When to plant? That is a big question. We are still a ways off from warmer weather. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t start thinking about the garden. Winter is a great time to go ahead and start planning your garden and picking up seeds. Let’s talk a bit about planting calendars and when to get started on that garden.
Soil temperature should be our guide for when we plant. Ideally, for warm-season vegetables we want the soil temperature to be at least 65 degrees. Some examples of warm-season vegetables are tomatoes, peppers, squash, and okra. Cool-season vegetables can be planted when soil temperatures have reached 50 degrees. Some examples of those are radishes, cabbage, collards, and kale.
Some crops like carrots, parsnips, beets, radish, turnips, and mustard do better from seed. However, for most other vegetables using transplants is a great way for your garden to get a head start. There are a few benefits to using transplants. One is spacing. Not every seed that you plant is going to come up. For most plants, if we have good quality seed we hope to get at least 85% germination. If you space out the seeds in your garden and some of them don’t germinate you’ll have wasted space. Using transplants, you know that you’ll have a live plant in every spot. Another reason is weed control. A transplant that is already up and growing with a developed root system will be able to compete against weeds for sunlight, water, and nutrients better than a plant growing from seed. You’ll also put yourself a little ahead of the game.
There are two ways to get transplants. The first is the easiest. Go to one of the garden centers or nurseries around here and buy them. The second option is to grow them yourself. This is not too difficult to do, and it gives you a fun project to do inside while it’s still cold outside. The things that you’ll need are seeds, growing media, and a grow container or tray. Fill the container with the growing media (a mixture of peat moss, sand, and loamy soil). Place one or two seeds in each cell of the tray, and then cover it very lightly with a little bit of soil. The timing of seeding is important. Tomatoes take 5 to 7 weeks before they’re ready. Squash only takes 2 to 3. Peppers take 7 to 9 weeks. So pick your target planting date and back up from there to determine when you need to start transplants. I usually recommend planting outside in mid-May for warm-season vegetables. Most seeds will need to be at least 70 degrees to germinate. You can purchase a heating pad to put your seed trays on to reach this temperature. Once the plant has germinated, you will need a way to provide light for it. A south-facing window won’t provide enough light and will need to be supplemented. Supplement with fluorescent or LEDs. Leave the bulbs on for 16 hours a day. You can plug the light into a timer to help keep track.
If you have questions about when to plant or starting your own plants you can contact your County Extension Office or email me at [email protected].