Starting Seeds Indoors Pt 1: What & When?

Knowing when to start seeds indoors can be quite confusing! Simply keep this in mind.

Starting plants from seed indoors breaks down to 2 factors:

  1. The typical frost free date in your area.
  2. The plant you want to start from seed.

Here in Kentucky, our first frost free date is supposed to be April 15th. But remember it snowed in May 2018?

My advice, would be to go by the predicted frost free date in your area, but have a plan if it gets cold again. If it gets warmer earlier than this, just consider it a bonus!

First, make a list of the plants you want to start by seed. Some plants will perform better if you start them indoors. Other plants will do better if sown outdoors. Some are just easier to buy transplants.

Important Tip

Ask yourself these questions when deciding how to grow each plant.

When to Plant Outdoors

Use your frost free date only as an anchor point to go by. Some plants need cooler temperatures. Others need much warmer temperatures. My advice would be to acquire some type of chart to know when it’s best to plant outdoors.

I have Clyde’s Garden Planner which is easy and convenient to use. I keep it in the bins where I store my seeds. The chart also lists the plant’s optimal soil temperature, which is essential to know. This handy tool is inexpensive and can be purchased from Clyde’s website or on Baker Creek Heirloom.

Soil Temperature

You want to know your soil temperature, which is the best indicator telling you when to plant seeds outdoors. You can purchase a soil thermometer, or I use a meat thermometer. This one can be used as a soil or compost thermometer with its 20″ stem.

Simply take a reading where you want to plant that particular seed. It doesn’t hurt to take a reading each day for a few days to make sure the temperature is consistent. I also keep this in my seed storing bin.

40* is good enough to plant peas!

Some of my experiences

Pepper plants are slow to mature, and would require starting indoors very early. I don’t eat a lot of peppers and usually only grow 2 plants. It is worth it to me to purchase 2 plants in April for $5 instead of trying to grow them from seed.

Onions store well over winter and so I go through a lot of them. Onions also take a very long time to mature from seed. I also wouldn’t have room to start 50 plants. It is worth it to me to purchase a bundle of 50 onion transplants from an onion grower for $11 instead of trying to grow them from seed.

On the other hand, tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed quickly. I also want to grow select varieties, which are much easier to find by ordering a seed packet. However, tomatoes can take a while to produce fruit, so I want to get them off to an earlier start. It’s a lot cheaper and doesn’t take much effort to start my tomatoes by seed indoors in order to get them going early.

Lastly, lettuce is easy to grow and likes the colder spring weather. So, I can choose to start some indoors to get a really early start. I can also direct sow some later outdoors too. I like to grow lettuce in successions, so I can harvest it at intervals.

Clyde’s Garden Planner. Clyde sent me this planner for free to try. I think it’s a handy tool, so I offered to write a blog post and include it.

An Item You May Need: Soil Thermometer

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March Garden Chores

Weather in March can be quite unpredictable! It’s like going on vacation as a kid and asking, “Are we there yet?!”

For gardening in March, you want to be nimble and quick for certain tasks, but patient with others. Don’t be fooled by abnormal warm days. Start too soon, and work/expense may be lost due to weather. Don’t be fooled by spouts of cold weather or snow. Act too late, and certain garden tasks may be more difficult, or get the garden behind.

Perhaps some of these tasks will need to wait until April, but it’s time to at least begin some of these.

  • Wait for several days of 50 degree weather before cleaning up the garden. Many pollinators are triggered to get moving after several days of consistently warm weather. If the garden gets cleaned up too early, the pollinators mistakenly get cleaned up too!
  • If you’re a vegetable gardener and like to start seeds indoors, it’s time to get prepared. Purchase seeds, order transplants (like onions or potatoes), seed starting trays and soil, grow lights, etc. You want to start seeds no more than 4-6 weeks before planting outdoors.
  • Plant edible peas and sweet pea flowers. If it gets very cold after planting, cover the seedlings to retain heat in the soil. Peas like the cold weather!
  • Spread poppy seeds outdoors in the garden. They need the freeze/warm cycle to germinate.
  • Push back plant debris in areas where there are early spring flowers or bulbs. This will allow the soil to warm up faster and sunlight to reach the plants.
  • Cut down last year’s growth on grasses. Grasses begin to green out relatively early. You want to avoid cutting the new growth, so cut down the brown stalks before the plants begin growing again.
  • Prune down old raspberry and blackberry canes.
  • Cut down old stalks of early plants, like the Autumn Joy sedums. They will be easier to clean up at this point.
  • Plan tending to plants that need dividing or transplanting. This is best done in spring when there’s more rain, cooler temps, and the plants are actively growing.
  • Clean out any old nests in bird houses. The birds are anxious to have their clutches!
  • Test the lawn mower. At least in my area I can tell the grass is already beginning to grow. Nothing is worse than having to get the lawn mower fixed in spring or having to purchase one last minute. A growing lawn has no remorse!

