Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2008
Regional Report

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These frosted cages are awaiting perfectly timed transplants.

Planning a Seed-Starting Schedule

It may seem early to be thinking about starting seeds, but depending on what you want to grow, we're not far off the starting dates, especially for some of the flowers that need quite a bit of time under lights. It's time to start planning so you don't miss the window.

Let's figure out the schedule for seeding indoors and then transplanting outside, as well as the timing for planting other seeds directly in the garden. If you get it all onto a calendar, then you don't even have to give it a second thought.

Find the Frost-Free Date
The sequence of putting together a seeding schedule will seem backward. You must start by making a list of everything you will plant. Then find the average frost-free date for your area. The best way to find this if you haven't been keeping your own records is to contact your county Extension office. There are also several Internet sources to help you out.

Setting Out Dates
Next, figure the setting out date for each transplant. There are many different places to get this information. The seed packet or catalog may have it, or you can check books on seed starting or the Internet. These sources will list each vegetable and then tell you how many weeks before or after the last frost the plant can be set out.

Cold-season plants like broccoli and sweet peas usually have recommendations for set-out dates a few weeks before the last frost. They can tolerate light frosts, and the sooner they are set out, the faster they get themselves established before warm weather comes on and makes them bolt or wither.

Schedule Seeding Dates
Once you know the set-out date, you need to find out how far ahead of this date you should start the seeds. You can usually find this information on the seed packet as well, or check books or the Web.

The packet may tell you how many weeks from seeding to set-out or it may tell you how many weeks from germination to set-out. If the latter is the case, you will also have to look at the seed packet to find out how long the seeds take to germinate and figure this in. Some are quick and some, like parsley, may take two weeks or more just to germinate. You need to make sure you plan for this extra time when figuring out your schedule.

Record Dates on the Calendar
Write the set-out date for each vegetable on your calendar (this works much better than just keeping a list). Then move backward through the weeks and record the seeding date. Once you have them all listed, go through the vegetables that you will seed outdoors directly and do the same thing. Then hang the calendar somewhere prominent where you will see it every day.

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