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Seed-Starting 101 : Part 1 of 6 : Crafting a Seed Starting Schedule

Nothing welcomes spring like a cold frame full of seedlings. Nothing welcomes spring like a cold frame full of seedlings.

Crafting a Seed-Starting Schedule

From the soft comfort of a fireside rocking chair, your garden holds endless possibilities. You can picture--taste, even--the sweet tang of your certain bushels of tomatoes, the crisp crunch of cucumbers, the melting delicateness of a pile of stir-fried snow peas. All of this dreaming is essential--and at least partly true--but luckily February moves along, and wispy garden dreams must solidify into concrete garden plans if you hope to bring your visions to fruition, so to speak.

There are many garden plans to be made--questions of fencing, fertility, and size, among countless others--but one of the most vital is planning your schedule for starting seeds.

The key information to establishing your plan is your last spring frost date. This date is the average last day that gardeners can expect a frost to visit their garden. Here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, this date is about May 10th. However, this date differs significantly throughout the state (see this link from Cornell for an enlightening map), and it is also often refuted by actual fact: in both 2008 and 2009, for example, much of the Hudson Valley experienced a late May frost strong enough to damage frost-tender crops significantly. Still, we need a starting point, and the last frost date is it. (Outside NYS? Check out this link for extremely thorough frost and freeze data from throughout the country.)

Below is a rough schedule of spring seed-starting tasks in our region. For gardeners in the NYC metro area, you can start seeds about two or three weeks earlier than listed; for gardeners north and west of the Hudson Valley, you can start seeds about one week later than listed. Live elsewhere? Modify the chart by figuring out the difference between your frost date and May 10th, then adjust your plantings by that increment in either direction.

This table is a work in progress (it's also too busy-looking for my taste--but it'll have to do for now). It is not meant to be prescriptive; it just lists sowing and transplanting opportunities for each of the main spring planting weeks. Many flowers and herbs are not yet included, and probably a few veggies are missing, too. Share your preferred planting dates in the comments, and let me know what's missing. Enjoy!

"Under Protection" means in a cold frame, greenhouse, or indoors with supplemental lighting.

Week Starting... Seed-Starting Opportunities in the Mid-Hudson Valley (May 10th Frost Date)
Feb 14th Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
Feb 21st Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
Feb 28th Under Protection: Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
March 7th Under Protection: Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac, Artichoke
March 14th Under Protection: Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Arugula, Spring Raab, Kohlrabi, Parsley, Onions, Leeks, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives, Celery, Celeriac
Direct Sow: Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
March 21st Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
March 28th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
April 7th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
April 14th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Chard, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant:Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
April 21st Under Protection: Chard, Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Lettuce, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant:Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
April 28th Under Protection: Peppers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Spring Raab, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring/Summer Onions
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 7th Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes, Tatsoi, Bok Choy
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Spring Raab, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 14th Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes, Tatsoi, Bok Choy
Direct Sow: Chard, Beets, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, Peas, Arugula, Spring Raab
Transplant: early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 21st Under Protection: Okra, Cucumbers, Melons, Squash, main season Cabbage, Tomatoes
Direct Sow: Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Tomatoes, early Cabbage, Kale, Collards, Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Lettuce, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
May 28th Under Protection: Okra, Melons
Direct Sow: Cucumbers, Squash, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Cucumbers, Squash, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, Kale, Collards, Tatsoi, Bok Choy, Arugula, Parsley, Scallions, Chives, Garlic Chives
June 7th Direct Sow: Okra, Melons, Cucumbers, Squash, Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Carrots, Parsnips, Arugula
Transplant: Okra, Melons, Cucumbers, Squash, Peppers, Eggplant, Tomatoes, main season Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts

34 thoughts on “Seed-Starting 101 : Part 1 of 6 : Crafting a Seed Starting Schedule”

  • Cristin

    Doug! You are a genius. This blog post is so amazing and helpful. I'm looking forward to the rest of the posts. xo C

    Reply
  • Beth

    This is so great - thanks!!! Would radishes go in at the same time as carrots? Chard at the same time as spinach?

    Reply
    • ken

      Actually, it's closer to the other way around: radishes with spinach and chard with carrots. But thanks for spotting the holes! I'll fill them in right now. Anyone else see missing items? I know there must be some more...

      Reply
  • Jamie

    I do not have a way to do the "under protection" planting now. I remember someone suggesting to me that I can direct sow the seeds that can stand the cold as early as December for the following spring (cabbage, lettuce, kale, spinach, snap peas...I think) and they will come up when the conditions are right. Is this a bad idea? I direct sowed those seeds in March once and it worked out ok, but I would like to know if it is a big risk to do it that way. Please let me know your thoughts on this.

