Here in the Missouri Ozarks, the last risk of frost date is approximately April 30th although some gardening experts say it is not until May 2nd. That is based on the statistics that there is a 10% chance that frost will occur after these dates. However, you can start planning long before that. Of course, it depends on where you live and what it is you are planting in your garden this year. But if you are starting from seed, you should actually start your seedlings indoors several weeks before that.
Starting Seedlings Indoors
In fact, with certain plants, you should have started them in the middle of March indoors. These include parsley, lettuce, eggplant, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, and broccoli. In April you can start okra, peppers, and tomatoes indoors. In mid-April, it is time to plant the turnips, spinach, rhubarb, radishes, potatoes, peas, parsnips, onions, mustard greens, kohlrabi, chard, carrots, beets, and asparagus. Then in May, you can start the Muskmelons, pumpkins, and squash.
So, when do you need to move them outside? This varies depending on your area but here in zone six you can move those March seedlings out at the beginning of May and the April seedlings can go outside in late May. In June you can move the May seedlings out to the garden. If you want to start your plants with seeds outdoors, you will need to wait until the middle to late May for most of them but wait until June to plant the cucumbers, rutabaga, cabbage, collard greens, endive, and kale.
How to Grow the Best Seedlings
While many people will just toss some dirt into an egg carton, stick a seed or two into each spot, water them, and put them by a window, this is not really the best way to do things. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the best way to grow healthy seedlings is to use jars like canning jars that have been thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. And you cannot just use “some dirt from the yard” or even potting soil, which is what many people use. Using soil or dirt of any kind can make even the best seeds fail because the soil may be too thick to let the seeds root through properly.
Growing from seeds is a delicate process and you will need to make a potting mix of peat moss mixed with perlite and vermiculite, get it moist, and then place several seeds (the largest ones you can find in the packet) into the mix. Push them down gently with the eraser end of a pencil until they are just under the surface. Cover them with a transparent cover or use plastic wrap with holes in it to keep them from drying out. Water them carefully by using a mist sprayer or even a turkey baster. When they start growing, remove the plastic and move them into a location with bright light. Once they have their second set of leaves, you can transplant them outside.
Getting the Garden Ready
While you are waiting for your seedlings to get big enough to transplant, you can start getting the garden ready for the season. First, you should choose the best area for your garden. If you have planted a garden for several years in the same spot, you may want to rotate to a different area for a few years. If you don’t have the space, just work in some fertilizer and maybe some topsoil to get the soil ready. You can test your soil with a soil tester available at any gardening store or big box store like Walmart. This will tell you what fertilizer to get and how much to use. Make sure you get rid of all the weeds and their roots and edge the garden bed so you have a lip to contain the mulch and other additives you may need.
Transplanting the Seedlings
Once the seedlings have grown their second set of leaves, it is time to move them outdoors. Do not do this until at least one or two days after the last chance of frost for your area. If you don’t know when that is, check the Farmer’s Almanac or ask someone at your garden store. Move the seedlings outside to get them used to the different air and sunlight for about a week before you transplant them to the garden. Check the seed packet for instructions but the typical depth to plant your seedlings is just a quarter of an inch underneath the soil. Be gentle when removing them from the container and when placing them in the soil. Then soak the soil with a soaker hose until it is saturated and cover them with mulch. Take your time and be careful with your seedlings and they will start flourishing within a few days. That’s it! You’re done! Wait a few months and then start reaping the rewards of that garden with a big salad.