Have you ever struggled with knowing when to start vegetable seeds indoors? Let me teach you how to find the right dates for your particular climate!
And as an added bonus, I have a free seed starting chart for you that can easily be customized to your growing season.
When I first began starting my own vegetable seeds indoors, I just guessed at the right start date for my area.
I know it’s sometime near the middle of spring. Maybe when the first dandelions pop up?
I’d buy my seeds and go through all the effort of starting them indoors, only to realize my timing was off once again.
Maybe I’d be lucky and get it right next year?
At the time, I didn’t realize finding the right seed starting date isn’t something you have to guess at. It’s actually quite easy to figure out and when you do, you won’t end up with plants that are overgrown or under developed at transplanting time.
I thought it was time I shed some light on indoor seed starting for beginners in my audience. Be sure to grab my customizable chart and hang onto, so you never miss the right seed starting date again.
Is It Worth Starting Seeds Indoors?
Now you might be wondering why anyone would start their own vegetable seeds indoors. Why not purchase the starts from a nursery and save yourself the trouble?
Been there. Done that! And it’s a good way to go.
But like I mention in my post on The Benefits of Starting Your Own Seedlings, there are many perks that come with starting your own vegetables indoors!
Key reasons include:
- access to more vegetable varieties
- it can help you save money over the years
- it’s not uncommon for greenhouse seeds to be coated in chemicals to deter mice and pests. Buy your own seed and you can avoid this.
- vegetables started at home (usually) receive better care and will be stronger for it
- seedlings started at home are less likely to carry (or get) disease
- if you have seeds on hand, you can always replant if pests take out a crop (slugs sometimes get my cucumbers and I often have to put in a second sowing)
- you get the reward satisfaction of walking through the growing process, from seed to harvest!
These are just a few of the perks of seed starting vegetables yourself. And now? Let’s get on to the actual seed starting basics.
When to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors
As a gardener, your indoor seed starting dates depend on just 2 things!
1) Your last average frost date of spring
2) Your vegetable variety
Let me briefly explain.
Finding Your Last Average Frost Date
The first step in finding the right time start your vegetable seeds has to do with your last frost date of spring.
You can find records online that will give you the average day in your area.
Just put your zip code into google (or the zip code of your nearest town/city), type “last average frost date” and it’ll pull up records from the past 80+ years, giving you an exact day or week.
Hang onto that date. It’s the key to figuring all this out.
Better yet, grab your copy of my seed starting chart! At the top, there’s a place for you to enter this date, so you don’t forgot it.
Note: if you live outside of town at higher elevation than your community’s zip code, you may need to add an extra week, two or even three weeks to that frost date. If you have long-time gardeners in your area, talk to them about it. They’ll have valuable insight to share on the averages.
Find the Seed Starting Date on Your Seed Packet
After you’ve found your last average frost date, the next step is to look at your seed packets (or reference my free chart) to see whether or not a vegetable is suitable for seed starting indoors.
Although more and more seed companies are just telling you to look it up online.
If so, they’ll usually tell you to start it X number of day/weeks before your last average frost date.
Like the image below shows!
Pardon the dirt on my seed packet. I directly sow my squash, so the packets actually go out into the garden with me. As you can tell!
If you look on my chart, I also outline this information for you according to vegetable type.
Combine the Information to Find Your Seed Starting Date
You know your last average frost date. And you know how many days/weeks before your last frost to start vegetable seeds indoors.
All you have to do to find the right seed starting date is to count backwards. I’m terrible with numbers, and even I can do this one!
Count the days/week backward and enter that date into your free seed starting chart. There’s a place for it in the right hand column.
And just like that, you’ll have the right dates for your climate!
Vegetable Seed Starting Chart
Life gets busy for all of us. And in spite of the fact that we look forward to the gardening season, it’s easy to miss the right vegetable seed starting dates. And that’s why I created this chart for myself…errr, I mean you.
I never miss seed starting dates. Like, ever. 😉
Just leave your email below and I’ll send this chart right to you. From there, you can print it off, fill it out and keep it with your garden seeds so you don’t lose it.
What vegetable seeds should be started early?
Vegetables that are often started indoors (especially in northern climates like mine) include celeriac, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, leeks, onions, peppers (sweet and hot), pumpkin, squash (summer and winter), tomatillos and tomatoes.
These things need a longer growing season than I have, and by carefully choosing seeds that suit my climate and starting them indoors, I can get a head start and an actual, mature harvest.
If you want to start cold weather crops indoors to get a longer harvest before the heat comes, you can seed start broccoli, cauliflower, fast-maturing cabbage, lettuce, kale, kohlrabi, spinach, swiss chard and any other leafy greens that quickly go to seed when they get too hot!
What seeds should not be started indoors?
In general, root vegetables don’t transplant well to the garden. Directly sow beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas and turnips into your garden soil.
Members of the legume family (beans and peas) don’t like being transplanted, either. But if you’re careful and don’t let the seedling get too big, it can be done.
But personally, I’ve never found it to be worth the effort!
What if my seed packet says something different than your chart?
When in doubt, trust the seed packet! Sometimes varieties within the same vegetable family have different needs. For example, one tomato variety may take longer to mature and as a result, you might be required to start it a few weeks earlier than a faster maturing tomato type.
That said, you’ll find most of them only vary by a week or two.
How do I know if it’s too late to start seeds indoors?
In spite of our best efforts, sometimes we don’t get our seeds planted when the calendar says we should. Can you still start vegetable seeds indoors if you’re 2? 3? 4? weeks late?
The answer is yes. You can start seeds indoors at any time! Just remember why you start seeds ahead of time.
Most seeds/plants started inside take a long time mature. If you don’t start them early enough, you might not get much a harvest before your growing season ends.
I can start my onions or tomatoes 4 weeks before my first frost of fall. But my onions will be tiny. And my tomatoes might not ripen before the cold kills them off.
Celery, eggplant, leeks, onions, peppers, shallots and tomatoes really need at least a 6 week head start if you’re gardening in northern climates.
You can start these vegetables late, but just remember you might not get a full harvest.
I hope this made it easy to find the right seed starting date in your climate. Be sure to grab your free seed starting chart, so you can see your starting dates at a glance! As always, you can leave questions and comments below!