About this time of year, the itch to start seed starting hits. Those late winter snowstorms send gardeners into their basements to find their lights and flats and double check their stash of seeds to make sure they have all they want. Some gardeners can’t wait even this long, and for them there is winter sowing.

Tomato seedlings thrive under lights.

If you prefer to start seeds indoors, most annuals and vegetables should be started between early March and mid-April in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Extension service has a fine post about seed starting and recommends that brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage) as well as lettuces be started indoors in early to mid-March. (Onions and celery need an even earlier start.) The brassicas are cold-weather crops and generally can be put outdoors earlier and do well in cold frames or hoop houses. A long list of popular annuals, such as petunias, ageratum, coleus and snapdragons, can also be started from seed in early March.

In mid- to late March, plant your peppers and eggplants as well as marigolds, annual phlox, cleome and hollyhocks. These all need eight to 10 weeks indoors under lights before the last frost date.

Hold off until April before doing your seed starting for tomatoes. While some folks plant them earlier, the U recommends waiting. My experience is the seedlings are stronger if they are started later, though I’m sure with enough light and fertilizer you can grow very large plants indoors by giving them more time.

April is also a good time to do seed starting on annuals such as baby’s breath, morning glory, nasturtium, cosmos and zinnias. Some of these annuals can also be sown outdoors after the last frost date for a later bloom.

To learn more about seed starting, check out our articles here, here and here. Or, better yet, take a class from the experts! On March 6, MSHS is hosting a class on seed starting indoors taught by Tom McKusick, publisher of Northern Gardener magazine and a tomato enthusiast, and Marty Bergland, a frequent garden instructor in the Twin Cities.




  1. Laurie Ashworth on February 24, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    I am going to start a small garden in my back yard this Spring. I will limit what I plant to cherry tomatoes, spicy lettuce, peppers and a few green beans. I don’t know where to buy small quantities of seeds that are fresh. Could you recommend some websites or stores? I live in White Bear Lake.


    • Mary Lahr Schier on February 25, 2019 at 1:53 pm

      Laurie — Most garden centers should have the seeds (or plants) you need. There is a Bachmans on White Bear Avenue, but any garden center would have lettuce, tomato plants or seeds, etc.. If you prefer to start everything from seed, Seed Savers Exchange is a good mail order company, but I’ve also bought seeds from Burpee, Jung Seeds, Renee’s Seeds and Botanical Interest and had good luck with all of them. Enjoy your new garden!

    • Terry Roy on March 10, 2020 at 9:51 pm

      Laurie, I am in WBL and if you just want a few seeds instead of an entire packet I’d be happy to share. Alternatively, a site called Seeds Now http://www.seedsnow.com offers small sampler packs of non gmo veg and flower seeds for 1.99 each. The White Bear Library also has a Seed Bank! You can email me terzap (at) gmail com with what you’re looking for, I grow at least 20 different kinds of veg (6 types of beans alone, lol)! I don’t start toms or peppers from seed though.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on March 11, 2020 at 2:00 pm

      Laurie — See Terry’s comment above for ideas. The seed collection at the White Bear Lake Library is a great options. (We’re doing an article on it in Northern Gardener this fall, too.) Most gardeners have extra seeds around to share.

  2. Marilyn Thomas on March 1, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    I am new to the area; a transplant from the south. I’m helping my daughter with her garden this year (I’ve had many southern gardens) and look forward to any help I can get on growing in this area. Thank you for being here!

    • Mary Lahr Schier on March 2, 2020 at 12:53 am

      Welcome to Minnesota! You may want to check out some of our classes as you get oriented to the area.

  3. Katherine on March 26, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Should I spout my seeds in a damp coffee filter inside a bag or just put them in soil under a grow light?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on March 31, 2020 at 6:13 pm

      Just put them in seed starting mix or potting soil and under the grow light. The only reason to sprout in a coffee filter is if the seeds are somewhat old (ie from a year or two ago) and you aren’t sure if they are still viable. If they germinate in the damp coffee filter, they are viable.

  4. Jonathan Preus on March 30, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    I have left over seeds from last year and before. Tomatoes, radishes, beans, lettuce, cauliflower and others. Which of these old seeds are most likely to sprout, which least likely? I will try a few, but would appreciate your advice as to which plants’ seeds stay viable longer. I learned something last year – a small plot where flowers had grown for years proved to be very good for tomatoes, when I moved the flowers and put in tomato seedlings.

    I just found your info online by accident, after years living in Lauderdale! Would like to visit your office – open hours?

  5. Dee Haataja on April 13, 2020 at 7:25 pm

    I am from northern Minnesota, North of Park Rapids. Isn’t a different zone? Thanks Debbie

    • Mary Lahr Schier on April 13, 2020 at 7:54 pm

      Yes, you’re in USDA Hardiness Zone 3. So, it would probably be a good idea to move all the seed starting dates up a couple of weeks. You could plant tomato seeds (indoors under lights) about now to plant out in early June.

  6. Jayne on April 18, 2020 at 7:29 pm

    Hello! Twin cities gardener here with a little greenhouse on my deck. Past years I burned my poor plants in it, but I am home to keep an eye on them this spring. :). Anyone recommend starting tomato seeds in the greenhouse mid-April? Will it get too cold at night? You think there’s enough sun light? I am adding better vents in the greenhouse to treive heat if needed, but also worried about that seed starting mix drying out.

    Thanks for any advice. I have started marigolds and sunflowers from seed on my kitchen counter under the counter light. They have been repotted and are now cozy in the greenhouse.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on April 19, 2020 at 3:31 pm

      As long as you can monitor the temperature well, you should be fine.

  7. Amy B. Mingo on May 7, 2020 at 3:07 am

    I have 2 4×4 raised beds I am prepping with garden soil and compost. I was unable to get seeds until last week so am late to start them. Can I plant directly? I have so many heirloom seeds that came in my order and don’t know if I can plant them all or should save some for starting next year. I have arugula, asparagus, bush beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, pickling cuke, eggplant, honeydew, kale, 4 kinds of lettuce, yellow onion, peas, cayenne, jalapeno, banana and bell peppers, pumpkin, radish, spinach, squash, swiss chard, cherry and beefsteak tomato, turnips, and watermelon. Whew. Any help you can give me would be great. Im 52 but this is my first veggie garden ever. I am able to use cages and trellises for things to climb and be stabilized as well. Thank you so much.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on May 7, 2020 at 1:07 pm

      Wow, that is a lot — especially for a first vegetable garden. I’m not sure how much space you have, but it might be a good idea to focus on the vegetables you like the most this year. Many of the seeds you have can be planted directly, such as arugula, Swiss chard, lettuce—any of the greens—plus melons, beets, cucumbers, radish and squash. Tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are usually started indoors in mid-April, so you are a bit late for those, but you could try. If you are growing onions from seeds, I’d hold those until next year as they take a long time. Asoaragus is a more complicated crop to get started. You may want to research that a bit before planting. Good luck!

  8. Mugdha Halbe on November 17, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    Last year some of seeds from my annual flower fell on the ground and they germinated it self, when I saw plants growing, I dug them and put them in the pot and they did well. So it forced me thinking may be I can do the same thing with my other annuals, just put them in the ground now(for 2-3 annuals I already did it), and then they will geminate as nature allows.
    Would be ok, if I do that now this week since ground is not really frozen, for some more spring and summer flowers?

  9. […] for a shorter growing season than do vegetable gardeners in states farther south. You might have to start your seeds inside or consider buying starts once the last frost passes. With a relatively short gardening […]

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