Garden Question of the Day
- If I plant seeds now, will the plants have time to grow before the cold weather sets in?
- How do you know when it’s too late to start seeds?
Excellent questions! The answer is not always clear when you read the instructions on seed packets but there’s a simple way to figure it out.
If you’d like more information on understanding all of the information on seed packets, see How to read seed packets.
The answer is going to be different for each type of seed. Even within one plant species, there are many variations in the time needed from seed to harvest or flowering. For example, some early types of tomatoes are ready in just over 60 days and others take twice that long. So you have to plan accordingly for every single type of seed you grow.
At the risk of sounding like a nag, it’s also very important to follow the planting instructions on the packet (location, amount of sun, type of soil, spacing, seed depth…) for best results.
Also, some seed packets list germination rates (what percentage of the seeds should germinate). For example, a germination rate of 80%, means that for every 10 seeds you start, 8 should sprout if conditions are favourable. Don’t assume you’ve done something wrong if only some of your seeds sprout. It could just be that it’s a seed type that always has some duds.
Here’s how you calculate your last possible seed starting date
You can find this information on the seed packet or look it up online for the exact seeds you have:
1. Find out how many days the seeds generally take to germinate = A.
2. Find out how many days from transplant (when the seedlings are fully germinated) to harvest = B.
3. A + B = C.
4. Find out the average date of first frost in your area = D.
5. Subtract C (total number of days from seed to harvest) from D (first frost date) = the latest date you should plant the seeds.
Example – Burpee Organic Allsweet Watermelon
1. Germination takes up to 10 days (A).
2. Transplant to harvest takes up to 104 days (B).
3. Total days required from seed to harvest = 10 + 104 = 114 days.
4. Let’s say the first frost date is October 1
5. Count back 114 days from October 1 = June 9. (You can use a calendar for this or an online calculator.)
This means these watermelon seeds should be planted no later than June 9th if first frost is October 1. Earlier is better for a crop like this that enjoys full sun and warmth.
- How late you can start seeds outdoors depends on the type of seed and when you expect first fall frost in your area.
- Calculate how many days are required from seed to harvest and count back from your first frost date to know your plant-by date.
- Follow all of the planting instructions on the seed packet for best results.