Setting up a seed calendar is one of the most exciting parts of starting a garden. Whether you’re a brand-new gardener or a seasoned farmer, setting up a planting schedule is an excellent way to get a head start on the growing season.
Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to create a seed starting calendar and get ready to grow!
Know Your Zone
When starting a seed calendar, one of the first things to do is figure out your USDA hardiness zone.
If you don’t already know your zone, the USDA has a color-coded hardiness zone map that helps you easily find it. Just type in your zip code on the web page and you’ll be able to see what zone you’re in.
USDA hardiness zones aren’t the only thing to consider when deciding when to plant, but they do provide a good guide. A lot of seed packets reference when to plant based on the zone, so it’s good to know which one you’re in.
Choose Your Seeds
Once you know your zone, the next step is to decide what plants you want to grow this year.
Knowing what seeds grow in each zone is an important part of having a healthy garden. Fortunately, many seeds can be grown in a wide variety of zones.
With the right planning, it’s possible to enjoy heat-loving crops even in northern climates. Southern gardeners will be happy to know that they can grow cool-weather crops too!
Consider Starting Seeds Indoors
If you live in a zone with a short growing season, you might need to start some of your seeds indoors. Starting seeds inside gives plants enough time to grow and produce before the cold temperatures of fall.
Chances are, if you live in a northern climate, you won’t be able to grow peppers without starting seeds indoors. The summer just isn’t long enough to give these plants time to grow. If you want to grow crops that otherwise wouldn’t work in your zone, indoor seed starting gives you a lot more options.
Setting up your seed starting calendar helps you figure out what you can grow in your zone and whether or not you need to start seeds indoors.
Even if you don’t live in a place with a short growing season, seed starting is the perfect way to make the most out of the season and get an earlier harvest.
Look at the Seed Packet
Many seed packets have some general planting information on the back. This is a good resource for deciding when to plant each variety.
Something I like to do is to separate seeds by planting time (like two weeks before the last frost, after the last frost, etc.) and then look at each stack one at a time to set up my seed starting calendar.
Check the Moon Calendar
Believe it or not, the moon has an impact on the best time to plant seeds. The phases of the moon affect things like soil moisture and germination speed. For this reason, many gardeners like to consider moon phases when deciding when to plant.
The Farmer’s Almanac uses a formula that’s over 200 years old to plant according to moon phases. The moon calendar shows what days are best to plant and what days you should avoid planting.
Find the Frost Dates
Knowing the average first and last frost dates plus the predicted frost dates is essential when putting together a seed starting calendar.
Many gardeners have made the mistake of planting outside during the first warm days of spring only to have their seedlings die when a late frost happened.
Weather can be unpredictable. A few weeks of warm temperatures doesn’t mean there won’t be a late spring frost. That’s why looking at predicted first frost dates in addition to average frost dates is important.
It can be so hard to wait, especially if you have had some beautiful weather, but don’t plant your seeds outside too early!
Where to Find Frost Dates
The Farmer’s Almanac has a page where you can put in your zip code to find the average first and last frost dates where you live.
Make a note of these on your seed starting calendar. Since the time to plant most seeds is determined by the first and last frost, frost dates are one of the biggest factors to consider when setting up your seed planting calendar.
Your local weather forecast is a good place to look for predicted frost dates. Keeping an eye on the local weather gives you a good idea of when it’s safe to start planting. Keep in mind that the predicted frost dates can vary from the average frost dates by quite a lot from year to year.
If you do happen to plant too early and a late frost is coming, don’t worry, all is not lost! There are ways to protect in-ground crops from frost. In many cases, you can cover your seedlings during the night to protect them from the weather, then remove the covers during the day.
First Frost after First Goldenrod
If you’re wondering how to predict the first frost in fall, there’s an old farmer’s tale that some gardeners use as a guide.
The story goes that when the first goldenrod blooms, there will be frost in six weeks. Whether or not this is true is hard to say! If goldenrod grows in your area, why not test it yourself this fall and see if the prediction holds true?
Decide what to Start Indoors and what to Direct Sow
Once you’ve figured out the first and last average frost dates, you’ll be able to determine how long the growing season is for your zone.
Take a look at your seeds and see how much time each variety needs to grow. This information, combined with the frost dates, gives you a good idea of when to plant each seed variety.
If the growing season is too short for some of the seeds you’ve chosen, that’s how you’ll know you need to start those seeds indoors.
If you’d like, choose some other seeds to start indoors as well to get a jump start on the growing season and a quicker harvest.
If you do start seeds indoors, make sure to harden off seedlings before transplanting them into the garden.
Consider Succession Planting
With succession planting, instead of planting all your seeds for one crop at the same time, you plant a few seeds every few weeks. You can repeat the process several times, planting more seeds every 2-3 weeks for several months.
This works especially well if you live in a zone with a long growing season but it can be used in every zone.
Succession planting allows you to have a continuous harvest all through the season because the plants mature at different times.
You can use succession planting with many crops, including beans, flowers, tomatoes, and more.
To include succession planting in your seed starting calendar, determine how many times you’d like to plant each crop and write down the dates you’ll plant each time.
Use a Garden Planner
Using a garden planner with a seed starting calendar makes it simple and easy to figure out when to plant.
Garden planners include a lot of basic information for timing and planning, plus information about planting to help you plan your garden.
You can find a garden planner at Hoss Tools that includes average first and last frost dates, suggestions for companion planting, row spacing, planting depth, and more.
Time to Start Your Seed Starting Calendar
With a little planning and preparation, you’re sure to have a fantastic garden this year! With a good seed starting calendar, you’ll stay organized and be ready to make the most of your garden this season.
To learn more about planning and starting a garden, don’t miss the Seed Starting page. You’ll find so many tips and tricks plus product recommendations to help you have the best garden yet.
- About the Author
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Sadie Teh has experience writing on a wide range of topics including gardening, outdoor life, crafts, travel, and more. She currently lives on 5 acres near Nashville, Tennessee, where she enjoys growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers (there’s always room for one more plant!)
Sadie’s writing is driven by a genuine desire to help people grow beautiful, thriving gardens while sharing the joy and satisfaction that gardening brings. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in education, Sadie’s background not only adds depth to her writing but also allows her to effectively communicate with a wide range of readers.
Sadie’s favorite things to grow are flowers (especially sunflowers) and tomatoes. When she’s not writing or working in the garden, you can find Sadie substitute teaching at her kids’ school, curled up with a good book, or poring over seed catalogs.
Sadie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org