When to Start your Seeds for a Thriving Garden

by | Feb 8, 2023

By February, gardeners are itching to get their hands back in the soil. Our muscles are well-rested after some hibernation, the days are beginning to lengthen, and a few warm days here and there tease that spring is around the corner. I’ll be honest; we’ve had such a mild winter that I never really stopped wanting to be out in the garden!

As our excitement builds, we can meet that eagerness with a well-thought-out plan for how to ensure we have a successful growing season. It can be tempting to jump right into starting all our seeds at once – the more the merrier, right? Well, sort of.

While we want our gardens to be teeming with diversity, we need to draw up a solid plan for how to guarantee that those plants are happy and healthy. The key to a well-designed garden plan (and a thriving garden) is timing.

In the short term, sowing all your seeds in the first couple weeks of February may bring joy – seeing the tiny tomatoes, eggplants, and other summer seedlings on your windowsill, foretelling the warm summer months to come. However, you’ll want to wait until the end of February or early March to sow crops that thrive in the height of summer. This is because, after eight weeks of living in their seedling pots, seedlings will be ready to be transplanted into their seasonal homes; but the weather may not be well suited for this step. So, unless you have a warm greenhouse to transplant them into, hold off for a few more weeks.

Tips for Spring Planting

Generally speaking, you can look at when a crop is recommended for transplantation into the ground, then count backwards six to eight weeks to determine when to start your seed indoors. At Trellis for Tomorrow, we’re planning our spring plantings to begin the week of March 27th. Using the 8-week rule, we will start our first round of seedlings in the first week of February. This year, we’ll be sowing broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Swiss chard, collards, kale, and lettuce.  Then, when these crops are ready to be transplanted into the garden come late March/early April, you’ll have healthy six-to-eight-week-old seedlings that are eager to spread their roots.

If you’re a member of Trellis for Tomorrow’s GREEN |SPACE| and received our annual Gardening Guide, flip to the end where you’ll find a handy checklist of crops well suited for your spring, summer, and fall plantings. Become a member with a monthly donation of $10 or more. Have questions? Contact us. 

Crops that are well-suited for spring are cold-hardy, meaning they can withstand light frost. Not only are they able to survive cold nights, but they thrive in the unpredictable spring weather. Nights that dip below freezing actually bring out some of their best flavors – lettuce sweetens, kale becomes nice and tender, broccoli and cauliflower form more flavorful heads.

Tips for Summer Planting

For those of you who love summer crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, and cucumbers – fear not! You don’t have much longer to wait before starting your seed germination process. Trellis for Tomorrow’s summer plantings begin in early/mid May, which means we’ll be starting our summer seeding in early March.

Zucchini and cucumbers are an exception to the 8-week rule. Instead of counting backwards eight weeks, you only need to count back three to four weeks. This is due to the speed at which these crops grow – they will not be happy if they are confined to their pots for much longer than a few weeks.

For tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, you may want to “pot up” your seedlings once they are about four weeks old. To do this, you’ll start your seeds in a seed germination pot in early March. Then, after about three to four weeks, you’ll gently remove the seedling from its pot, place it into a larger pot size, and fill the empty space with soil. This promotes root growth and allows the plant to gain vigor.

We’ll update this post with a section on fall planning. For now, us gardeners have enough on our plates for the spring and summer! Hopefully, this post is useful for helping you map out your seeding schedule and gets you as excited for the upcoming growing season as we are!

Luke Carneal is the Agricultural Program Manager at Trellis for Tomorrow. He comes to us with over ten years of experience in organic farm management. When he’s not out ensuring that all of our network gardens are thriving, you can find him exploring hydroponic growing and roughhousing with his dog.

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