    Reply
    • doug

      Cold or Winter Sowing can work out great. I know people who swear by sowing their spinach around Thanksgiving time. The seeds get growing as soon as possible in spring, leading to a slightly earlier harvest. There is some risk; if we have a winter warm spell, seeds can germinate early and be killed if the weather turns too cold too fast. So I'd only recommend it for the crops you mention that are ultra-hardy at their seedling stage: spinach and peas. The brassicas germinate so quickly in warmer temps that it just seems like less bother to germinate them indoors or in a cold frame or in the garden in spring. But give it a try and let us know how it works for you. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Naseer

    Thanks for publishing this guide! We're in Poughkeepsie, and this is our second year doing vegeteable gardening. Last year, we started all of our flats indoors simultaneously, but all the reading we've been doing this year says that it's best to more carefully calibrate each plant's sowing time to # of weeks to transplant, as you show so clearly in your table above.

    This seed-starting guide is awesome! I've seen a lot of this information before, but never condensed into a single, coherent series. Elsewhere, it's spread out all over the web. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
  • Judy Bernstein Bunzl
    Judy Bernstein Bunzl 03/02/2010 at 8:22 am

    Thanks for being here.
    Two questions for now, 1. would 'days to harvest' refer to days from transplant date or from seed starting day?
    2. If seeds seed to germinate well just by a sunny window, is there a reason to use supplemental lighting?
    Thanks
    Judy

    Reply
    • doug

      Days to harvest generally refers to days from seeding, except in the cases of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, when "days to harvest" refers to number of days after the transplant date. A sunny windowsill can work for raising seedlings in rare cases, so if it's worked for you in the past, I'd encourage you to do what works. However, most "sunny" windows get significantly less sun than most people think, and it's unidirectional, so seedlings often end up stretching higher and toward the window in search of rays. Leggy seedlings tend to be weak and face more challenges at transplant time. If in doubt, perhaps position a lamp with a compact fluorescent bulb near one portion of your windowsill and monitor the differences between those seedlings that get the extra light and those that don't. No purchases necessary--worth a shot!

      Reply
  • Heather

    Thank you SO much.This is VERY helpful.

    Reply
  • Amanda

    This list is great! It's not too busy at all; far better than the scattered notes I usually use. I have a question about okra: should I follow the same time schedule as for tomatoes?

    Reply
    • doug

      Thanks for finding another missing bit! For okra you'd actually follow the guidelines for melons. Okra is a fast-growing crop, so if started indoors it should be started not too early--lest it become unwieldy or leggy before being transplanted. It can be direct sown in early June along with the melons; I'm updating the chart to include this.

      Reply
  • [...] Hudson Valley Seed Library blog is doing a series on seed starting - here’s a link to part one. I particularly like that table for seed starting [...]

    Reply
  • Naseer

    Do you differentiate between types of lettuce in terms of starting seed Under Protection vs Direct Sow? Or are they just like other transplantable vegetables, where starting indoors is always better if you care about extending your season and have the resources (light, warmth) to do so?

    Reply
    • doug

      I don't really differentiate except when going for a baby lettuce or mesclun mix, which I always direct sow. (The work involved in raising seedlings to harvest only one or two weeks after transplanting seems silly.) Lettuce transplants well and can be started directly in a cold frame with no problems; transplanted lettuce is more evenly spaced and easier to harvest. If you only have room to start certain types early, go for the romaines, as they take the longest to reach maturity. And remember that lettuce germinates best in slightly cooler conditions than other vegetables--in the 60-70 degree range is best.

      Reply
  • Naseer

    Thanks, Doug! That's very helpful. Depending on the varieties we have, our space constraints, and whether this snow melts in time, we'll determine what gets started as direct sow under cold frame vs indoor under lights.

    Reply
  • Naseer

    I noticed you had cucumbers and squash on May 7 for starting under protection and May 28 for transplant. Few questions:

    I was surprised that 3 weeks would be enough to raise them to a transplantable size. You don't see any benefit in starting them earlier to get them bigger before putting them in the garden?

    Also, is the reason you recommend putting them out over 2 weeks after the last frost date that they are particularly prone to cold weather shock?

    Reply
    • doug

      Hey Naseer,

      Cucurbits grow more quickly than most other veggies--they fast become unmanageable (and unhappy) in trays or soil blocks. So, three or four weeks is the maximum amount of time you'd want to wait before transplanting. And yes, they--like peppers and eggplants--gain nothing from being transplanted into cool soil. If you warm it or provide row cover, an earlier transplant is fine, but otherwise it's best to wait until the later part of May when the soil's a bit warmer. (Of course, the chart is a guideline for a usual year. Some years the soil does warm up more quickly, and the warm weather does settle in earlier, so temper the advice in the chart with observations of the real weather conditions as they unfold.)

