Start These 11 Seeds Indoors Now for a Thriving Spring Garden
Even if the weather is still dreary outside, there is a lot of opportunity for garden preparation indoors. Former organic farmer and garden expert Logan Hailey digs into the 11 best seeds to start NOW for an abundant early spring garden.
February means it’s almost spring in many growing regions. But even if it’s still cold and rainy in your garden, there is a lot you can do to get ahead on tasks indoors! Starting seeds inside gives you a major jumpstart on the season.
Your baby plants can begin their lives in a cozy, protected space. They’ll grow into strong, healthy seedlings that are ready to transplant as soon as the weather warms outside. Then, they can take off growing to provide yields two to six weeks earlier than direct sown seeds!
Whether you’re in sunny San Diego, foggy Pacific Northwest, humid North Carolina, or way across the pond in the U.K., we have 11 seeds you can start indoors for a thriving spring garden!
Pineapple Ground Cherry
Pineapple Ground Cherry
Cherokee Carbon Pole Tomato Seeds
Cherokee Carbon Pole Tomato Seeds
Anise Hyssop (Agastache) Seeds
Anise Hyssop (Agastache) Seeds
11 Seeds to Start Indoors for a Jumpstart on Spring Gardening
Starting seeds indoors can be as simple as a few pots in a sunny windowsill or an entire mini greenhouse. Whatever resources you have, remember that timing is everything. Here are some great plants to get going around February in a few different growing zones.
Imagine that a cherry tomato and a tomatillo fell in love and had a baby. That baby would be the tropical fruity-flavored ground cherry! These tomato-relatives are actually husked fruits native to Central and South America. They are sometimes called “cape gooseberry,” “golden berry,” and “husky cherry,” but the universally known Latin name is Physalis. The yellow-hued fruits grow to about the size of cherry tomatoes and hang from the plant in lantern-like husks that you must peel back before eating them.
Ground cherries may be related to tomatoes, but they taste like a sweet pineapple-flavored candy. They’re perfect for fresh snacking, salsas, and jams. Meg from @meggrowsplants uses her freshly grown ground cherries to make an ultra-unique ground cherry upside-down cake! In her North Carolina garden (zone 7b), February is the perfect time to seed ground cherries indoors to ensure abundant harvests as early as May.
If you’ve successfully grown tomatoes, then seeding these summer delicacies will be simple. Sow ‘Pineapple Ground Cherry’ seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date. They should be planted about ¼” deep in 4-cell or 6-cell seed starting trays.
Keep them consistently moist and warm until germination, and grow indoors until your last frost date. Ground cherries are frost-sensitive, so wait until the weather is fully warm to put them outside. These plants tend to sprawl, so a trellis or grow bag is helpful for keeping them contained.
What would a summer garden be without juicy homegrown tomatoes? This warm-weather, long-season crop does best with a head start indoors.
Jacques from @jacquesinthegarden says he probably wouldn’t be a gardener if it wasn’t for the vine-ripened tomatoes he grew up eating with his family! In his San Diego garden (zone 10b), he’s had the most success starting tomatoes indoors in February. If you live in a colder zone, you may want to wait a few more weeks to ensure your tomatoes don’t become rootbound in their pots.
A few of our favorite recommended varieties are:
- ‘Sun Gold’: If you had to grow just one cherry tomato for the rest of your life, this is the one! Sun golds are sweet, tart, complex, and impressively high-yielding. They do best with a trellis and moderate pruning and don’t need quite as much sunlight as larger varieties.
- ‘Cream Sausage’: This unique bush (determinate) tomato produces oval-shaped yellow fruits great for processing into salsas and sauce. These plants are much more compact than their vining cousins, making them perfect for containers and small-space gardens.
- ‘Cherokee Carbon’: This hybrid version of the heirloom ‘Cherokee Purple’ is more disease-resistant and fast-growing but still has the classic tomato flavor and beefsteak tomato texture. These large-fruited tomatoes need as much sun as possible.
