this at the Let’s Get Real Link Party last week. You can one of my featured articles this week. Stop by and grab our blog button.

    Reply
  5. Erin

    And here we are in Montana…today was 66 degrees! Weird and completely unseasonable! I’m so anxious to get things going in the garden but we all know Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor!!

    Reply
  6. greentalk

    I am so behind in leeks and onions. I love the napkin idea but was wondering how carrots germinate if they are light dependent, Do you not cover the entire napkin with soil?

    Reply
    1. ©Rachel Arsenault Post author

      I am behind in starting onions this year too. I just sowed them yesterday. Hopefully, using a heat mat will jump start them a bit. Carrots are not light dependent. It is recommended that they be sowed 1/4- 1/2 inches deep. Just cover the seed mats with 1/4- to 1/2 inch soil and keep moist.

      Reply

Thank you so much for your comments. I love hearing from you!