Eliminate "Too Late." Be Here Now.

Pepper seedlings just hatched.

It begins in February.

"It's too late to start Tomatoes now, right?"

"I should have already started all these herbs indoors, I think."

"I won't have time to start these until March... is that okay?"

One by one, nervous gardeners approach us, in person at shows or by e-mail, convinced that the one-single-day-that-is-the-best-day-for-starting-tomato-seeds has come and gone, stranding them on their porch with a pile of useless seed packets.

Dear gardeners, the earth is good; it can absorb all your worries.

Aunt Ruby's German Green Tomato

Aunt Ruby's German Green Tomato

Exceptional flavor. Squeeze gently to tell if they're ripe.

I can happily report that after many years of experimenting with start dates--either because of water-logged soils, a busy schedule, or re-dos necessitated by greenhouse disasters--I've discovered that many crops can be started later than their "ideal" start date with great success. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Tomatoes: Some people start tomatoes in February; some in late April. Guess what? You can be equally successful either way! Luckily, tomatoes--one of the most popular of garden crops--are also one of the most forgiving. Started them really early? They'll get stressed out in their cramped quarters, but they'll make it to transplant time and then will perk right up. Still kind of small when transplant time arrives? No worries: after the first spell of 80+ degree days, they'll take off like rockets. I've been very successful starting tomatoes for September/October harvest in early- to mid-May. This later start date results in young, vibrant plants at a time of year when your other vines are beginning to give up the ghost. I wouldn't try much later than late May in northeastern climates--but anytime before that, you're good!
  • Peppers. Peppers are notoriously slow to germinate, but by providing ideal conditions (temps of 80+ and plenty of moisture), you can make them pop in about 4-5 days. This means that you can ignore the usual advice to start them in mid-March and instead leisurely get your peppers going anytime from mid-March to early-May. If you primarily like green peppers, you can start them even a little later than this with good results, but if your goal is ripe sweet pods, stick to early May as a cut-off (pepper plants need plenty of time to sweeten and color up their pods).
  • Eggplants. Treat similarly to peppers. Eggplants can be pushed even a little later, as their fruit is always eaten at the immature stage, and it's great to have plenty in the fall when baked eggplant dishes are so appealing. Again, as with tomatoes, plants that are slightly younger going into the cooler conditions of September and October tend to fare better and yield more.
  • Peas, spinach, arugula, radishes, and other cool-season spring crops. The usual advice for these crops is to sow as soon as the soil can be worked. These seeds will absolutely be fine under those frosty conditions--but they also do well planted later, and they catch up on the early-sown seeds quickly. All of these crops can be sown up to your last spring frost date with no problem. It also allows you to extend the harvest season of these crops by a couple of weeks before the summer vegetables take over.

Abundant Bloomsdale

Abundant Bloomsdale

An improved savoyed spinach developed by OSA.

Easter Egg Radish

Easter Egg Radish

Crunchy, colorful egg-sized roots.

In general, the spring climate is more forgiving toward lateness than are the mid-summer conditions when many fall-harvested crops are sown. Especially in a spring with weather as erratic as this weather has been, planting dates are guidelines--not hard and fast rules. In any case, it's not worth fretting over. Even when one sowing window closes, another one opens.

Got any experience with sowing late? Share in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Eliminate "Too Late." Be Here Now.”

  • Carolyn

    I have grown cherry tomatoes from seedlings I found growing in the back yard (after having tossed old, shriveled up cherries to the squirrels the previous fall). They caught up with the "nurtured" seedlings and produced respectable bounties. If you have a reasonable growing season, seed starting is an extended process. Assume the published "start" date to be the first date you can get away with, not the last.

  • Christine

    I wanted to thank you for this post. It made my day. I kept putting off my seed starting these past few months because of one thing or another. We finally are saying goodbye to the snow this week, so I figured it was a good time to start my seeds. Receiving verification that I'm not to late squashed my anxiety over the whole thing. Thank you!

  • ellen

    want to plant on Cape Cod,Brewster, some Milkweed seeds already purchased from you folks. Please advise starting mixture for an inside window box, and a possible OUTSIDE transfer date.

    Many thanks Ellen F.

    • Erin

      I recommend a well balanced potting mix with high organic matter. The transplant date depends on the size--be sure they are big enough to handle. They form a deep tap root, so be sure to start them in a deep pot or container. Check out our blog post for more details: Starting Milkweed from Seed.

  • Gail Plaskiewicz
    Gail Plaskiewicz 06/16/2015 at 5:51 pm

    My sister told me last week that it was to late to plant anything by seeds when I told her what I was planting. I live in northwest CT. Guess what? She hasn't seen my garden. I have peas, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, popcorn and regular corn, beets, potatoes, green, yellow, purple and dragon tongue beans coming up right now. I need to stake up my peas and I want to plant more! I love garden peas and never seem to get enough for me. It's been hot out some days and my peas don't care! I planted some flower seeds in a pot and they were so tiny I threw in a bunch of them. When I had to thin them out, I took what I picked out of the pot and put it in another one. They were kind of drooped over but after they got watered they picked up and they are also growing! God has sure given me a green thumb! If God can create the Heavens and Earth, why can't he let my seeds grow in my garden past the growing season? I am so excited over all the stuff in my garden!


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