Will You Delay Seed Starting This Year?

A blog reader recently asked if seed starters should delay their seed starting this year because of the long, cold winter. In Minnesota, we’ve had the worst winter in terms of the “misery index” since 1978-79, and I know many parts of the East Coast and northern tier states have suffered just as much. Does a cold winter mean a late spring?

Maybe, maybe not. The local weather guru here recently noted that the likelihood of an early spring is small. We have about two feet of snow on the ground (not counting the epic snow piles at the end of driveways), and it’s going to take awhile for the sun to melt all that. But with temperatures for next week predicted to hit the 40s and the sun as high in the sky now as it is in early October, that snow cannot hold out forever. (We hope!) So, while an early spring is not likely, a late one is not guaranteed.

So what’s a gardener to do?

seedlingNorthern Gardener publisher Tom McKusick, our seed-starting and tomato expert, says he will be starting his peppers and tomatoes on his usual schedule. He plans to start the seeds in mid-March. If we have a very late spring, the plants may get a bit leggy or have to be potted up one more time. But, Tom noted, that even last year, when Minnesota experienced a snow storm on May 2, he still was able to put his tomatoes in the garden by May 10.

The proprietors at Bossy Acres, a local community-supported agriculture farm, commented on our Facebook page that they, too, will be planting per schedule. “Last season we started on track and ‘on schedule’ but come April, it was clear that those little babies were gonna be in the greenhouse for much longer than anticipated. They needed a lot of nutrients, potting up, etc. Six inches of snow in May didn’t help either But, once in the field, they bounced back without a problem.” With a bit of flexibility on the gardener’s part, plants are remarkably adaptable.

My solution is a bit different. While I have sometimes started tomatoes in late March, I try to hold off until early April. I grow them under-lights until May 15 or so, then — weather permitting — start hardening them off to go in the garden around June 1. My garden is in a very windy area and I find the starts acclimate better to the gusty winds if they are short and stout.  I also put little collars around them to hold off the wind. Cool season crops I’ll start more-or-less on schedule. Onions are already under the lights, and I’ll probably start lettuces about March 20.

What’s your seed starting plan for this spring?

—Mary Lahr Schier