Why Start Vegetables From Seed
Starting plants from seed is usually an activity for serious gardeners. At the same time, yardeners are perfectly capable of starting some tomato or pepper plants without having to become full fledged gardeners. This file works for both the yardener and the gardener.
Raising your own seedlings gives you much more control over your yard and garden. You can have the plants when you want them and need them rather than when the garden center stocks them. You can choose from dozens of varieties of each flower or vegetable rather than from just a few at the nursery. Finally, once you've learned the tricks, you can grow healthier and stronger seedlings than you can purchase from the store.
Most homeowners start working with seeds to have some fresh vegetables of their own. On the flower side of things annuals are most commonly raised by gardeners, but perennials can be started from seed as well. What you need then is a technique for growing seedlings that isn't complicated, doesn't take much time, and produces healthy young plants as you need them throughout the entire growing season.
When to Start Spring Seedlings
A common mistake is to start seedlings too early in the spring prior to outdoor planting time. You should time seed sowing against the dates of the last frost in the spring. You can get that information from any quality independent garden center. Another factor in your timing is whether you want to simply start plants that when large enough can go outside or whether you want to really beat the system and transplant your seedlings indoors at least once before going outside.
A basic rule is that no matter how fancy your seed starting system, the seedlings should not be older than 6 to 8 weeks before going outside. As the plant matures after 6 weeks, it is much less happy about having its roots disturbed by transplanting. If you wait too long, your plants will be stressed from the beginning and not reach full potential no matter how much you love them.
In most cases, if all you want is to start some seedlings with no additional indoor transplants, you will start your plants no more than one or two weeks prior to the expected last frost date.
In 4 to 6 weeks you will have plants ready to go outside. The trick here is to start the seeds in a container that is at least as big as a coffee mug or bigger so the roots have room to expand without your having to transplant before going outside.
For the more adventurous and less patient grower, the farther back from the last frost date you start your seeds, the more you will need to be prepared to protect those plants AFTER they are planted outside. Experienced vegetable gardeners will brag about putting tomato plants out into the garden a whole four weeks before that last frost date, almost two months earlier than normal. This file does not deal with the tricks involved in such early planting.
John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds
Eight-week General Seed-Starting Timetable
Horticultural Zones 9 & 10: Start seeds indoors January.
Horticultural Zone 8: Start seeds indoors in early February.
Horticultural Zone 7: Start seeds indoors in mid February.
Horticultural Zone 6: Start seeds indoors in late February.
Horticultural Zone 5: Start seeds indoors in early March.
Horticultural Zones 1-4: Start seeds indoors in mid to late March.