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Right now is the time for gardeners to purchase and begin planning to start seed indoors for outdoor planting in spring. Why? Because it takes some time for the plants to germinate indoors and grow to the transplanting stage – so timing is critical. You want to start your indoor seed with enough time to produce a nicely grown, not too small or overgrown, plant to put out in the garden at the proper planting time for the specific variety.
Most, if not all, of the information you need to germinate your seed and grow the young plants are on the seed packet. Seed packet information usually includes the genus, species and cultivar of the plant, common name of the plant, whether it is annual – living for one growing season – or perennial – living for many seasons, whether the seeds are best started indoors for outdoor transplanting or if they are best sowed directly out in the garden, and the best conditions for seed germination and plant growth including light, relative humidity and temperature. Proper spacing of seedlings and plant is also listed.
Now we have to do the math! Plan to plant broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and head lettuce about 7 weeks before the average last frost; 4 weeks before the average last frost for tomato, eggplant and pepper and on or just after the average last frost free date for cucumber, squash and watermelon. Let’s say I have a tomato seed packet that says it is best to sow tomato seed 6 weeks before “warm weather.” The average last spring frost at Mountain Grove is April 15, but we can still get frost after that time and the weather may not be steadily “warm.” I will plan to plant the seeds March 15 and will watch the weather and plan to plant out in the garden around the middle of May.
The information on the back of the seed packet is general, as you can see from my example. If you want information specifically tailored to Missouri as to when to plant your veggies outdoors, the extension service has guidelines as to when to sow vegetable seed outdoors in Missouri. Looking at the dates to plant tomatoes for south Missouri, April 20 to May 10 is listed. This will give you information as far as when to sow the seeds indoors for outdoor transplanting counting back from the number of weeks needed to grow the plant from the seed up to when you should plant in the garden. The Vegetable Planting calendar is available at http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6201 and is keyed to the different regions in Missouri based on the average last frost-free date.
Guidelines on the seed packet as well as the planting calendar – which is based on the average last frost-free dates in the Missouri are all important when planning to sow seed indoors to produce transplants for the garden. Now that we know the planning basics, next week we will discuss sowing the seed and early care of the seedlings. No math involved! I promise.
For more information, comments or questions concerning this column, contact Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500.