Lat year I started a bunch of seeds. I followed the seed packets to the letter, erring on the side of longer when seed packets gave a range of days. I use my expected last frost date as the first week of May, which, according to both the local weatherman and many online sources, was correct. I didn’t give much extra fertilizer to my starts–in fact, most didn’t get any fertilizer until I planted them out.
That said, I still ended up with a nearly unmanageable jungle of oversized starts in my basement and living room by mid-April. It was a massive hassle up-potting and moving pots in and out doors in May, waiting for that final frost to hit. And then, after the plants were finally outside, at the end of May we had a few days of light frost. Augh!
It was a massive hassle that I am determined to avoid this year. This year I’l planning on a last frost date of May 15, with the reminder that I’m in 5a/b; I have enough time to grow pretty much anything before my first frost date, around early October, sets in.
Things I learned from last year:
Some hot peppers take forever to grow. Like, 12 weeks before they start to put on any significant growth. So, it’s okay to start those early. However, most mild or sweet peppers take about as long as the seed packets state, so 6-8 weeks or so. That said, peppers are EXTREMELY frost sensitive. There’s no point to putting them out until all chance of frost is a distant memory. So this year, I won’t be starting any but my hottest peppers until the beginning of April, at the earliest, with the plan of transplanting my peppers out around early June.
Tomatoes, however, grow really fast. Especially the cherry tomatoes. These were some of my biggest culprits last year. I still have nightmares about them constantly outgrowing their pots. I’m not even going to think about starting these until early April and transplanting them mid-May. (Again, there’s no real rush. I live in 5 a/b. I have a decently long growing season.)
Tomatillos also grow really fast. They are just as bad as the tomatoes, if not worse. I’m not starting them until April. Eggplants, the last of the nightshades I grew, took a while to get going. I put them in the same category with the peppers. If I were growing eggplants this year, I’d start them in early to Mid-March, depending on variety.
Another plant that grows extremely fast is Napa (or Chinese) cabbage. Do not start this one until you have thawed ground and a bed to put it in. When the seed seller says it hits maturity in 60 days, they are not lying.
Some plants I’m not planning on starting at all–I’m just going to wait until the weather is right and sow them in situ. I’ve found that a winter squash sown in plans in May will grow just as fast as a winter squash sown inside in April and them put outside to start hardening off in May. And, if you sow it directly, there’s no need to harden off starts! Other plants that this works well for are peas, beans, nasturtiums, and moonflowers. Essentially, anything with a large seed should work well for this.
Some plants that did not germinate and grow as fast as I’d like are beets, chard, and rutabagas, so I’m going to start these this week, as I like to be able to put out sizable starts. I’m hoping the ground will be thawed by mid-April. I also had no luck with my sweet peas last year, so even though, as peas, they will likely grow quickly, I am starting them early just in case. And as they are a cold-tolerant plant, I should be able to put them out pretty early.