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Dakota Gardener: Timing it Right

Starting seeds too early may result in weak plants.

By Carrie Knutson, NDSU Extension - Grand Forks County

Horticulture Agent

Last month, I discussed getting ready for starting garden seeds. Hopefully, you have your supplies ready to go. Now the most important supply you need is patience! Sadly, it isn’t time for most garden seeds to be started. It is still too early.

Why must I wait, you ask?

Vegetable plants are not meant to be grown inside for extended periods of time. Plants use sunlight to convert oxygen and water into carbohydrates or energy. This process is called photosynthesis and happens inside chlorophyll molecules in plants.

If plants do not have enough sunlight to carryout photosynthesis, they may be lighter green in color. The lack of sunlight also causes plants to increase the distance between leaves on the stem, resulting in leggy, long and thin stems. These pale leggy plants will not do well when planted outside in your garden.

Grow lights can be used to supplement sunlight and can help prevent leggy seedings. However, nothing beats natural sunlight for seedling growth. If you use grow lights but start your seeds too early, the end result can be the same, leggy weak plants. Trust me, I learned from experience last year. I was not patient and started my broccoli seeds too early. The broccoli transplants did not do well outside.

How do you determine when to start your seeds? First make sure to read your seed packets. The packets will provide approximate start dates. For example, seed packets may say to “start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost”. For those of us living in North Dakota the last frost date usually falls somewhere in the last two weeks of May.

Below are some dates that will give you an idea of the seed starting timeline for our area. I am going to use this schedule to start the seeds for my school garden programs. I consulted my seed packets and plan on planting the gardens the week before Memorial Day. That being said, indoor growing conditions will vary, if you have dates that work for you, go ahead and use them.

  • Week of March 16: oregano and thyme
  • Week of March 30: eggplant and sweet peppers
  • Week of April 13: tomatoes, basil, marigolds, kohlrabi, kale and Swish chard
  • Week of April 27: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, pac choi and vine crops

If you must start some seeds now to help with cabin fever, start some ornamentals like dusty miller, begonias or impatiens. Happy gardening!


NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 22, 2022

Source: Carrie Knutson, 701-780-8229, carrie.knutson@ndsu.edu

Editor: Kelli Anderson, 701-231-6136, kelli.c.anderson@ndsu.edu


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