It's possible to have a fine vegetable garden by buying young plants. But you
  will have a much wider range of possibilities if you start your own plants from
  seeds indoors.  

Not only is it much cheaper, but you can buy seeds for many more varieties
  than you will find for sale as plants. That will allow you to experiment with
  more different flavors, shapes and colors, and to harvest your favorite edibles
  over a longer period by planting varieties that mature at different times.    

Why is it necessary to start plants before it's warm outdoors? Well, for some
  species, it's not (see this article on direct-sowing  seeds).

But many of our favorite flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers,
  squash and beans, evolved in places such as Central America and Mexico where
  they had many more hours of sunlight in their growing season that they can get
  in most of the United States. Their seeds will not sprout in  soil that is
still  cold in spring and the fruits need more sun to ripen than is available in
the  waning days of autumn.

If you were to sow tomato seeds in the ground outdoors in May in New England,
  Oklahoma or Minnesota, the plants would take so long to grow that the first
  frost in October would likely kill them before you got a single ripe

Even for crops that don't come from near the equator, starting seeds indoors
  gives plants a head start that brings earlier harvests and greater yield.    

The same is true for many of our favorite annual flowers. If you start them
  indoors, they can spend more time in your garden flowering instead of getting
  mature enough to flower. Even many perennials benefit from a good head start

For your first experience of starting seeds, it's wise not to take on too
  much. Start a couple of dozen plants in three or four varieties while you learn
  how it all works.

Different plants have different needs, so consult the seed packet to find out
  how many weeks each variety will take to get ready indoors before your last
  frost date.

Many vegetable seed packets state a number of days to maturity, such as "65
  days" or "80 days." Make sure you know whether that means days from sowing the
  seed or days from transplanting outdoors; it varies from vegetable to

Starting seeds is not complicated or difficult, if you understand the
  process. The basic ingredients are a proper growing medium, containers, light,
  warmth, water and attention.

Growing medium. Seedlings are very delicate. For the best chance of
  success, start them in a fresh, sterile seed-starting mix that is light and
  fluffy to hold just enough moisture. If the growing medium is too wet or not
  sterile, disease can strike. If it is too heavy or sticky, fine new roots won't
  be able to push through it.

You can use bagged seed-starting mix, or buy compressed pellets of peat or
  coir (coconut husk fibers) that expand when wet. Since seeds contain the
  nutrients the seedlings will need, fertilizer isn't important in your
  seed-starting mix.

Containers. Anything that will hold the growing medium will work. You
  can use cell-packs or pots from last year's annuals, yogurt cups or other found
  containers. But you must clean them and sterilize them in a solution of 1 part
  bleach to 9 parts water. Make sure they have good drainage holes so excess
water  can drain away. And get a shallow waterproof tray that will hold them.   

There's no point in using containers more than 3 to 4 inches across, since
  you will be transplanting the young plants to the garden (or container

Another alternative is pots that break down in the soil. You can plant them
  right in the garden and avoid disturbing the young plant's roots. Some are
  shaped from compressed peat or coir, or you can make your own from newspaper.
  Don't confuse these with biodegradable resin pots; those will break down in a
  landfill or, eventually, in a compost heap, but you can't plant them in the

Seed-starting kits are readily available and can be a big help. They usually
  include an attached set of good-sized containers, a tray to set them on and a
  clear lid to hold in humidity during the early stages.

Large-scale gardeners often do a two-step: They closely sow seeds in a
  shallow tray until they sprout, or "germinate." Then they gently prick the
small  sprouts out and transplant them to larger containers. This saves
germination  space if you are starting seeds in large numbers, but it isn't
necessary. A  beginner starting a modest number of seeds can germinate them
right in the  containers in which they will grow to transplant size.

Light. Seedlings need lots of light or they will be stalky, spindly
  and feeble. A very sunny, south-facing window may do for a handful of plants if
  you are not too far north. But most gardeners use artificial lights so they can
  raise more plants and make sure they get enough rays.

You can buy specially-made plant light setups for anywhere from $80 to $500,
  depending on complexity and capacity. But many gardeners do just fine with
  inexpensive T-12 or T-8 fluorescent shop lights from the home improvement

To provide a wider spectrum of light, use one cool-white tube and one
  red-light tube in a two-tube fixture. Newer-fangled T-5 tubes deliver more
light  from a single tube but are more expensive and require a special  fixture.

The crucial thing is to rig the light fixture so you can raise it. You must
  keep the lights just 3 to 4 inches above the plants as they grow. That's why
  incandescent light bulbs won't work; if they are close enough to give a plant a
  useful amount of light, their heat will destroy it. Fluorescent bulbs give more
  light but stay cool.

Most often, a shop light is hung from open-link chains with S-hooks. As the
  plants grow, the light can be lifted link by link so it stays right above the
  plants. You can hang the light from a basement ceiling, from a home-made lumber
  frame or even under a table, with the plants on the floor. 

A lamp timer will take over the chore of turning the lights on and off so the
  plants get 16 to 18 hours of light every day and a good rest at night.