Thyme Tea for Colds, Flu, Bronchitis, Strep

If you’re ill with a type of respiratory infection, try this herbal tea remedy.

This week, several counties in our area called off school because so many kids were sick. I’m ill myself for 2 weeks now with bronchitis.

The worst parts is the cough, especially when it comes to sleeping. Once I started drinking this herbal tea before bedtime, I’ve been able to sleep better.

Anytime I’m sick I go to my apothecary cabinet, which has herbal preparations I’ve made, like tinctures. I also have on hand dried herbs so I can make herbal teas. Herbal teas can easily be made with common culinary herbs, like thyme, which I grow in my garden.

I’m not sick too often, but when I am, I get to try all the herbal remedies I’ve made. This time around I’ve discovered the power of the herb, thyme.

It’s About Thyme

Thyme is a go-to herb when it comes to infections of the throat, bronchial tubes, and lungs.

This includes any uncomplicated illness like upper respiratory infection, colds, flu, bronchitis, strep throat, and sinus issues. Any more serious or chronic illness, check with a doctor first.

The English doctor Nicholas Culpeper from the Complete Herbal,

“It is a noble strengthener of the lungs…it purges the body of phlegm and it is an excellent remedy for shortness of breath…”.

The medicinal properties of thyme includes: antibacterial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, decongestant and relaxant.

Thyme works by helping clear mucus congestion, opening up the lungs and stimulating blood flow. It is a respiratory antiseptic, which gets rid of germs and therefore the symptoms they produce.

Thyme is also a great herb for digestive issues.

Thyme can simply be made as an herbal tea and it works wonderfully this way. It is so easy and actually tastes pleasant too! So much better than drugstore cough medicine.

Lemon+Honey+Thyme Tea

  • lemon wedge (1/4 of lemon)
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • honey (1tsp)
  • Infuse the thyme in hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Add lemon and honey to taste.
  • Drink 1-3 cups daily.

The best honey will be local and/or raw. Beware cheaper grocery store honey may not be honey at all, but rice syrup. Manuka honey is supposed to be an extra healing type of honey.

If you’re using fresh thyme, use 1 tablespoon.

After drinking the tea my lungs do feel like they’re more open and I feel like my cough has decreased since starting the tea regimen.

It actually tastes pretty good and tastes more lemony than it does thyme.

Thyme is a very safe herb and said to be safe for children and pregnant women (Grow It, Heal It. Hobbs & Gardner 2013.)

Disclaimer: Anytime it comes to your health, check with your doctor and decide what is best for you or your child.

Witch hazel


On the list of winter flowering shrubs, is witch-hazel (Hamamelis sp.).

In the US we have two native witch hazels, Hamamelis virginiana and Hamamelis vernalis.

Virginiana starts flowering in October to November.

Vernalis flowers later starting in December. Vernalis also holds onto its leaves.

My witch hazel shown in the photo is vernalis. This photo was taken in the beginning of December while the flowers were at their peak. The flowers didn’t fade until mid January.

Vernalis is also known as Ozark Witch hazel. ‘Christmas Cheer’ is a H. vernalis cultivar.

Asian witch hazels flower later than native American species. They flower late winter and early spring.

There is a Japanese witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica, and Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis hollis. Hamamelis x intermedia is a hybrid between the Japanese and Chinese witch hazel.

There are many cultivars and hybrids of these asian species of with-hazel such as ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Old Copper’, ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Rubin’, ‘Orange Encore’.

