Like many gardeners, once the holiday clean up is done, my mind turns to garden planning and seed starting; especially with all the new seed catalogues arriving in my mailbox each day! However, January is far too early to start most seeds and sowing seeds too early is just as bad – maybe worse! – than starting them too late. Don’t waste your time, money, and supplies with early seed starting. Here are three pitfalls of planting seeds too early.
3 pitfalls of planting seeds too early:
1) Too little light – Those who rely on a sunny windowsill to start their seeds would be wise to wait until a little longer for seed sowing. Most plants need at least 10 hours of light in order to grow well, and in January, much of the Northern Hemisphere receives less than that. In my Nova Scotia garden, I only get about nine hours of light in early to mid-January. Too little light results in leggy, spindly seedlings, which will never make good garden plants.
2) An indoor jungle – For grow-light gardeners, lack of light isn’t a problem; as long as the light bulbs are hanging only about 3 inches above the plants. And, adequate light will eliminate the leggy factor and help produce sturdy, well branched seedlings. But, starting your seeds too soon can still be a problem. How? Seeds sown too early will result in bigger plants…. which then need to be potted up into bigger containers… which will quickly take over your seed starting area/house and cost you more money is potting soil, organic fertilizer and pots. Plus, you’ll need to be on top of watering, as those sizeable seedlings will need more frequent irrigation.
3) Big plants can bolt – And those big plants in the big pots? Well, they can think that they’ve reached maturity and start producing flowers and fruits while still inside your house. In the case of tomatoes, you may think this gives you an awesome head start to a homegrown harvest, but this is not the case. Tomato plants grow and yield best when they are transplanted before they begin to flower, 6 to 8 weeks from sowing seed. I start my tomatoes in mid-March, for mid-May transplanting. Bolting can also adversely affect other types of seedlings like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. This will reduce or eliminate your harvest, not hasten it.
So, if planting seeds too early is bad, when should you start your vegetable, herb and flower seeds? Refer to the seed packet, catalogue or company website. They should offer accurate advice on when to sow seeds for each type of plant. You can also find an excellent seed starting calculator here. Just enter your last average frost date and it will tell you when to seed indoors.
In the meantime, if you’re still itching to get seeding, try these simple indoor garden projects.
Savvy January sowing:
- Plant up a few pots or trays of shoots or microgreens. We love sunflower shoots, baby kale, and Asian greens. For best results, sow seed under grow-lights.
- Organize your seeds! I always have the best intentions to keep my seed boxes well organized. By September however, succession planting and repeated sowings has resulted in seed box chaos. Take this opportunity to go through your seed packets, discarding any that are old, and donating any that you won’t use again. You can also take inventory of what you have, which will help you decide what to order. Keep seeds organized in a photo box, photo album or other type of storage container.
- Now that you’ve organized your seeds, it’s time to go through your favourite seed catalogues and order fresh seeds. Be sure to check out some of the newly introduced varieties, like the 2017 All-America Selection winners!
Will you be starting any seeds indoors this spring?