Is it time to start seeds yet?

Generally we suggest our new gardeners buy transplants the first year and wait until they have a season (or two) under their belts before they tackle seed starting. But if you’re ready, here’s some real-time info that will help you.

The most important thing to consider is timing. It’s common for gardeners to get excited for spring and start seeds too early. Or maybe you’re thinking that the earlier you start seeds, the earlier you’ll have a harvest. Unless you’re growing in a hoophouse or greenhouse,  you are more likely to stunt seedlings that were started too early than give them a head start.


Why? Here’s a few good reasons:
  • In Chicagoland, edible plants are typically transplanted outside at the earliest between the end of April and mid-May (unless you are growing in a hoophouse or employing season-extension techniques). The transplant date is usually indicated by nighttime temperatures.
  • Most seed packets recommend transplanting about 6 weeks after germination. At this size, the plants have an established root system, strong stems and several sets of leaves, yet aren’t so large they are becoming rootbound or too tall.
  • Counting back from the 4th weekend of April for cool-weather crops, the earliest time to start seeds like kale, broccoli and swiss chard would be the week of March 9th.  Counting back from the third weekend of May for warm weather crops, the earliest time to start seeds like tomato, pepper and eggplant is the week of March 30th.
  • Notice that there’s seven weeks in there? That’s to allow about a week for the seeds to germinate. Give yourself more time for seeds that take a longer amount of time to germinate, like parsley.
  • These dates assume optimum indoor growing conditions. If you don’t have a strong source of light or if your space is cooler than 65F, your plants will take a bit longer to reach the size typically seen at 6 weeks.
Don’t forget to check out our seed starting tips (parts 1 and 2) to give your plants the right start!


What seeds are good to start indoors next week?: onions, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, collard greens and cabbage. Bok choy, rapini and spinach are fairly fast-growing, so start those a week or so later. Otherwise, they’ll get too big before it’s warm enough to plant outside, and will need larger pots, more potting soil and brighter light to thrive indoors.