Thursday, January 13, 2011

Early Birds Don't Always Get the Worm

January seems the perfect time to start thinking about gardening. After all, the holidays are over, and planning next spring's bounty is a great way to boost your spirits. Nothing can pick you up more than envisioning all the fabulous plants you will be growing and enjoying next season. By now the printed seed catalogs have arrived and the garden media is talking up the next garden season as well.

It's a perfect time to start putting together your seed order. For vegetable gardeners, it's really a good idea to start that process by thinking about what you really like to eat on an everyday basis for your main garden and consider a few new fun things to try out.

On the fun side, for example, if you've never grown edamame (edible soybean), hibiscus for herbal tea, Padron tapas peppers, Trombetta climbing summer squash or Wyatt’s Wonder super-giant pumpkins, this will be a good year to try them.

That said, I want to encourage everyone to wait before translating that planting urge into reality until the weather outdoors is truly ready. Traditionally, gardeners are often told to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seeds indoors “6 to 8 weeks before the last frost.” I do not think this is good advice. It just doesn't tell you much if you live where there is no hard frost, like Southern California. Even in much colder climates, it's hard to know when the last frost will be, given all the weather variability these last few years.

What I have found works much better is to think about when the night temperatures in your garden regularly reach the 50- 55°F (10-13°C) range and then count back 4-6 weeks from that to start these warm weather-loving seeds. In much of the country, that means you don't need to start warm season seeds indoors until mid-March. In the cold winter areas, the right time can be the middle of April.

In everywhere but the most tropical parts of the country, we start the seeds for long season heat-loving plants like tomatoes, eggplant and peppers early indoors to give them a needed head start because they take so long to mature. Then we transplant robust seedlings into the garden and they never look back.

But other large-seeded summer vegetables like corn, beans, squash, cucumbers and gourds are best sown directly in the garden once weather has warmed into the 50 to 55°F (10-13°C.). They will thrive best when they are sown directly in the soil because they have tender tap roots. Transplanting purchased or indoor grown seedlings for these plants into the garden inevitably shocks and sets them back. If you sow them directly from seed they will grow like little dynamos and surpass any transplants easily.

Likewise, fast-growing summer flowers like sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, marigolds also do much better if you sow them directly into the garden when the weather is warm and settled as described above. They will never be as vigorous or grow as quickly if you start them in pots or seed starting trays too early. I think it's a shame that so many retailers actually start offering warm season veggie plants like tomatoes when it still shivering cold outside. This trend seems to have gotten worse over the last few years. Resist the urge to buy these plants out of season and better yet, plan to start your own from seed at the right time. Your plants will reward you with great abundance and you'll have the real satisfaction and pleasure that comes from nurturing them from tiny seeds into full bearing plants. I never get tired of of this joy.


Chiot's Run said...

Great advice!

I've been working on my seed orders from the various catalogs. I always look through my seed stash and double check what I already have so I don't end up with multiples. I also think about what I grew the year before and loved or didn't like. I discard any seeds for items that didn't grow well, weren't enjoyed for texture, flavor etc.

I always pick out a few things that are fun to grow, this year I'm thinking broom corn so I can make brooms with my nieces in the fall. and maybe a proper 3 sisters garden.

Esther/Gaias Gift said...

Hi Renee,
I actually find that Emerite beans do better for me if I start them in soil cubes and then move them to the garden after they've put out their first true leaves.
I don't know that this is exactly an exception to your rule, as I start them about the same time that I would start them in the garden. They grow very quickly.
And it may be that handling the soil cubes is less damaging to the roots than any process that required dumping them out of pots. But they don't seem to be bothered by that transplanting at all.
I used to have problems where they didn't come up or seemed to get destroyed before the true leaves formed. Now I get 100% germination and they are big enough that critters aren't interested.
For what that's worth.

Layanee said...

It is difficult to resist the urge to get started but I have learned from experience that your advice is to be heeded. I may start onions and dill in the next month. That should help with the Nature Deficit Disorder winter brings.

Renee Shepherd said...

It's always fun to try at least one plant each year. Our trial garden, where we grow out potential new varieties, is always full of surprises. So bundle up and enjoy thoughts of summer!

Arika said...

Have really enjoyed all the seeds I have purchased from Renee's in the past. Excited that I found your blog! :) Looking forward to following.

Marg said...

Wow, that is such good information. I have many times tried to start seeds inside and they were always a total failure. I am so glad I found your blog and website. I have to plant things in pots because where I live the ground is red clay and it is almost impossible to dig in. I will be ordering some seeds from you. Take care.

Renee Shepherd said...

Thanks for all your comments. Even though I have been enjoying an unusual spell of warm sunny weather here in Felton these past few days, I know that Mother Nature still has a few more tricks up her sleeve. Lindsay is busy cleaning and organizing in the greenhouse, and I will be more talking more about seed starting soon.

Caren with a "C" said...

I love Renee's Garden Seeds... I like them so much that I ran a contest on my new blog Preserving Home Basics. The winner will be announced on my post tomorrow. The lucky winner is getting 3 packets of your seeds.

Brainna Mcslacker said...

I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. What do you think, if I would republished some of these articles in our news sections or on the site? It’s mainly a site for organic seeds and non gmo seeds, but I think a lot of them simply love every part of the world and would enjoy reading your blog. Let me know.


Renee Shepherd said...

Hi Briana. You are, of course, welcome to republish -- and take a look at the many articles and "how to" guides on our website as well ( Your readers may also find them useful. Best wishes,


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...