What do I plant and when? Sort Your Seeds

sort your seeds

What do I plant? When do I plant it? 

These can feel like overwhelming questions, but for beginning gardeners can be answered in three simple steps. 1. Look at your plant hardiness zone and last frost date. 2. Plant what you want. 3. Plant when + how the seed packet recommends

There's no one 'right' way to garden.

Here's something I wish I had known when I first started gardening: there's no one 'right' way to do it. 

There are lots of best practices and location or plant specific requirements, but in general, there are SO many plants you can plant in your climate, and most of them are forgiving if you don't do it 'right'. Because these little seedling buddies WANT to survive! It's your goal to support them. 

With love and care they will often thrive, sometimes they won't, and you'll learn through experimenting what methods you like and what plants like you back. 

Ok, you might be thinking. But how do I even get started? What do I plant and when? 

Here's my general guide to pre-planning your garden by sorting your seeds and seedling transplants for success.

Step 1: Determine Plant Hardiness Zone and Last Frost Date

The first thing you'll want to do is look up your plant hardiness zone here. Most of the US is in zones 3 - 9. Your location's plant hardiness zone is based on average temperatures, and most seed packets will list which zones are best for growth. 

In general, most seeds sold in the US will grow at some point in the year in all the zones. And, many other things affect plant growth - soil type, soil pH, sunlight, altitude, water, the list goes on. But it's still good to know your zone.

The second and more important thing you'll want to look up is your area's last frost date. This is generally given as the the percent likelihood of the last frost date. 

For example, the Farmer's Almanac lists Nashville's last spring frost date is April 12, with a 30% probability. I've seen it earlier, and I've seen it two weeks later than this. 

I like this site for determining when I'll plant. It gives you a range of probabilities and dates, so you can choose your risk. 

I recommend estimating your frost will be on the later side, so all your hard work doesn't get frozen. 

There's only a 10% probability the temperature will drop below 32 degrees F after April 21, so that's where I'll put my money for all my plants that need to be seeded or transplanted after the last frost.

Step 2: plant what you want

As you browse online, a local plant nursery, or Home Depot for seeds and transplants, choose things that excite you. 

If you know you're not interested in zucchini, don't grab it. If something strange like kohlrabi or new bean or tomato looks fun, pick it up! 

I can't encourage this enough. It's important be excited about what you're planting, and not just grow it because that's what's in all the guides or that's what you saw someone else grow. 

Some plants will succeed, some will not, and you can experiment to see what you like best!

Dye Seed Tip: Grand Prismatic Seed has an incredible selection of dye plants!

Step 3: PLANT WHEN AND HOW THE SEED PACKET (OR TRANSPLANT CARD) RECOMMENDS

Ok, now for the fun part. Take all your seeds and transplants and put them in front of you. You're going to categorize your seeds twice. 

Grab each seed packet and read the back. Do they recommend direct seeding in your garden, or starting indoors and transplanting? Sort accordingly into two piles. 

Then re-read each seed packet and look at when they recommend planting. Do they recommend planting before or after the last frost in early spring? 

Sort each pile into two new piles. You should have 4 or fewer piles of seeds in the following categories: 

  • Direct Seed Before Last Frost 
  • Direct Seed After Last 
  • Frost Start Indoors, Transplant Before Last
  • Frost Start Indoors, Transplant After Last Frost

The vast majority of your seeds will likely be in 2 categories: Direct Seed After Last Frost, and Transplant After Last Frost. 

Some seeds will fall into more than one category - just choose the one that is easiest/most like your other seeds, or sounds the most fun to you. 

If you don't have the space or resources to start plants indoors + transplant, don't fear. Pretty much all your plants can be direct seeded outdoors after the last frost. They might be stronger + more successful or fruit sooner with a jump start indoors, but trust me, it's fine to try! And, you can always purchase transplants if seed starting doesn't sound fun or feasible. 

Many brassicas (kale, broccoli, collards) actually do better when seeded or transplanted before the last frost, and can be re-planted for another cycle in the late summer/fall. These plants are often referred to a 'frost resistant' or 'cold tolerant'.

For example, rosemary is a hearty herb that can be transplanted before the last frost. Some seeds are strange - take Brussels sprouts, which should actually be transplanted just before the FIRST frost in the fall. Or lavender, which you're suppose to place on a damp paper towel for a month in the fridge to sprout. If this is too much work, set those seeds aside. Purchase the plants to transplant instead. It's ok not to worry about them. But if it sounds like a fun challenge, do it! Now that you know what you're planting and when, you can start planning out your garden!

direct seed after last frost

start indoors, transplant after last frost

direct seed before last frost

A few things I plant + grow:

Vegetables

  • Mustards 
  • Kale 
  • Collards 
  • Radish 
  • Arugula 
  • Beets 
  • Chives 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers 
  • Eggplant 
  • Beans 
  • Ground Cherries
  • Tomatillos
  • Cucumber
  • Melon
  • Okra
  • Corn

Dye Plants

  • Cone flowers (echinacea + black-eyed susan) 
  • Dyer's Coreopsis 
  • Japanese Indigo
  • Marigold 
  • Madder
  • Black Knight Scabiosa 
  • Dyer's Chamomile 
  • Safflower 
  • Zinnia 

Herbs + Other

  • Rosemary 
  • Thyme 
  • Sage 
  • Mint 
  • Basil 
  • Lemongrass 
  • Chamomile 
  • Nasturtium
  • Sunflower
  • Strawflower