Thursday, February 11, 2010

Start your seedlings - planting guide

It's mid February, and that means time to start planting seeds that need a long germination (like many herbs), reorganizing the greenhouse, cleaning trays, buying more starter soil, and also planning out the garden.

I have had requests again, to re-post the seedling starting guide which we posted here before. I have compiled this information from several books - including The Organic Growers Complete Guide to Vegetables and Fruits, by Rodale; The Harrowsmith Northern Gardener, by Jennifer Bennett, and Eliot Coleman's books. There is also lots of useful information (and gorgeous botanical photography!) on the You Grow Girl website, plus their simple but handy planting guide here:

Here is the planting guide we use, based on our frost-free date being May 24 (for our Zone 5 here in southern Ontario).

A quick note on starting herb seedlings. Most perennial herbs, for example, culinary herbs like lavender, thyme, sage, rosemary, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, hyssop, marjoram, winter savory, and most other medicinal herbs, take a long time to germinate. These tiny seeds need patience - often taking 6-8 weeks just to germinate and then many more weeks before they are ready to plant out. These should be started now, mid February. Of course, once you have these herbs in your garden the perennial ones will not need to be started again - and many herbs can also be propogated by cuttings or division in the spring or summer (like oregano). Since herbs can be time consuming and sometimes difficult to start from seed, there are good herb suppliers like Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario, where you can mail order seedlings in early spring. Richters has a huge assortment of herbs - annual and perennials, plus interesting heirloom vegetables, greens, flowers and also even some berries/fruit - we purchased our Chicago Hardy Fig tree from Richters last year and hope to have figs to harvest from it this year!

Annual herbs, like basil varieties, chives and cilantro, don't take nearly as long to get started. Basil is started around the same time as tomatoes, and although dill and cilantro can be transplanted, they grow quickly and can simply be planted directly in the warm garden soil several times over the growing season.

PLANTING GUIDE (based on frost-free date of May 24):
FEBRUARY (the greens listed here can continue to be planted throughout the growing season of course)

Start lettuce, chard, other greens in greenhouse or in flats indoors (to be planted out to greenhouse). Start selected medicinal and culinary herbs by middle of February. Some take 6-8 weeks to germinate!

10 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 15)
Start seeds of celery, eggplant, leeks, onion, pepper and flowers like impatiens, lobelia, verbena and perennials indoors.

8 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. March 29)
Start seeds of early head lettuce and flowers like begonia, coleus, nicotiana, petunia and salvia indoors.

7 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 5)
Start seeds of tomatoes, hot peppers, and early basil indoors.

6 WEEKS TO LAST FROST(aprox. April 12)
Start seeds of early left lettuce, early cabbages including cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and kale, and small seeded annuals indoors. DIRECT SEED broad beans, carrots, peas, spinach, leaf lettuce, turnips, dill, parsley, and hardy flowers such as alyssum, candytuft, pansies, poppies, snapdragons, stocks, sunflowers and sweet peas. Plant onion sets or transplant onion seedlings outdoors.

4 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. April 26)
Start melon seeds indoors. If desired, start seeds of late basil, cucumber, squash, pumpkin, large-seeded annuals, and flowering vines indoors in peat pots. DIRECT SEED radishes, beets, cabbages, chard, head lettuce, and flowers such as godetia, hollyhock, and mallow. Plant potato eyes and transplant seedlings of early cabbages, except cauliflower.

2 WEEKS TO LAST FROST (aprox. May 10)
DIRECT SEED corn, tender bulbs such as glads, and annual vines such as morning glory. Transplant early lettuce seedlings.

WEEK OF LAST FROST (aprox. May 17-24)
Around the last frost date you can finally direct seed beans, cauliflower, cucumber, squashes, heat-loving flowers such as zinnias, marigold, and lavatera. Transplant your tomaotes. If you've got them, transplant cauliflower, squash and cucumber seedlings.

1-2 WEEKS AFTER FROST (aprox. May 31-June 7)
Wait for a couple of weeks after the last frost before direct seedling lima benas, soybeans, melons and herbs such as basil, summer savory and sweet marjoram. Transplant celery, melon, peppers, eggplant seedlings when the night temperatures stay well above 10 degrees C. Plant sweet potato slips. Start second crop of kale seedlings, and reseed spinach and peas for second crop.


  1. This will be oh so useful, thanks for posting this. I'm assuming things would be about the same for those of us living in Toronto?

  2. Thanks Karen.

    A few additional indispensible books.

    1. Kitchen Garden by Patrick Lima. Lima provides a very nice and easy to use planting chart along with very practical techniques. There is an updated version "the organic home garden" that I have not read.

    2. Also by Lima -- "Herbs: the Complete Gardeners Guide". Besides providing useful info for growing and using herbs, it is an absolute delight to read. Lima's love of nature, gardens and history comes shining through.

  3. great info! Just what I was looking for!