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To Start Seed Indoors or Direct Seed Outdoors?

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That is the question.

Garden planning includes planting schedules, and that means knowing what to start ahead indoors, and what to seed directly into the ground outdoors. It depends on your climate.

A friend of mine in Alabama plants tomato seeds right in the ground. The season is long, and there’s plenty of moisture. But that is unheard of in our Zone 5! Tomatoes need to be started inside to get a jump on the short season.

Start indoors

Any plant that needs a long growing season to produce fruit or flowers needs to be started indoors. Short season plants that you want a multiple harvest from should also be started ahead.

nursery starts, taos new mexico

Tomatoes (photo)
Peppers (photo)
Eggplant
Brussel Sprouts
Melons
Pumpkins
Winter Squash
Zucchini
Cucumbers
Parsley
Most annual flowers – Sweet Peas and Nasturtiums, for instance, do not handle transplanting very well. (photo)

Direct seed

direct seeded in spring, taos new mexicoMost root crops do better seeded right into a prepared bed outside, but there are a few others, too.

Carrots
Beets
Radishes
Peas (photo)
Beans
Parsnips
Corn
Sweet Peas
Nasturtiums

Either/or

Some crops can be planted both ways successfully. Like I said, if you want multiple harvests, do succession plantings. Start seed indoors for early planting and harvest, and direct seed for harvest later in the season. Anything that can be harvested in 50 or 60 days can be seeded either way.

Spinach
Kale
Lettuce
Swiss Chard (photo)
Broccoli
Cabbage
Basil

swiss chard starts, taos new mexico

Experiment!

Of course, nothing in the gardening world is exempt from experimentation. I worked on a 350 acre farm. In spring, Bob, the owner, was starting corn in flats. I’d never seen this before. Bob’s family had run this farm for generations. It wasn’t like he had no experience!

‘Bob? (pause) What are you doing?’

‘Starting corn!’ Like that was totally normal.

‘Why?’

‘I want to see if I can have the earliest corn this year at the County Fair.’

‘Ok…’

‘It’s all an experiment,’ he said with a mostly straight face.

It didn’t make a difference, because of the way corn grows, but he had to find out. We all found out!

‘It’s all an experiment.’ I have taken those words with me the last 34 years. Don’t be afraid to experiment in your garden! Keep good notes on what works and what doesn’t, and try a different experiment next year.

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