      Doug

      Reply
  • [...] lots of questions from gardeners who are confused about what to plant and when. Doug’s Seed Starting 101: Crafting a Seed Starting Schedule is a great place to look for answers.  Here’s a real-time list of What’s In and [...]

    Reply
  • Kate

    Hi Doug,

    This table has been SUPER helpful, thanks! For the last couple of years I haphazardly started some seeds indoors or under protection, with a variety of horrible reults :) This year, armed with your schedule & a cold frame based on the one you also posted in this series, I am creating a small batallion of seedlings... Some are just unfurling towards the sky, & others are growing vigorously and getting their grownup leaves... and I CAN'T TELL YOU how good it feels to know they're doing it on a sensible schedule. Thanks a million!

    Kate

    Reply
  • Debby

    Awesome! Last year was my first year starting from seeds under a shop lightand I made a WAY too busy excel sheet. This is much easier---I now have a cold frame this year and itching to go! Keep it up, and NO, your table is not too busy.
    From the ADK, debby

    Reply
  • Deb

    What type of tomato is Principe Borghese? Determinate or indeterminate?

    Reply
  • Annie Manzi

    I hate to sound ignorant on the matter, Is "under Protection" indoors or is it be outdoors under a cold frame?

    Reply
    • tusha

      Hey Annie, "Under protection" can mean a couple of different things, so thanks for bringing that up! In the northeast, when we say "start under protection" (or "start early") we are referring to starting seeds in small pots or soil blocks either indoors, in a greenhouse, or in a cold frame. Tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplants and some herbs, all need to be started early and transplanted outside after last frost. Many other crops happily adapt to this treatment, too--and produce earlier yields because of it. You may find our earlier post on gardening vocabulary helpful: http://www.seedlibrary.org/blog/oh-say-can-you-seed-seedy-vocabulary-for-home-gardening/. Happy sowing!

      Reply
  • Marc

    This is just an awesome resource for us here in the valley!
    This should be a permanently available chart...
    So when do I transplant celeriac?
    (How hardy is it ?)

    Reply
  • Patti

    This chart is great. I am considering however getting an indoor system...a rack with some grow lights and trays, and wonder what could/should I be starting now? A few times I have started seeds indoors, and some things worked really well, others not so, but it was using available light and some of the plants were spindly as to be expected. :) patti

    Reply
    • tusha

      Hey Patti, we just updated the second installment of our Seed Starting Series, which goes over indoor and outdoor systems. Have a look: http://www.seedlibrary.org/blog/seed-starting-101-part-2-of-6-starting-seeds-under-protection/. Let me know if you have any other questions, and I can help you troubleshoot.

      Reply
  • SUSAN LOXLEY-FRIEDLE
    SUSAN LOXLEY-FRIEDLE 02/20/2013 at 7:59 am

    Being English I LOVE brussel sprouts.... should I treat them with the same schedule as Kohrabi and Broccoli? I have always germinated them indoors as they need such a long growing season
    Your calendar chart is very helpful indeed.

    Reply
    • tusha

      Hey Susan,
      We love Brussels Sprouts too! I'll add them to the chart right now.
      Since Brussels Sprouts don't love hot weather, we recommend starting them in the beginning of June for a fall harvest. You can start them along with Kohlrabi and Broccoli, but they may get moody in the heat of summer.

      Reply
  • Tonia

    Great list! Super helpful.

    Reply
  • Lisa

    This is amazingly helpful. Not too be greedy :-) but any chance of extending it to include a fall schedule? I am desperately trying to get a final season of greens, brassicas etc out of the garden!

    Reply
    • tusha

      Thanks, Lisa! We'll be posting sowing guides throughout the season. In the meantime, take a look at this fall schedule from last year: www.seedlibrary.org/blog/sow-now-what-seeds-to-sow-for-fall/ Hope that helps!

      Reply
  • Cindi

    Love your chart. Have been looking for this for several years. Definately
    not too busy. You transplanted brussel sprouts on June 7 but when did you seed it inside? Love the fall schedule. I will be following your charts this year. Thanks
    L

    Reply
  • Cary Bradley
    Cary Bradley 04/27/2013 at 1:40 pm

    Excellent chart! I have referred to it many, many times. Thanks so much for putting it together. As a transplant to New England from sunny Southern California, I've had miles to learn about timing plantings. Am I missing turnips? Thanks!

    Reply

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