Many of these were bred to flower late winter and early spring. They were also bred for an increase of fragrance, and for other bright colors of yellow, gold, and orange.

The native species of witch hazel, to me, would be the best choice.

However, any witch hazel species can provide nectar and pollen to pollinators when there is a flowerless landscape in fall, winter, and early spring.

This makes them a good choice for the wildlife garden.

Witch hazels also have a nice yellow fall leaf color. It has a smooth, gray colored bark.

Witch hazel Pollination

Since witch hazel flowers in colder months when there are few or no pollinators around, it has a harder time being pollinated.

When there are some warm late fall or early spring days, some pollinators may come out to pollinate them (likely native bees who can tolerate cooler temps than honeybees). There are likely no other flowers out, so the pollinators appreciate them.

There is a species of a winter owlet moth, that is active during cold nights, which has co-evolved with witch hazel. This is how witch hazel has an increased chance of being pollinated and setting seed. This moth has other food sources, so the moth isn’t dependent on witch hazel, but the witch hazel is more dependent on it.

January’s Garden Chores

If you’re a gardener, there’s always some kind of gardening that can be done any time of the year. While I won’t be doing any kind of outdoor gardening in January, I will be doing lots of garden planning and designing sitting inside by the heater. Here is the list for January’s Garden Chores.

1. Rest and Recuperate

Enjoy not having to mow the lawn, watering plants, or weeding. The colder months are a time to recuperate, relax, and rest from outdoor chores. Now that the holidays are over and the new year is settling in, a little more peace and quiet can feel nice. Be as rested as possible before the warmer months rev up.

A garden can still be enjoyed during the winter. I love watching birds at the feeders and seeing how snow lays over the garden. Even when there’s lots of snow on the ground I like to bundle up and go outside for a walk to observe the garden. Also think, is there anyway you can create a better winter garden? A winter garden is probably most observed from the windows in your house.

2. Read

Pick out some garden or nature books you’d like to read. This is a good time to learn about something new you’ve thought about doing in the garden such as building raised beds, setting up irrigation, planting some new native plants, or growing a different type of vegetable or fruit.

3. Reflect on 2018

Make a list of tasks you completed this year in the garden. Write down any important observations you noticed. I have created a free PDF worksheet you can download. It has questions to help you think about your garden this year and next.

Download a free Garden Reflection Worksheet

2018-2019 Garden Reflections PDF Worksheet

4. Plan for 2019

Make a list of tasks you’d like to accomplish in the garden this coming year. You can be as broad or as detailed as you like. Your list can include more ambitious projects like putting in a new pollinator garden, or be as simple as weeding and mulching a garden bed you didn’t get to last season.

Days warm enough to work outside can pop up unexpectedly. I like to have a task list ready for that day it’s nice enough outside to get something done. Getting things done early in the season is nicer, because it’s cooler outside and I’m more rested (and enthused!) from being inside during the winter months (aka cabin fever).

It’s a good time to shop for new garden tools and supplies. If you know of something you’d like, watch for sales. Many garden companies have sales in the spring. If you begin now, you’ll have time to research for supplies that’ll work best for your needs.

If you plan to purchase any kind of seed or plants, plan to order in January or February for first selection.

For spring projects, you may like to plan to any purchase materials you can early and have them ready to go for that warm day you can get outside. This way you can beat garden center crowds and save time.

5. Create a Garden Journal

For the first time in 2018 I had a garden journal and I really enjoyed writing down everything I did and my observations. I feel like it will be a handy guide to look back to. What I think I’ll find most interesting is comparing weather patterns. As I plan for 2019’s garden I can also look back and see what I thought at that time worked and didn’t work. The book is also a record of when I planted certain plants and what tasks I completed during the year.

This year I had ‘A Year in the Garden’ by Timber Press (a favorite gardening book publisher) and really like how it is laid out. It is not year-specific so it can be used any year.IMG_7806

6. Organize

On warmer winter days I still like to get outside for a little bit and clean out the garage and shed. It’s also a good idea to at least check for rodents, leaks, or anything needing repair.

If you have lots of seed packets, it’s a good time to organize and take inventory before ordering more. Seed packets fit perfect in these Homz clear plastic storage bins which I’ve used for the past couple of years.


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