The cold of winter is waning and spring fever is growing strong. Even if the first warm days of spring have arrived in your area, the ground may not yet be ready for its gardening season. But starting your garden can take place in the comfort of the indoors. All it takes to start your own plants from seed is a little knowledge. When, what, where, and how? The “why” is obvious to anyone who’s started from seed: you get stronger plants, more plants, and exactly what you want for a lot less money. And it’s fun.
The date of the last average frost in your area is essential information before starting seeds indoors or transplanting them outdoors. This can be found in gardening books and catalogs, from your local extension agent, or from long-time gardeners in your area. Spring officially starts for me twelve, eight, and six weeks before our last frost date of May 15 in central Wyoming. I mark those dates on my calendar so I know when to get started indoors under lights in the basement.
Start your seeds inside early enough that they will be robust and strong to survive transplanting outside. The best place to find that information is in seed catalogues or on the back of the seed packet itself. I group my seeds by these dates in anticipation of their planting.
Even if you’d rather purchase plants from a garden shop or order seedlings by mail, remember that those plants need the same care at transplant time as ones started from your own seeds.
The herbs recommended to grow from seed (see page 44) are generally true to their parents and fairly quick to germinate and grow. Most herbs started from seed are annuals—plants that sprout, grow, bear flowers and die in one season. These herbs can be used the first season. Biennials spend their first year growing and their second year flowering. Parsley is an example of a biennial that can be harvested the first season. Most perennial herbs can be grown from seed. Some take longer to germinate and reach a mature size and are easier to buy as established plants. French Tarragon is an example of an herb that does not come true from seed and must be purchased as a plant. See page 49 for herbs to grow from plants.
Young plants need to get used to the cold, wind, and sun in small doses.
Knowing the average final frost date in your area is essential to starting seeds indoors.
Pat Herkal is a frequent contributor to The Herb Companion who enjoys the gardening challenges of Wyoming’s schizophrenic Zone 4 climate. She collects hardy roses, underplanting them with a large variety of herbs and perennials.