Skip to main Content
Gardening

It’s too early to start seedlings indoors. Here’s what to do instead.

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: February 5
  • Published February 4

There is a distinct shift in the line of questions I am getting these days. All this daylight has us looking forward. Still, I need to start out this week alerting folks not to get too carried away —though a little bit is fine. It is February, and outdoor gardening does not begin until May. You do the math.

What this means is that it is too early to plant things. If you want to see what reality looks like, check out any 2021 outdoor vegetable or flower planting charts. There are plenty out there, but you should use one for a similar climate, say northern British Columbia.

Alaskans start lots of stuff indoors, it’s true, but it is too early for that as well. Seedlings started too early get too big, assuming they are grown under lights. This time of year, I start to include planting dates in the calendar that accompanies this column. If you want a complete picture, you can make a calendar using the seed-starting date calculator found at johnnyseeds.com. Or, of course, you could get a clean, generic calendar and copy the dates and plants I include. Then you will have your own planting calendar for next year.

It’s important to input the right dates for when it is safe to put plants in the ground. In Southcentral, putting things outdoors, into soil, is now mid-May given our distinct warming. It used to be the last weekend of May. However, one important thing most people who start seeds forget is that Alaska gardeners have to harden off our seedlings. It takes a week to acclimate indoor grown plants to being outside. This means for the seed-starting purposes you need to pretend the planting-out date is a week earlier.

OK, next, starting seeds and growing seedlings once the proper time arrives is not difficult. For those who have never grown their own share here in Alaska, It does help to get a good overview of what is entailed. One of the best I have come across is Wendy’s Wesser’s 2017 article titled “Growing an Alaskan Garden From Seed.” It provides what you need to know so you can have a complete picture going into spring and so you can collect the necessary supplies.

And, if you want an overview of the possibilities available to an Alaska gardener once planting commences, check out the late Lenore Hedla’s book, “The Alaska Gardener’s Handbook.” It is available via the web wherever you buy books.

While on the subject of guides, longtime readers know that I firmly believe the Alaska Plant Materials Center is the least appreciated and most underfunded of all Alaskan government agencies. I recently came across their “Field Guide for Weed Identification. You might as well download it now. It’s free and very well done, as are all things Plant Materials Center!

Finally, there are two important maxims in Alaska gardening. First, the early bird always gets the worm. Last year there was a run and then a shortage of seeds and starts. This is still the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. You can’t know when some article will cause a run on soil or pots.

Second, shop locally so we can keep local suppliers that specialize in things designed to serve our unique situation so far north. Many Alaska gardeners are already vaccinated, so they can safely mask up and visit nurseries for supplies. For those who are not, you can use local shipping methods, including FedEx to have supplies delivered from a local source to your home.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Alaska Botanical Garden: Learn as a member. Go to alaskaabg.org for a complete listing and description of classes and workshops.

Sweet peas: One of the few plants we start from seed early, anytime between now and April. If started now, and pinched back, these will flower early and more prolifically.

Houseplants: Rotate pots to prevent the plants from bending.

Sponsored