It’s never too early to start dreaming up your spring garden
When it comes to gardening, winter is actually when all of the fun begins. Let’s dig into those first steps so that you can best plan for your garden now and reap the delicious, veggie goodness later.
To start, we’ll need to look at our veggie list and see whether our chosen produce are on the “seedling” or “direct sow*” calendar.
Benefits of Seedlings
Some plants prefer to be started as seedlings and then transplanted into the garden when the time comes. Starting with these transplants can also give you more control over your garden spacing, allow you to get a bit of a head start on your growing and increase production.
This guide is based on an average last frost date of May 20, but you can also adjust based on the zone that you live in—I’m in Zone 7A.
If you’re in a similar zone, you’ll probably want to stay around this timeline. If for some reason you start your seedlings and get them in the ground too soon, or if there’s a chance of frost after this date, you can protect them with a layer of cloth (not plastic) draped lightly over.
Plants That Grow Best from Seedlings
- February 25: Broccoli, Cabbage, Parsley
- March 15: Cauliflower, Celery, Onions
- March 25: Cucumber, Swiss Chard
- April 1: Eggplant, Peppers
- April 8: Basil, Tomatoes
- April 15: Collards and Kale
- May 6: Pumpkins, Summer Squash
- May 20: Melons, Winter Squash
Seedling Care Guide
CHOOSE PROPER SEED STARTER
Many farmers and gardeners choose to start their seedlings in compost due to its nutrient-density, but if you choose to go with a starting mix, make sure it’s organic and well-made
GIVE THEM PLENTY OF LIGHT
Make sure you pop your seedlings into a warm, well-lit space, ideally by a south-facing window or place a grow light overtop for maximum light exposure.
KEEP THEM WATERED, BUT NOT OVER-WATERED
The trick to properly watering your seedlings is bottom-watering: placing your tray—which should have holes at the bottom—on another tray holding about 2 to 3 cm of water. Your seedlings will drink at their leisure. Make sure to not water them again if the top soil is wet. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings as excess moisture can cause disease in the plant later on.
ALLOW A GENTLE BREEZE
Since your seedlings don’t experience the effects of wind indoors, the lack of breeze can impact their development of the structure to strengthen and defend themselves against it. This can cause your seedlings to break very quickly later on when in a natural environment. You can use a fan or take some newspaper and fan those seedlings three times a day.
THIN YOUR SEEDLINGS
Plants in your garden don’t like to be overcrowded, and neither do your seedlings. It’s great to leave a few extras in the start, in case you get some that die out on you, but otherwise prune those babes so they don’t compete for nutrients.
ADJUST YOUR SEEDLINGS
If it’s not time to plant yet, but your seedlings’ roots begin to come out of the bottom, add some soil to the bottom of the tray, or transplant them to a larger pot. You don’t want them to become rootbound.
Here’s where the fun—but also the complicated part—starts.
Acclimate your seedlings to natural weather conditions by placing them outside for brief periods pre-transplant. First, you’ll want them out for an hour, sheltered by the porch, and then brought inside during bad weather. After about three days, you can keep seedlings out for half a day, and by the end of the week they should be good all day long.
Try to pick an overcast day for your transplanting, so that you can minimize the shock for the plant from pot to ground. If it happens to be misting, even better. If not, water both the outside ground and the plants before you move them into your garden.
Remove each plant by tapping lightly on the bottom and turn it upside down. It should come out easily. Then, run your fingers through the seedling’s roots to loosen it a bit and prepare it to root into the ground. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root and set the plant into the ground so that it’s covered by about ¼-inch of soil. Press around the seedling firmly to ensure that it’s set in place. Water well throughout the entire process and every day until the plants are well established and growing for about a week.
This all sounds complicated, but your seedlings will tell you what they need. The bottom line is to think about seedlings as if they were babies: feed them, care for them, but at the end of the day, make sure they’re ready for the outside world.
If you’re wondering which seeds need to be directly sown into your garden, and when, here’s that list as well. Direct sowing is done for veggies whose seedlings may become weak during the transplant process and grow best right from the ground.
Direct Sow Guide
- March 25: Turnip
- April 8: Peas, Spinach
- April 22: Carrots, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Potatoes, Radish, Sweet Peas
- April 29: Beets, Leek, Swiss Chard
- May 20: Corn, Summer Squash
- May 27: Beans, Sweet Potatoes