When Is It Time to Sow Seeds?

Ready to start digging? Learn some guidelines around when to plant seeds in your garden.

I’m eager to start sowing seeds in my Michigan garden, but the last thing I want is to jump the gun and end up with a bunch of dead plants.

If you’re feeling impatient like me, you might be wondering how soon you can reasonably start getting those seeds in the ground. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Figure out your average last spring frost date. This is the date that your region usually has its last frost, and you can get your local information through the National Climatic Data Center. The chart offers three probabilities: 10 percent, 50 percent  and 90 percent. If you choose the 50 percent date, there is still a 50-50 chance of frost after that date, whereas the 10 percent entry means there’s only a 10 percent chance of frost after that date. That’s not until June 10 here, gulp!
  • Consider your crop. Many cool-season veggies, like broccoli and lettuce, can tolerate light frosts, so it’s fine to sow the seeds a couple of weeks before the last frost. Pea and carrot seeds can be sown as soon as the ground can be “worked,”  as they are quite cold-hardy. But warmer-season crops like cucumbers and melons require warm soil and higher temperatures to thrive, and a frost can easily kill them. Check seed packets for guidance.
  • Provide protection. If you get unlucky and face a freeze after your seedlings have started to emerge, there are steps you can take to protect them. A blanket or tarp laid over the plants may be enough to help them survive a frost. If you’re gardening in containers, you can bring the plants inside or move them into a garage, shed or other sheltered area. Depending on the plant, a layer of mulch may also provide added insulation.
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