When to Start Your Seedlings Indoors

Gardening can be difficult if you aren’t familiar with it. I mean, when do you start seedlings from seeds, and when do those seedlings get put in the ground, and what is the frost date for my hardiness zone, but first, what is a hardiness zone?

This year we are starting most of our plants as seedlings. Then there are still a few plants we decided we’d just purchase at the farmer’s market in May. This might have to do with the fact that I am a farmer’s market addict, and it will give me another reason to wander up and down the rows, spending inordinate amounts of time people watching and taking it all in. Either way, we’re starting several seedlings to go in a raised bed, and we’re using our recycled seedling trays for the job.

1. First, decide what to plant.

I mentioned in the seedling post that we’d be letting the kids pick a plant that they would be in charge of. For the rest of our plants, we decided to grow things that we eat a lot of. For us this means lots of fresh herbs, broccoli, green beans, shallots, lettuces, spinach, 4 different kinds of tomatoes and several different peppers in addition to the zucchini, pumpkins and carrots that the kids picked and the watermelon that Ole picked. We’ll also continue to grow our strawberry and raspberry plants this year.

You may have a completely different mix of things to grow. Your mix of plants may be completely different. Try to pick things you know you eat a lot of or wouldn’t mind eating a lot of, or choose items you’ll be able to can or freeze for consumption during the cold winter months. Once you’ve decided what you’ll be planting and have chosen the seeds, you can prepare to plant. There are a few things to consider here before we actually plant anything in the ground, though.

2. Figure out your last frost date.

This day will be determined by where you live. There are several charts out there that can help you pinpoint the date to determine when your seedlings can grow in the ground. Your last frost date is important when considering when to start your seedlings because if you start them too early, you’ll end up with plants that have outgrown their containers and no ground to plant them in. Planting before your frost date could mean disaster if you get a cold spell that freezes all your new plants. However, there are some plant varieties that can tolerate a light frost, like spinach and broccoli.

3. Look at the germination period on seeds.

Generally you want to start seedlings 4-6 weeks before your last frost date; however, some seeds have a shorter germination period so the time from seed to seedling is not as long. We’re about 6 weeks from our last frost date here, so we started the seeds with the lower germination period, and we’ll plant a few more in another week or two for the plants that require less time to germinate. This will also help them from outgrowing their pot before we can get them in the ground. If your seed packet doesn’t list the germination period, Google is always your friend.

4. Plant your seeds.

Once you’ve determined when to plant your seeds, you can plant a few in each container. We generally start with more than one seed just in case any don’t take. When more than one plant pops up, we simply thin down to the largest one, or we can always carefully replant those other sprouts in extra pots. Plant your seeds according to the planting depth listed on the package or slightly less. Be careful not to plant too deep.

5. Care for your seedlings.

Keep the seedling tray watered and moist, but don’t drown the plants. We water ours from the bottom by adding water directly into the tray. This way the soil soaks up the water from the bottom and it is easier not to drown the tiny seedlings. Keep your seedlings in a warm environment to stimulate the growth and wait. Once the seedlings emerge, you can remove the lids. Place your plant near the sunlight, and on warm days, place it outside so that the seeds are exposed to wind and the elements. This will help prevent plants that grow tall and thin and can’t support themselves.

What are you growing in your garden this year?

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  1. Great post. We started some of our seeds last week. They are up and looking great. Some of them are even getting their “real” leaves. 🙂 Our last frost date is in a week or so ~ but it’s been 80 degrees this week and it gives you the itch. :).

    Our garden has turned into a lot of veggies as well as flowers ~ my little one picked Zinnias as her things to grow. We are also growing things we eat a lot of. Which means lots and lots of green beans. I also started trying squash recipes over the last few months to make sure I could handle a large crop of butternut and acorn squash. It’s my intention to can/preserve enough veggies to last us the winter. *fingers crossed*
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..You Can Not Be Thin If You Feel Fat =-.

  2. I love those recycled seedling trays….I’m going to have to try that next year. I never saw the results from your birthday contest. Were they posted somewhere? I started some perennial flowers this year. I’m anxious to see how they do from indoor lights to transplants to garden. Happy planting!

  3. I heard seedlings need 16 hours of sunlight a day and therefore should be planted under lights. Do you guys do that? I was going to plants seeds this year and didn’t because I don’t have the lights….. what has your experience been?

    I didn’t see the results from the birthday contest either. Did we miss the winner?
    .-= leighann´s last blog ..Marching Forward =-.

  4. I’ll post the winner today! I did post on my FB page with the winner of the Healthy Bread, so check there, too.

    Leighann, we put ours in the window. Our dining room gets a lot of natural light, so we just make sure that they are in the light for the majority of the day. Outside of that, they remain in there at night when our fluorescent bulbs are on at night. We also move them outside when it is warm enough (above 55-60 degrees) and bring them in at night. I hope this helps!

  5. This is so helpful. We’re starting seeds for the first time this year and are a bit overwhelmed. This is the first year we’re living somewhere that frosts so we’re not used to dealing with these issues (we could pretty much plant anything outside anytime and it would grow before). We have our first little sprouts coming up and I wasn’t sure how much to thin them, so I guess we’ll be sacrificing some little plants tomorrow.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Weekly shopping & meal planning =-.

  6. What a great and inspiring idea? I never saw using toilet paper rolls lined with newspaper to start your seedlings! I love it, I just love it and I feel so inspired now just with this simple idea to start my seeds.

    We’ve started our community garden last year. I live in an appartment building and we claimed part of the soil that belongs to the city and is only claimed by blackberries. We did it! This year we’re going to expand for more people to join!

  7. Hey, It is great to find a good blog like this one. Do you care if I used some of the information here, and I’ll put a link back to your website?

  8. What a great family fun project. I’m always looking for new activities to do with our granddaughters and you’ve given me another good idea. The girls just love helping out in our garden and this year we are getting them in on the act too. Using the tubes and newspaper was a good way to promote recycling too. I’m excited about trying out your technique. Thanks for sharing!

    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Advantages of Vegetable Gardening in Containers =-.

  9. looking for more info about that topic

  10. How do you like the “paper inside of toilet paper roll” seed starter pots? Do the roots stick to the toilet paper rolls or do you plant them before that can happen? Or do you plant the seedling with the toilet paper roll, hoping that it will break down in the garden? It’s an interesting idea.

    One thing to think about when you are starting seeds inside is to succession plant your seedlings. It’s tough to get the timing right when it comes to starting seeds. Why not plant a few this week and a few more next week and a few more the week after. That way, you’ll be sure to have one of the sets of seedlings ready when your garden is ready. Plus, if a cut worm mows down your first outdoor planting (or some other disaster), you’ll still have a backup seedling to plant.

  11. This just popped up while I was stumbling… What a cute and helpful site. Love those little gardeners!


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