How can you tell if your spring garden soil is dry enough to plant? Pick up a handful of soil, and squeeze it. If the soil forms and stays in a ball, it's too wet to cultivate. If it crumbles, it's ready for planting.
At least for cool-weather crops such as peas, lettuce, parsley, beets and carrots. You'll need to wait for warmer conditions before planting others.
Sow directly or grow from transplants?
You can sow the seeds of most garden crops directly into the ground and let them grow from there.
The exceptions? Warm-season crops and crops that take a long time to mature such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, leeks, and sweet potatoes. Gardeners traditionally grow these crops from purchased or homegrown transplants.
Catalog and seed-packet descriptions offer general advice on when to start seedlings or sow directly outside.
Starting seeds indoors
Gardeners who start their own seedlings indoors not only get a good jump on the season, but they have a much wider range of varieties to choose from than local nurseries and garden centers offer.
Starting seeds indoors also saves seeds, an important consideration when planting expensive rare or heirloom varieties.
- Crops that transplant well include onions, leeks, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, basil.
- Melons, cucumbers, squash and corn are trickier, but possible.
- Beans, peas, and root vegetables do best seeded directly into the ground at their appropriate planting dates.
Online information about growing your own seedlings
Starting seedlings A great video on seed-starting by UMaine Extension professor Frank Wertheim.
Starting Seeds at Home Fact sheet from the University of Maine Extension; contains plans for an inexpensive, collapsible grow-light frame.
Plans for building a multi-level seed-starting stand Another useful resource from UMaine Extension. Includes scale drawings and instructions.
Resources to consult for specific planting information
Vegetable Planting Guide Excellent guide for timing your planting and transplanting of hardy, semi-hardy, tender and very tender vegetable crops. Especially useful if you have a soil thermometer, as it gives soil temperature ranges for various crops.
Planting and Maturity Dates of Vegetables In New Hampshire Chart gives average planting and maturity dates for all our common garden vegetables.
Planting the Garden Brief but comprehensive guide to planting/transplanting.
Cornell's Vegetable Growing Guides A great general reference. Detailed planting and care advice for 58 home vegetable crops, including a few of the lesser-known crops such as mizuna, claytonia, and Malabar spinach.
Companion Planting Plants growing close to or interspersed among other plants may confer specific mutual benefits. This fact sheet considers the scientific evidence for companion planting and intercropping.
Transplanting onions, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and other crops as well-established seedlings offers home gardeners many advantages, among them:
- Getting a head start for earlier harvests.
- Growing varieties garden centers don't sell.
- Using fewer seeds and reducing the rate of seed-bed losses.
Whether you've purchased vegetable seedlings or grown your own, you'll need to make sure your plants have "hardened off," by gradually exposing indoor-pampered seedlings to the rigors of life outdoors.
Hardening off Transplants University of Washington fact sheet; information from Johnny's Selected Seeds in Albion, Maine
Hardening Vegetable Transplants Explains the whys and hows of hardening off seedlings before transplanting them.
Timing Vegetable Transplants When to sow vegetable seeds indoors so seedlings reach just the right stage for transplanting.
Have a suggestion for an online information resource we haven't provided here? Let us know about it.
Photo credits: Top five photos, Kathy Martin, Skippy's Vegetable Garden Used with permission.Lower left, Peg Boyles.