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When to Start Seeds for the Garden

If you want to get a jump on summer growing, don’t wait until growing season to start your Frost-Leavesseeds. Each year nature plays games with gardeners. Warm weather rolls in, gardeners get Spring fever, and the urge to start vegetables becomes overwhelming. Growers stake out the garden, sprinkle some seeds into rows, water it with love, and in about a week and a half, little sprouts emerge. Just about the time the true leaves open in full splendor, a cold snap hits and frost kills 90% of the garden.

But you know what happens when you wait to plant? Frost never comes. That’s because Jack Frost is hiding behind the tree and snickering at your gardening efforts. He won’t strike until he sees you smiling at your new plants.

That leaves you with two choices. Wait until the temperatures get too hot for Jack to hang around, or allow him to be humored with your gardening agony. But if you wait, then it will be another month or two before the fruits of your labor can be picked from the garden.

Fear not, little gardener. There is a third option. Plant indoors and snicker at Jack. Many seeds can be started up to 8 weeks early and be ready for the garden when Jack Frost heads north for the summer. Just figure out what the latest chance of frost is for your region, and count back 60 days. That’s when you plant your indoor seedlings. I’ll even save you a little time by giving you a handy chart.

USDA Hardiness Zone Approximate Last Chance for Frost Date to Start Seeds
Zone 1 6/30 5/1
Zone 2 6/15 4/16
Zone 3 5/31 4/1
Zone 4 5/30 3/31
Zone 5 5/15 3/16
Zone 6 4/30 3/1
Zone 7 4/15 2/14
Zone 8 3/30 1/29
Zone 9 2/28 12/30
Zone 10 1/30 12/1
Zone 11 Frost? What’s that? Whenever you get the hankering

This chart doesn’t take into account the freak cold snaps that sneak a frost late into spring. Like the oddities found in my area. The official latest frost on record is April 25th, and that happened in 1910. However, they apparently don’t take my property into account when record keeping. I’ve lived at my current location for ten years, and twice I have had frost kill my garden in May. One as late as the third week of May.

Two years ago, I planted my garden on May 1st. Three weeks later, everything was doing nicely, but a cold snap came in. The official temperature was 39 degrees. No big deal. Cold, but plants can survive that temp. But in the pasture behind my house, I saw frost. Sure enough, when I walked to the back of the yard, tiny ice crystals outlined the leaves of all my plants. Two days later, I had nothing but dead plant corpses.

The odd part is that I have two growing areas. The one at the back of the yard was wiped out. The garden to the side of my house was untouched. I could see the frost line in the grass. A mere 50 or 60 feet was the difference between life and death.

So, if you are in a strange area like me, waiting another two weeks after the last possible frost date might be a better option. Worry not, little sprout. When Jack has to head north, you will still get the last laugh when you take your two-month old plants and place them in the garden.

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