Warmth. Seed-starting happens in two stages: germination and growing.
  Germination is the sprouting stage, when the embryo of the plant emerges from
  the seed. You won't need light at this stage, but you will need gentle warmth
  (not harsh heat). Provide it by setting the containers on top of a refrigerator
  or dryer; by propping them a few inches above (not on) a radiator; or by using
  special heating mats sold for the purpose.

Once you see green sprouts about half an inch tall, you will move your plants
  under the lights in a cooler environment--about comfortable room temperature,
  between 60 and 70 degrees. A cold garage won't do; neither will a broiling
  furnace room.   

Water. Plants consist mostly of water and they need it for the
  photosynthesis that gives them energy to grow.

Sow the seeds in moistened mix. Cover the containers to hold in humidity
  while the seeds germinate--with the cover from your kit, or with a loosely
  fastened plastic bag. Once they sprout, uncover the containers and water them
  from the bottom, by pouring water into the tray. Never water the seed-starting
  mix from the top; that courts disease (especially a fungus disease called
  "damping off") and may dislodge or damage the sprouts. Make sure air circulates
  freely so humidity isn't trapped around plants.  

So-called "self watering" seed-starting kits are helpful in keeping the water
  supply steady. In these arrangements, the containers sit on a fiber mat that
  wicks just enough moisture from a reservoir. These kits aren't magic, though;
  you still have to keep that reservoir filled with water.

Attention. This is the secret ingredient to successful seed-starting.
  You'll need to check daily: To see if the seeds have sprouted; to remove the
  cover when it's time and move the sprouts under lights; to make sure they stay 
properly moist; to keep a self-watering reservoir full; to raise the lights so
  they stay just the right distance above the plants; and to make sure the lights
  and timer haven't malfunctioned. If you are starting a few seeds on the
  windowsill, turn the plants every day so they don't bend toward the light. 

As you plan your seed starting, factor in your convenience and habits. Will
  you really remember to check seeds in the basement daily? It might be wiser to
  start seeds in the guest room or kitchen where they will be handier, even if
you  have space for fewer seedlings.

As your seedlings grow, watch the weather. Although a few crops can go
  outside earlier (read the seed packet), most should stay indoors until after
the  last frost date for your area has passed and your soil has warmed. If your
area  is having a cold spring, hold off.

Gardeners are always eager, but many a carefully nurtured tomato seedling has
  been killed by a May frost or simply slowed down by cold soil. Protect your
  investment of time and attention by planting later rather than earlier.

Then introduce your plants to the outdoors gradually, a process called
  "hardening off." For a few hours one fine spring day, then a few hours more the
  next, give your plants a taste of the outdoors, but bring them in at night.
  After a week or so, they will have acclimated to the outdoors and will be ready
  to transplant.

When determining the best planting dates in the spring for
, the date of the last spring frost is important to your success.
NOTE: Our chart calculates U.S. frost dates only, based on
historical data. Other factors can also influence planting dates, including soil
temperature, altitude and slope of land, nearby waters, and day length. Keep
records of your garden's conditions each year to plan more accurately.

  • Seeds for plants with a long growing season should be started indoors
    during the periods shown below.

  • Seeds for plants sown in the ground should be planted during the periods

  • When no dates appear in the chart, that starting method is not recommended
    for the particular vegetable.

  • To start transplants, see our Best Dates to
    (by region).

Planting by the Moon?
Above-ground crops are planted during the light of the Moon (new to full);
below-ground crops are planted during the dark of the Moon (from the day after
it is full to the day before it is new again). Planting is done in the daytime;
planting at night is optional!

This chart includes the most popular crops. For more information, consult
your cooperative extension.

Click on the underlined crops below for free "how to" plant and grow guides!

ZIP Code or City,State
50% probability of frost free after April 27 (at KENOSHA, WI climate

Start Seeds Indoors
Moon-favorable Dates
Start Seeds in the Ground
Moon-favorable Dates


Apr 27-May 11
May  9-11


Apr  6-May 18
Apr  6- 9

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16
Apr  6-13
Apr 10-13


Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16
Apr 20-May  4
Apr 20-25


Mar 23-Apr  6
Mar 28-Apr  6

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16
Apr 20-May  4
Apr 20-25

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16


May 11-18
May 11-18

Mar 30-Apr 13
Apr 10-13
May  4-11
May  9-11

Mar 16-30
Mar 16-27
Apr 20-May 11
Apr 20-25

Mar 30-Apr 13
Apr 10-13
May 11-18
May 11-18


Mar 30-Apr  6
Mar 30-Apr  6


Apr  6-27
Apr  6- 9


Mar 16-30
Mar 16-27

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16

Potato tubers

Apr 27-May 11
Apr 27-May  8

Mar 30-Apr 13
Apr 10-13
May  4-11
May  9-11


Apr 20-May  4
Apr 26-May  4


Mar 16-30
Mar 16-27


Mar 30-Apr 13
Apr 10-13
May  4-11
May  9-11


Mar 30-Apr 13
Apr 10-13
May  4-11
May  9-11

Mar  1-16
Mar 11-16