Snow is melting, patches of bare ground expanding, and gardeners are chomping at the bit to get started with the growing season. For some of us, that means starting seeds indoors.
I am a newcomer to seedstarting, but I won’t let that stop me from sharing the benefit of my (very limited) experience. Which is this: when it comes to tender and many other annuals, patience pays.
In other words, it is better to start such plants later in the available window of planting time, even though the desire to see sweet little seedlings emerge from their pots is almost irresistible. At least, this is true for those of us with very limited space for our seed-starting activities.
Basically, I just want to reduce the chances of transplanting into cold soil, which would make for a harsh introduction to the outside world for my precious seedlings. This is not necessarily fatal, but it can slow initial growth or even stunt the plant for an entire season.
Now, it’s true that the average frost free date has shifted earlier in our area. It used to be May 15th, and now it’s supposed to be May 4th. Even as this happens, however, spring has become more unpredictable in terms of when the soil is sufficiently warmed. Even without frosts, spring can move slowly and stay excessively brisk and, in my unscientfic opinion, this seems to be happening with greater frequency.
(Actually, I’ve been told that a better guideline than the last frost date is to wait until the nighttime temperatures consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 degrees Celsius).
The sooner you start seeds indoors, the harder it is to avoid planting seedlings too early.
I don’t have any good inside spaces for seedlings that are ready to move out before the outside is ready to be hospitable. Plants left too long under the grow lights become overcrowded, which can make them scrawny and vulnerable to disease. Moving them to an indoor spot with insufficient light is not a good solution, either.
So the upside of waiting is a greater likelihood of transplant success. The downside is I have to suppress my desire to fill all the beds and containers with bloom as early as possible. And depending on the weather, the delay might not be necessary. But still, I prefer to go with a lower-risk approach.
What this means in practice is that I’m using the old May 15 frost-free date, climate change be damned. And if the seed packet says plant indoors 4-6 weeks before last frost, I’m planting 4 weeks out. In fact, I’m planning on starting most of my indoor seeds on April 1 or April 15. A few as late as May 1. The only thing I’m starting in March is Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima). But then again, I may buy a few flats of Pansies in April to ensure that I have some color in my containers.
How do you decide on your indoor seed-starting dates?