Sow tomatoes in 4-cell or 6-cell containers with a well-drained seed starting mix. The seeds can be planted ¼” deep and lightly dusted with soil. They need consistent moisture and warmth and typically germinate in 5-10 days. Grow tomato seedlings under close grow lights or in a bright greenhouse to ensure they get plenty of sunlight. If the young plants don’t have enough sun, they can become spindly and “leggy,” causing weaker stems and potential for transplant shock.
A good rule of thumb for tomato timing is to sow indoors 4-6 weeks before you plan to transplant. The best time to transplant is when temperatures are reliably above 45°F, which is often 1-2 weeks after your last frost date. This means you can safely start tomatoes inside 2-4 weeks before your last frost date. Learn how to find your average last frost date and calculate your planting time in our guide.
This shiny emoji-worthy vegetable is known as an aubergine in the U.K., but is more recognizable as the classic Italian eggplant in the U.S. Eggplants are related to tomatoes and peppers, but they grow more slowly than their cousins. Amy of @inthecottagegarden in Carmarthen, U.K. (zone 8) starts eggplants indoors in February to ensure a prolonged harvest window throughout the summer.
Eggplants don’t only come in the standard fat-bottomed shape. There are also miniature eggplants, rounded eggplants, white eggplants, and Japanese eggplants (my personal favorite). Here are some unique varieties to try out this year:
- ‘Long Purple’: Japanese eggplants are elongated and slender, with thinner skins and a more delicate flavor than classic eggplant. This prolific heirloom yields vibrant purple fruits all summer, perfect for roasting, sauteing, or a delicious baba ganoush dip.
- ‘Jewel Amethyst’: If you feel overwhelmed by large eggplants in the kitchen, try out these petite gems with fruits that average 4” long. The creamy white interior is delectable in an egg scramble.
- ‘Black Beauty’: The pretty lavender pink blossoms and giant tender fruits of this heirloom have been covered by gardeners since the early 1900s. The eggplants average one to three pounds and have glossy, deep purple skin.
You can start these plants up to 10-12 weeks before your average last frost date and plan to transplant them out 1-2 weeks after the last frost when night temperatures are at least 60°F. Row cover and greenhouse tunnels help with the early establishment of this heat-loving crop.
Sow eggplant seeds in small cell trays about ¼” deep. The ideal temperature for germination is 24-32°C or 75-90°F. It is helpful to place your trays on a germination heating mat to speed up germination. Once the seeds germinate after 10-20 days, move them to a bright, sunny, warm area where they can thrive until it’s time for transplanting.
Ana of @pnw_ana doesn’t just start her favorite herbs inside for quicker harvests, but for pest avoidance. In rainy Seattle (zone 8b), starting indoors gives plants a much better chance of surviving the aggressive slug pressure of spring. Strong, large transplants are able to withstand slimy early-season pests better than direct-sown seeds.
Growing medicinal herbs or a tea garden offers an abundance of seed selections for vibrant colors, delectable flavors, and companion planting benefits. One of the most versatile plants is Anise Hyssop. This licorice-flavored perennial herb is a member of the mint family with dazzling purple blossoms and a refreshing flavor in tea. Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds go crazy for hyssop flowers, and the plants reliably return every year in zones 4-8.
Anise hyssop seeds germinate best after a period of cold stratification. You can place them in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for about a month before sowing. The seeds are very tiny and require light to germinate, so be sure to sow them very shallowly and don’t bury them under too much soil. It’s best to tamper them down with your hands or a block to ensure the seeds have proper contact with the soil.
Pro Tip: Pre-Moisten Your Soil
When starting these seeds, it’s important to pre-moisten the soil so it can hold onto water while the seeds germinate. Many seed-starting soil blends have peat moss or coco coir in them. These materials are great for holding onto water, but they actually repel water when they are dry. After all of the processing and transporting in a soil mix bag, the medium needs to be thoroughly re-wetted to ensure proper water absorption in the seed starting trays.
