How To Figure Out When To Start Seeds: A Guide For What To Plant When


When should you start seeds indoors? This is one of the most common questions new gardeners ask.


There are lots of different planting charts out there, and they can be helpful to use as a guide for starting seeds. But, there are so many factors involved, that it’s best to create your own personal timetable.


Don’t worry, it’s not difficult to do, once you learn exactly when to start planting seeds indoors, the timing will become second nature to you!




Timing is very important when it comes to starting seeds indoors. That’s because if you do it too early, you could end up with weak, leggy seedlings that won’t survive the transition to the garden.


But if you start too late, they won’t be mature enough for transplanting into the garden by spring.

It takes a little practice, but in time you will be able to create your own seed planting schedule so you know exactly when to start each variety. Let’s walk through the steps together…


Getting my trays ready for planting seeds indoors

Getting my trays ready for planting seeds indoors




The biggest problem with figuring out what to plant when is that every seed is different.


  • Some are fast growers, and it will only take a few weeks for them to get large enough to be planted into the garden. But others are very slow to germinate, and it takes much longer for them to mature.


Plus, every growing zone has different planting dates. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” seed starting chart.


So how can you figure out the best planting dates for YOUR seeds?




Since every seed is different, and some have special planting instructions, we need to rely on the packets for help.


Unfortunately, many companies give us very vague details (or no instructions at all), which is super annoying.


But don’t worry, if you’re just starting out, you can follow these simple guidelines to figure out a basic timetable…


Figuring out when to start seeds indoors

Figuring out when to start seeds indoors


Step 1: Find the dates on the packet – First, read the instructions on each of the packets. Most will give you recommended planting dates for when to start seeds indoors.


Generally, it will be something like “4 to 6 weeks before the average last frost”, or “6 to 8 weeks…” etc.


Finding the best planting dates for seeds

Finding the best planting dates for seeds


Step 2: Sort your packets by best planting dates – Take all of the ones you plan to start indoors, and sort them by the recommended planting dates shown on the packet.


Step 3: Store them by date – Once you have everything sorted into piles, store them like that. That way, you’ll always know which ones to plant at the same time.


But wait… what if your seed packets don’t have any recommended planting dates on them?


Sorting seed packets by best planting days

Sorting seed packets by best planting days




Unfortunately, not all companies include seed starting dates on the packets for you (maybe they like to keep us guessing?).


So if yours doesn’t have the recommended planting dates, then here are a few basic guidelines you can follow to figure it out.


In general, you should start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the average last frost date in your area.


For example, our average last frost date here in growing zone 6 (Council Bluffs, IA) is April 23rd.



So, count backwards 6 to 8 weeks (which would be Feb. 26th – March 12th), and that’s when you should start planting seeds indoors.