when to start seeds? some tools that can help

tomatoseedlingsHURRYING TO THE STARTING LINE can make for mishaps such as false starts, so don’t. That’s my best advice on when to sow what seeds for this year’s garden, but I know it isn’t very specific. To zero in on just what date you should sow your tomatoes indoors or put your peas in the ground, I’ve rounded up some calendar tools that can help, including a new one just sprouted by my friend Dave Whitinger of All Things Plants.

It should be no surprise to me that it was Dave who created this new online application, since besides his garden expertise, Texas-based Dave is a programmer (and the founder of Dave’s Garden, which he ran before moving on to start All Things Plants). Dave was the guest on this week’s “A Way to Garden” public-radio show and podcast, where we discussed the new Garden Planting Calendar app. (Stream the show now; get it on iTunes, or Stitcher, or at RobinHoodRadio.com.)

“My wife, Trish, is actually the one who pushed me to do this,” says Dave, adding that the Garden Planting Calendar took him only two months to develop and launch. It gives you first and last frost dates (where applicable) and sowing and/or planting dates by crop, based on the location you enter.

The app started with just U.S. weather data, but Canadian users quickly said, “What about us?” so Dave added that information, too. He also programmed in the Wikipedia-like ability for users to help fine-tune the calendar by adding their city and frost dates if they didn’t find them, or to correct errors—and in fact “many hundreds” of gardeners from Israel to South Africa to Pakistan have already widened the tool’s now-worldwide scope, Dave says.

“I’m improving it daily; it’s almost still in beta,” he says. Last week’s addition: a map feature, so you can perhaps pick a better position than the one the zip or address finder (based on government data) identifies you with.

A caveat: Any application is based on weather data that isn’t as localized as your very own backyard, but rather from the nearest official stations. Calling your county cooperative extension or public garden first, for hyper-local advice, or asking experienced gardeners in your locale, will help beginning gardeners, in particular, to know how to adapt calendar recommendations slightly to be “just right.”

planting charts and calculators

  1. Joe says:

    I just tried it out for our area, and it looks pretty accurate for what I’ve found works for me, as well as being in an easy to use format. The window for putting a some things out in the garden is problem skewed a little bit early, but overall I’m impressed.

  2. Donna says:

    Terrific timetable and very close to what I’ve used in the past – but always room for improvement! Lots of concise info all in one place. Thanks. I “pinned” it for later reference. (And that will help spread the word a little wee bit too.)

    Dreaming of green sprouting things and that good soil smell here in SW PA’s roller coaster weather.

  3. Lou Scott says:

    If I put my tomatoes in the ground according to that time table they be frozen. Best to follow your,area local county extension guidelines.

  4. Jen says:

    Thank you so much for this great resource. I am a new gardener (first year planting in the ground instead of containers!), and I am getting squirrelly to get going too! This has given me a great idea of how long I have to get ready!

  5. Kathlyn den Dulk says:

    The book is wonderful!, I am on my second read through. I have a feeling it will be a book I turn to like a meditation. I will adjust to the new pod cast format, but i miss Jill.

    The planting guide is a nice tool, thank you.

  6. Owen says:

    Hi Margaret!
    I just downloaded and listened your new format podcast/radio show on my way home from work- i think that your new format is a winner! (Although I will miss the jokes between you and Jill!)
    I wondered if I could ask a quick question. I grow vegetable seed each year for my allotment on a north facing window sill (not great I know) – which work ok for a bit but the plants get so leggy. This year have the opportunity to borrow a 250k Metal halide lamp- i was wondering if this light would be too powerful for seedlings- or even slightly overkill- should i try to get some T5 fluorescent tubes??
    I know you told us to just hold tight before sowing any seeds yet- so im trying to busy myself with the set up for the moment! Not quite at breaking point yet!
    Say hi to Jack for me!
    All the best- good luck with the book promotion!
    London, UK.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Owen. I don’t know about the right setup with metal halides (which I think emit a good deal of heat) and seedlings. I tried to do some homework, but didn’t find anything good from a source I trust. Now you have me curious!


    HI Margaret: Thanks for the info and links. They will be put to good use here.

    Have a great evening,

  8. Sandie Anne says:

    I was just wondering when I should get started here with my tomatoes and my peas. I thought I would try one batch of peas a little earlier this year and see if they work. Thanks for the great resource!

  9. Liz says:

    The site looks interesting, but his dates for Northern Westchester NY seem way early, according to traditional wisdom; on the other hand, the actual frost dates for the last few years have seemed earlier than CW indicated. I think I’m going to compromise a little: he’s suggesting a range of April 19-May 3 for planting tomatoes outside, and I’m thinking I’ll try May 3, instead of the normally-recommended May 30. But I’ll try some soil-warming techniques, too, and be ready with remay if needed. The remaining question is, do I really start my tomato seeds this weekend?!

  10. Megan says:

    I just started downloading your podcasts last week and I love them. The planting calendar from All Things Plants is great and giving me the push to get my seeds started. Ready for spring here in Baltimore!

  11. Lisa says:

    His dates do seem way early, if we had the climate of my childhood. Last year I started planting way earlier than the old school CW and it was a rousing success. I did some succession starting so I had a backup plan, but I will be following Dave’s schedule this year.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Lisa. I think you look at his dates (which are from gov’t climate data) and then see if they match when you THINK your frosts are, and adjust slightly. That’s what I am doing.

  12. Tracey says:

    I’m thinking of starting a raised container vegetable garden. I am wondering how much depth you need for carrots and potatoes? I am a beginner, so I am guessing it would be better for me to buy plants already started by farmers locally, since it is a little late for seeds? Does it matter what plants you plant next to each other? Also, is a soli like Miracle-gro® the way to go in a raised garden?
    Thank you,

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Tracey. Not sure where you are located, but probably time left unless you are far South. With raised beds, don’t skimp and make them less that 8 inches above ground, and I actually prefer the 10 inch high sides (more lumber and soil needed, but worth it). With carrots you will want to start from seed. With potatoes, with “see potatoes” which are on sale now. Just wrote about potato growing over here, and about carrots here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.