All you need to do is dump your soil blend in a bucket or wheelbarrow, add water, and blend until it is about the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. Then, you are ready to add the soil to your seed trays! This pre-moistening technique helps seeds germinate more quickly, stay in place when watering, and prevents the soil level from sinking after irrigation.
You can’t plan for summer gardening without a pepper patch! Peppers are slow-growing yet yield delicious fruits all summer. They take 10-20 days to sprout and up to 80 days to reach full maturity. If you start indoors in February (zones 6-10), your peppers will be robust and ready to take off when you transplant a week or so after your last frost date. However, if you’re gardening in zone 5 or cooler, wait until March to sow peppers.
Whether you like ‘em sweet or hot, most pepper varieties enjoy a headstart in seed trays in a warm indoor environment. Pepper seeds prefer soil temperatures above 70-80°F and appreciate a germination heating mat under the trays.
Why choose just one pepper when you can grow an endless diversity? Our top Epic pepper picks include:
- ‘Early Jalapeno’: If you have a short growing season and you love spice, this fast-maturing jalapeno is essential. It’s perfect for starting indoors in early spring and
- ‘Santaka’: This ultra-spicy Japanese pepper is perfect for drying and making delectable hot chili oil.
- ‘Jimmy Nardello’: This incredible Italian heirloom is a sweet frying pepper that resembles a cayenne but doesn’t have any spice. The complex flavor is amazing fresh out of the garden, or you can put them in a smoker, dry them out, and ground them into homegrown paprika powder.
If you love easy-to-grow native wildflowers with medicinal uses, you can’t skip on echinacea. This meadow garden classic is a perennial in zones 3-8 that will thrive with very little maintenance. It grows well as an annual in other zones. If you start echinacea indoors around February, you can usually see flowers in the first year of growth!
For herbal remedies, look for purple coneflower seeds (Echinacea purpurea), which is a North American native wildflower that has been used medicinally by indigenous peoples for centuries.
Start seeds 10-12 weeks before your last frost in 6-cell seed trays and plant very shallowly. Sow several seeds per cell to ensure germination. These wildflowers can be slow to sprout, so be patient and keep them moist for 10-20 days. Once the seedlings emerge, thin to one plant per cell and wait
Carrots and Radishes
In zone 8a, you can start direct seeding cool-climate root crops outdoors in February. If you have leftover seeds from last season, “chaos gardening” is a fun way to use them. You can mix together several types of seeds and broadcast them to see what germinates. Meg from @meggrowsplants uses this method with her leftover carrot and radish seeds for a nice root crop medley.
To do it, clean out an old herb shaker with larger holes in the top of the shaker. Pour in your leftover seeds and shake to mix. As soon as the ground is workable, head out to your garden and find spare corners and spaces where you want to grow some extra roots. You can also chaotically sprinkle around for a fun surprise. Use the shaker to scatter the old seeds on the soil surface, press into the soil, and water in.
This combo is especially functional because of the staggered harvest times. Most radish varieties, such as ‘Easter Egg’ only take 30 days to mature from seed to harvest. On the other hand, carrots such as ‘Shin Kuroda’ take up to 3-4 weeks to sprout and 75 days to mature. The radishes will be almost ready to harvest by the time the carrots germinate, which means they both receive ample space, and the soil is extra loosened for your carrot crop.
It is important to thin your seedlings because plants grown too close together won’t produce large-sized roots. Overcrowded seedlings can also lead to disease issues like damping off. Use fine needle-nose pruners or scissors to remove weaker seedlings and provide at least 2” of space between each plant.
No cottage garden would be complete without the best-smelling flower you can grow. Sweet peas are not the same as edible sugar snap peas, but they do grow as gorgeous vines. A small bunch of these blossoming beauties can fill an entire room with their nostalgic, alluring fragrance. This spring flower is a staple for bouquets and adds beautiful color to early spring plantings. Best of all, you can trellis them up a fence, tee-pee, or balcony for a gorgeous vertical accent.
Sweet peas are great for indoor sowing around February or March because they thrive in cool weather. The plants will stop producing once summer’s heat arrives, so you want to enjoy as many aromatic flowers as you can in the early season.
