Here's a situation I have found myself in many times over the years. Imagine sitting at the kitchen table drinking your coffee or tea with the seed catalogs spread in front of you. Snow is still on the ground or it's windy and cold outside, but you are toasty warm in your cozy kitchen. The pictures of bright, succulent vegetables stare back at you. Just looking at these seed catalogs makes you feel the heat of summer, the soil in your hands and the seedlings popping up out of the ground.
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Then reality sinks in. Which seeds should you order? Will they all come up when you try to grow them? Maybe you have tried in the past with no luck. But the siren song of those seed catalogs is strong. And as a gardener, you never give up.
So, go ahead and order those seeds. Spring will be here before you know it.
Here's a list of seeds that I have personally had success with over the years. I have broken it down by the seeds I start indoors versus the seeds I direct sow (plant directly in the ground).
This list works for my area in the Midwest. You may have a different climate, so take that into consideration. Of course, I've grown other vegetables as well, but these are some that have been most successful for me. Be open to experimenting to see what works best for you and your climate. Take a look at this post to see the easiest vegetables to grow.
One thing you will want to know before starting your seeds is when your average last frost date is. You can find that out here. You can also use soil temperature as a guide on when to start planting. Use a thermometer like this to test your soil's temperature. This will be important information as you read your seed packets and determine when to start your seeds. Learn more about reading seed packets here.
I like to keep track of things like frost dates and seed starting dates in my handy, free garden journal and planner. Get your copy here!
First, let’s talk about seeds that I recommend you plant directly in the ground. It is possible to start these from seed indoors. There may not be much benefit to that or it may make it a little tricky for you to try to transplant them without damaging the roots.
Radishes are a great cool season crop that can be started early in the spring. Radishes grow best in temperatures between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or sow them outdoors two to three weeks before the last frost date). You can plant radishes every couple of weeks to keep a continuous harvest going. Certain varieties of radish will reach maturity in about three weeks! Radishes can be planted again as fall is approaching.
Carrots are another great crop to start early in the spring directly in the ground. You can start planting them when temperatures reach about 50 degrees. This is another crop to start about two to three weeks before the average last frost date. They can also be planted every couple of weeks to give you a continuous harvest. Most varieties take about 70 to 80 days to mature.
Here are seeds that can be started indoors or directly in the ground. You may want to experiment with trying both ways to see what works best for you.
There are different varieties of lettuce that you can grow throughout the season, but most lettuce is grown in early spring and fall. Start with cool season lettuce that will be planted much like carrots and radish. Lettuce does best in temperatures of 45 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Start it directly in the ground two weeks before the average last frost and plant at two week intervals. Lettuce can also be started indoors a couple of weeks ahead of time.
Cucumbers are a crop that I have started both directly sown in the ground as well as from seed indoors. If you choose to start them indoors, be extra careful with their root system, as they do not like to be disturbed. If you start them indoors, do so about three weeks before the last frost date. Cucumbers should be planted outside at least two weeks after the last frost date, whether they are being transplanted or started from seed.
Okra is another warm season crop. I have always started okra indoors from seeds, but a lot of people start it directly in the ground. If starting it indoors, start it about three to four weeks before the last frost date and wait to transplant until the ground is warmed up. If sowing directly, wait until the ground warms up to 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure you plant the okra plants at least one to two feet apart. They can grow really tall and take up a lot of space.
Pumpkins and Squash:
Pumpkins and squash can be planted indoors ahead of time or directly outside. It’s preferable to plant them directly into the ground, but if you have a shorter growing season, you can start them indoors. Pumpkins and squash can be started indoors two to four weeks before last frost. If starting directly outdoors, wait until soil temperatures reach at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit for pumpkins and 60 degrees Fahrenheit for squash. Pumpkins do not like cold weather. Squash can be planted in mid-summer for a later crop as well.
The next few plants are seeds that I always start indoors ahead of time. You will be much more successful starting these indoors and allowing them to have enough time to fully mature once they are transplanted outside.
I always start tomatoes indoors from seed about six to eight weeks before the last frost date. I encourage you to try growing your tomatoes from seed. I was always apprehensive about doing it, because I heard it was so hard. I always bought tomato plants at the nursery. When I finally took the plunge into growing tomatoes from seed, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it really was. It can afford you so much more variety, not to mention you’ll be able to plant more plants at a fraction of the cost!
Peppers are another vegetable I always get started inside. Start them indoors about eight to ten weeks before the last frost date. They like warm temperatures for germination as well as warm temperatures for transplanting after danger of frost has passed.
The next group of seeds should be planted directly in the ground. As you will see, onion sets and seed potatoes aren’t actually seeds at all, but they are great crops to include in your garden.
Onions can be planted from seed or from sets. I personally haven’t had much luck with onion seeds. I am going to keep trying to see if I can get them started from seed. Until I get a handle on that, I prefer to start them from sets early in the spring. It's best to start them when temperatures are still cold but will not go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Onion sets, or onion bulbs, are little baby onions that you plant directly in the ground.
Potatoes can be planted early in the spring, right after the last frost. Potatoes are best grown from “seed potatoes.” They are not actually seeds. It is possible, but difficult, to grow potatoes from true seeds. Seed potatoes are the potato tubers that can be cut up into pieces and placed in the ground to grow. Make sure that you buy actual seed potatoes and don’t use potatoes from the grocery store. When you cut them into golf ball sized pieces, make sure there are two eyes on each piece. Let them sit for a couple of days after cutting. Then plant them in the ground.
I always plant beans directly in the ground. Seeds can be sown anytime after the last frost date when soil temperatures are at least 48 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant them an inch deep and watch as they germinate in just a few days. Plant some beans every couple of weeks to keep a continuous harvest going throughout the summer.
Some herbs are easier to grow from seed, and some are easier to start directly in the ground. Some herbs I have never had any luck with growing from seed and only have bought from the nursery. Because there are so many great herbs, I am going to talk about five that I think are the most popular and versatile in the garden.
Lavender and rosemary have been two of my most difficult herbs. I have not been able to start either successfully from seed. I am going to give it another go this year. Alternatively, these two can be started from cuttings.
Dill, cilantro and basil are all seeds that I start directly in the ground. It’s possible to start them indoors, but basil is the only one that I would recommend starting inside. The others may have trouble with their roots being transplanted.