Thursday, January 27, 2011

Annual seed starting planting calendar - here's a handy guide for the home gardener!

About a week ago we held a meeting with the other growers/farmers who are going to be selling seedlings at our annual Seedling Sale in May.  This year is our 9th year that we've been holding this spring sale, and we are planning to have an even larger selection than last year!  We are really excited about the event and all the amazing city farmers and gardeners that come out to it each time!  We hope to have a mini outdoor cafe set up this year as encourage more socializing and lingering...

So, this week I started to get a little anxious because I hadn't written out our planting schedule yet for this year.  I usually print off a calendar that is specifically for our planting notes, as once the season gets going there is a lot to keep track of (planting dates, germination rate, watering schedule, transplanting dates, seed sources, etc).  I looked back in this blog where I had written a post with the planting calendar, and it was dated February 11 - so I'm still a few weeks ahead of last year's schedule!   (by the way, the photo below is from last spring - as we have defintiely not started our tomatoes or basil yet!)

Back by request, here is a general planting guide to help you know when to start seedlings that need to be started indoors.  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. Thanks for posting this again, Karin. I wanted to mention that I have found a great online garden planner, which was (and is) developed by a permacultureist. . It actually emails you to remind you when to plant and transplant things, and has a great year to year garden plan utility that keeps track of what you planted in each area in previous years, and reminds you to avoid those areas for the same type of plants, etc... Take a look, it's really cool.


  2. Hello,
    I wanted to thank you so much for putting together this schedule! I was thrilled to find it! I had also been pouring through the gardening books, trying to find something that gave me the complete picture for planting dates. So, many thanks. I will put your hard work to good use!
    -Jill, fellow gardener from Ellensburg, WA

  3. Hi, can I start planting seeds now or is it still too early, just outside flowers, I'm not a gardener my any means also pump kins I tried last year and nothing happened also sunflowers :( any tips on how to grow these?thank you...