Sow ‘Perfume Delight’ sweet pea seeds in extra deep pots so they can develop nice, deep roots. Some people soak the seeds in water or knick them with a knife to speed up germination. It’s best to sow them about ½” (1 cm) deep in a moistened, well-drained potting mix. Grow the seedlings at around 13-18°C or 55-65F. Once they’ve germinated, move them to a greenhouse, bright windowsill, or grow lights for them to develop until it’s time to transplant around your last frost date.
No recipe is complete without a burst of herbal flavor. Some herbs, like parsley and cilantro, are widely available in supermarkets. Others are hard to find or of low quality when sold in stores. This is all the more reason to plant them in your garden.
‘Winter Savory’ is a unique peppery herb with the best qualities of thyme and mint. It has a complex flavor that fits perfectly with rich, savory dishes. Better yet, this perennial herb is a beautiful ornamental that attracts bees and pollinators when flowering. It doesn’t mind poor soils as long as it has a strong start to life. If you sow savory seeds in trays in early spring, the plants will grow prolifically throughout the season.
These seeds need light to germinate, so sow them very shallowly by sprinkling right over the soil surface and gently pressing them into the soil with your finger. Don’t cover them with extra soil, as this will block the light needed for germination.
For finicky species like this one, it’s best to sow a little extra than you think you’ll need. A mister is great for irrigating tiny seeds like winter savory because it ensures the soil stays moist without blasting water over the top and displacing the seeds.
Also known as ‘Tulsi’ basil, this holy Indian basil has been grown in India since ancient times. It makes a heavenly tea, a gorgeous floral accent, a pest-preventing companion plant, and the perfect resource for pollinators. The flavor and smell of tulsi is far different from Italian basil. It is floral, sweet, and complex, almost reminiscent of bubble gum. This annual is perfect for any medicinal herb garden or to tuck in throughout your veggie beds.
Sow ‘Tulsi Holy Basil’ seeds in 6-cell trays about 4-6 weeks before you plan to transplant. This warm-weather annual does best when nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50°F. Plant about two seeds per cell and then thin or up-pot. The seeds germinate fairly quickly and do great in a seed tray with a humidity dome over the top.
Bottom-watering is another ideal method for irrigating small seeds like tulsi to ensure the seeds don’t get displaced from the blast of a hose. Place your seed trays in a bottom tray and fill it with ½” to 1” deep of water, depending on how dry the soil is. Allow the soil to suck up the moisture from the drainage holes in the bottom of your seed trays. Keep an eye on soil moisture by sticking your finger in the corner of a cell periodically. It should feel as wet as a wrung-out sponge but not sticky or soggy like brownie batter.
Most of us associate cilantro with vibrant salsas and flavorful summer tacos, but this herb actually prefers to grow in cool weather. It’s best to start cilantro in February so it can go into the garden as soon as the soil is workable. It will grow prolifically in the chilly weather of early spring and may be more resistant to bolting if you continuously harvest it.
Bolting is what happens when cilantro goes to flower and seed in hot weather. Fortunately, it doesn’t mean you’ll lose your harvestable crop! You can harvest cilantro seeds, which are actually the spice coriander! But if you want to harvest as many cilantro leaves as possible, here are a few ways to prevent bolting:
- Grow a bolt-resistant variety like ‘Long Standing Santo’, which has been bred to delay flowering in hot weather. It will stay in the leafy stage for a longer period.
- Plant cilantro earlier in the season and preserve the harvest for summer uses.
- Grow late spring cilantro in partial shade so it doesn’t get as hot.
Sowing ground cherries, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs, and flowers indoors can give you a major head start to your season. Just be sure you don’t forget these three keys to success with spring seed starting:
- Timing: Always check the seed packet recommendation and count backward from your expected last frost date.
- Moisture: Keep soil blends consistently moist but never soggy to ensure good germination.
- Temperature: Use a germination heat mat to help warm-weather crops take off while the weather is still chilly outside.