When is it Time to Start Your Spring Seedlings?

This morning I walked out to the sound of a Robin’s song, geese honking overhead, and the smell of mud from where the snow had melted overnight. Ahhhh… spring is in the air! And as daydreams of green grass and spring flowers infect Michigander’s with “Gardener’s Itch” which is more catching than the flu, the question of WHEN we can start our seedlings dominates everyday routines to the point of neglecting household tasks.

Pouring over full color pages seed catalogs that are now filling mailboxes across Michigan’s snowbelt offers hope that winter will soon be over… even though we know to expect a snowstorm in April. And as we plan what to grow, it’s hard not to buy more than there’s room for!

Catalog orders usually don’t arrive until it’s safe to plant, but if gardening displays at the local chain stores gave you the itch, then know that it’s NOT TIME to start them unless you have certain systems in place to help you with an early sowing.

The rule of thumb for when to start seedlings is 8 weeks prior to when you intend to plant them in the ground. Most state extension offices have calendars for when you should plant according to your geographic location as to when you can expect the last frost. According to MSU’s Extension calendar, northern Michigan can expect to plant their gardens by the end of May. You may even recall your grandparents saying to ensure a good harvest, plant corn by Memorial Day so it reaches knee high by the fourth of July.

Backing up 8 weeks from Memorial Day puts the time to start your seedlings at the beginning of March for Michiganders in the northern lower peninsula. But sometimes the old Gardener’s Itch takes hold, and you plant your seedlings too early.

I must confess, this is exactly what happened to me, but this is totally okay so long as you have some systems in place to get you through till your plants can go outside.

The first question you need to ask yourself is, how are you planning to start them? If you plan to use dirt and seeds, then you’ll need a grow light. Even though seeds will germinate without any light in 2-weeks, placing your seedlings in a window afterward just isn’t enough light to get them through till planting season.

Plants require a minimum of 8 hours direct sunlight daily, and even though we have already had some gorgeous, sunny days, we’re still going to get cloudy days, rainy days, and snowy ones too.

If you’re worried about your electric bill, look for LED grow lights that are energy efficient, and visit Dorm Grow’s website to figure exactly how much grow lights can cost you to use.

Many hydroponic gardening systems have built in grow lights and a timer adjustable to whatever type of plants you’re growing. Just pop in the seed pods – you can buy them loaded with seeds or empty so you can use your own seeds – and watch them grow!

I absolutely love mine, and it seems the plants started in the hydroponic system are hardier than the ones grown in dirt. For example, I’ve completed the first harvest on the Heirloom Salad Greens seed kit (which was delicious), and since tomatoes always take forever to mature, I started them too.

Next: Even if you have a grow light, the plants will probably need to be transplanted into bigger containers well before you can plant them in the ground. Be prepared with an indoor grow area and lighting system that can handle all your plants.

One year, I loaded all my potted plants into wagons and put them in a room with a grow light until I could wheel them outside for hardening. (Stay tuned for more information about this process.)

And having already transplanted three bell pepper plants into pots and moved them into a grow tent that I purchased last year, I'm super excited to have already begun my 2022 gardening project.

What will you be growing this year? I'd love to hear about it!

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Behe, Bridget & Whitlock, Linda, April 29, 2009, Garden Calendar, https://www.michigan.gov/documents/osa/gardenCalendar_523607_7.pdf

Competti, Jim & Mary, January 3, 2021, How To Start Your Seeds Indoors - Grow Your Own Vegetable & Flower Plants!, https://oldworldgardenfarms.com/2021/01/03/start-seeds-indoors/

Jenkins, Cameron, August 6, 2021, Slow Growth In Tomatoes? Here’s How TO Make A Tomato Plants Grow Faster, https://www.gardeningchores.com/make-tomato-plants-grow-faster/

Vanderlinden, Colleen, November 18, 2021, When to Expect the First and Last Frosts, https://www.thespruce.com/first-and-last-frost-date-2539701

Winger, Jill, February 27, 2020, Seed Starting Guide, https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/02/seed-starting-guide.html

Winger, Jill, June 11, 2021, Fast Growing Vegetables to Grow for an Early Harvest, https://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2020/04/fast-growing-vegetables.html

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