Too early to plant seed

Seed PackagesSeed Packages

Mild weather in the northern part of the country gives gardeners the jitters to plant seed in January and early February.

Yes! It is to early to plant seed if you can't expect to transplant outside until late April to mid May. Don’t! -- unless you have a greenhouse to use.

Too early.

It is far too early to start seed. Even if you do have a greenhouse, only a few types of seeds really need to be started in Febuary.

Thumb through catalogs and refine your 'want list' for now. I know how anxious a serious gardener can get. But timing is everything when starting seed indoors, under lights, or in a greenhouse.


If you have a grow-light set up in your house, you can start plants earlier than the person who will be starting their seeds on a windowsill.


If you have a greenhouse, you can start seeds earlier than on your window sill or under grow-lights.

Heated greenhouse

If you have a heated greenhouse, the world is yours and you can plant anytime you want.

Except, and really that should be EXCEPT, plants have an optimum growing period. Once they reach a mature size the window of opportunity closes for successful transplanting.

Growth requirements to transplanting date

Just as a tomato requires a certain number of growing days to first production, there is also a fairly constant number of days required for transplanting to the garden, counting from germination. Tomatoes need about eight weeks of growth before setting out in late May. Peppers on the other hand need about 12 weeks and cabbages need six to eight.

Particularly with tomatoes, smaller plants transplant better than do the larger ones.

Commercial greenhouses have convinced gardeners that the plants should be in full bloom or with fruit setting on the plant at transplanting time. Plants transplant better if they are not covered with blossoms or fruit and actually produce almost as quickly as those plants that do. That is because the plant doesn't go into shock when the blooms or fruit are removed for transplanting. They also send out an adequate root system to handle the heavy job of production later in the season.


If you plan on growing seeds on a window sill, don’t push the growing season. If you do, you’ll end up with long, lanky plants stretching to get enough light. They seldom bush out properly once they are transplanted.


I started plants for a number of years under lights in a spare bedroom. Under those conditions, plants can grow right out of their allotted space.

Slow down on your start up date.

Cold frames

Probably the only type of growing I have minimal experience with is growing plants in a cold frame. Some seeds like cold to germinate. They require what is called stratification, and an unheated cold frame can be the perfect location for starting this type of seed.

If you have a cold frame, by planting this type of seed soon, it probably won’t germinate for six weeks. That will take us to late February or early March when temperatures start moderating.

Often times you’ll find that seed requiring stratification also likes cool spring growing weather and will do wonderful in the unheated cold frame.

If we should get a late series of winter storms, you’ll have to add extra insulation to keep your cold frame warm at night. The temperatures may rise so high that the plants will fry, even in late February, when the sun is shining. If you work an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, a cold frame that is not automated may not work for you.

Warmth loving plants like tomatoes should be planted in late March and may require a heat lamp to encourage them to germinate in the cold frame.


For those who are lucky enough to have a greenhouse, you may begin planting perennials that will bloom in their first season in early February.

Annual seeds like snapdragons and petunias thrive in cool weather and are slow growing in the early stages. Plant them soon. To be honest, I’m not sure if they grow slowly in response to the low angle of the sun during this time of the year and the short days, or if they are just slow growers.

Don’t get too excited yet. Settle back and thumb your catalogs. It is the easiest gardening you’ll do all year long.