If you live in the south or anywhere tropical, likely you do not need to start your seeds indoors during the winter. You can, if you have a very tight vegetable rotation but the growing season in these regions is often plenty long enough for even the most finicky, long season squash. There are some other considerations, benefits and drawbacks to starting your seeds outdoors or direct sowing them.
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Last frost date
Any gardener will tell you this is the most important part of both transplants and sowing seeds in the garden. If you do not live in a tropical region where there temperatures never dip below 40, then you will need to consider your first and last frost date. This is based on your USDA Zone. There are several cool weather plants that can be planted close to this date outdoors (and do best if they are due to heat). However, many vegetables and fruits need to wait until after the last frost .
For my zone, 8b, this is some time around mid-March. There are some excellent options on what plants do well in zone 8. For particularly warm loving plants, I will typically wait an extra week to avoid any pop up frost that kill delicate seedlings. This includes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. You can find more with my gardening guide for the south!
Soil for seeds
If you start your seeds indoors, on flats or peat pots, you will need a special seed starting mix. You can either make your own or buy seed mix at the store. However, if you starting your seeds outdoors there are a few considerations.
First, are they going straight into containers or raised beds they will stay in for the season. If so be careful to consider what nutrients the plants might need as it grows while also not being too strong to burn up seedlings.
If not, and you plan to direct sow into a plot of ground you have prepared, be sure to have a nice soft upper layer of top soil. Mulching an are can help with moisture and temperature control. However, wait until the seedlings are about 3 to 6 inches high with multiple leaves. This helps the seedlings not to suffocate with the mulch.
Second, consider what you are growing. Many root crops must be direct sow straight into the ground, container or raised bed. This is because they cannot handle the transplant process and it is too much of a shock for them to survive.
Benefits to starting outside
One of the main benefits of beginning your seeds outdoors is ease of scheduling. You can manipulate your plots based on cool weather and warm weather plants as well as companion planting and crop rotation. Figuring when exactly to start indoors, harden off and transplant is just even more hassle to deal with in your gardening journey. If you can, start simple, choose varieties that are good for after the frost and see how they fair through your spring, summer and early fall.
Another benefit is establishment. If seeds are allowed to start outdoors, this gives them time to acclimate to your microclimate as well as the soil in which they are housed. Which can make for hardier plants that can handle the weather a little better. Protected seedlings from inside may struggle at first, especially as you get better at the time. In addition, they will naturally not have experienced weather events such as real winds, thunderstorms, etc.
Another benefit is limiting mess indoors. Many people do not have the money or space for a green house so they have to start their seeds in their homes. This can be problematic if you have small children, pets or lack of a good space for the seeds. Where they need sun, no drafts and an area you can clean easily.
Downsides of direct sowing
There are some disadvantages to starting your seeds outdoors. The biggest reason is that there are many regions that simply do not have a long enough growing season. Many people need to get a head start inside, particularly for crops such as cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, legumes, etc.
Another disadvantage is pests. One of the most frustrating things about growing in the south is the constant battle with all the bugs. Because of mild winters, many bugs thrive in the south. Those pests are given plenty of time to wreak havoc on your plants. Plus, if you start your seeds outdoors, the seedlings themselves have longer to be exposed to these problems. This means they are not strong, healthy large seedlings before that dreaded hornworm shows up.
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