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Ultimate Seed Starting Guide: Tips on Timing

Updated: Jun 12

If you're like me, now that the calendar has turned to March, the itch to get out in the garden is really starting to kick in! Whether you are an experienced seed starter or thinking about trying it for the first time, I'm here to help! I will be posting a series of blogs with tips to help you start your own garden plants from seed and successfully transplant them into your outdoor garden.

First up - how do you know when to start the seeds?

Read on for tips on getting th e timing right.

Know Your Zone

The first step is to know your USDA Hardiness Zone. This will help you determine the average first and last frost date in your location. The time between those two dates is when most plants will survive outside in your climate. Just enter your zip code here to find out your zone. The Central Iowa area, where I live, is in Zone 5. You can also enter your zip code here to learn your average first and last frost and hard freeze dates. In my area, growing season for most plants is typically May 6 - October 6.

Plan and Understand Your Crops

Next, you will need to decide what plants you want to grow this year and order your seeds. Veggies and other plants have different growing cycles, which will guide you on when to start the seeds. For example, most tomato plants should be started 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost date. In Iowa, that would typically be mid-March. Peppers, however, take a little longer to germinate and grow a little more slowly, so they should be started 8-10 weeks before the last frost date, which is early March in my area. This chart is a great tool to calculate when to start a wide variety of veggies and flowers indoors.

Start Inside or Outside?

Some plants should be planted directly in the garden, rather than indoors. Root veggies, such as carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes do not transplant well, as their long tap root is easily damaged. Other veggies, such as corn, beans, peas, zucchini, and spinach grow quickly, so there is not much of an advantage to starting them in advance. Veggies that benefit from indoor starting (or buying transplants) are plants that have a longer growing cycle, such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, and eggplant, or prefer cooler temps, rather than the hottest months. This includes broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, and many herbs.

Create a Seed Starting Schedule

Once you have planned your garden, purchased your seeds, and understand the growing cycles for your crops, it is helpful to put it into a schedule or planner. This will help you keep track of what you are planting, when to start the seeds, and any other special requirements, such as heat and light. It's also a great idea to make notes as you go, so you can experiment with different methods in future years.

There you have it! Next up, I will be sharing tips on the equipment you will need

to successfully start your own veggies from seed this year!

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Looks so perfect! Thank you for the indoor/outdoor starting plant explanations!

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