It's Autumn / Fall Seed Starting Time
As the days start to get noticeably shorter and autumn / fall is getting closer, it is the perfect time to start thinking about your spring garden. Hardy annuals are the group of plants I am referring to - they are tough and beautiful flowers that will start blooming early - and bloom for longer - if started early enough.
Your spring garden will be sensational by starting your seeds now and allowing them to establish during the cool weather. A large root ball will develop that only has to support a small amount of leaf. In early spring, hours of daylight and temperatures increase and the plant's away! Because it has had time to develop, the lovely, strong root system will feed a quick-growing plant and you will see speedy growth. Seeds sown in the spring fail in comparison - spring sown plants will do okay, but won't be the "flower factories" like the fall started plants. Two plants that come to mind are sweet peas and snapdragons - both do okay started in the spring here in Zone 9, but I just can't compare my spring sown sweet peas or snapdragons to those started in the fall. Larger plants, way more flowers and earlier blooms - yay for that because I want to see those flowers as soon as possible after a grey winter!
Figuring out your seed starting and planting out dates
The best time for fall planting is 6-8 weeks before your first frost date. As the season changes from summer to fall, conditions become more suited to starting seeds and transplanting plants: nighttime temperatures are getting cooler and the days are not so fiercely hot. And (more many of us), there will be some rain. Find your first frost date here.
If you are planting your plants in the garden 6-8 weeks before your first frost date, then you will need to start the seeds way before that to have plants that are large enough to be transplanted. This is how I work it out here in Sebastopol, northern California:
1- Find your first average frost date. - for me that is November 26
2 - Planting out date: count back 6-8 weeks on a calendar - for me that is October 1 - 15
3- Seed starting date: August 20 - September 3
Now if anyone is reading this post, as I post it, then you will see that I am 'late' starting my seed. I always mean to start seed earlier than I do, but never seem to manage it. But I'm not worried because these dates that I have set are only a general guide and starting the seeds a few weeks late won't matter so much.
My Favorite Hardy Annuals to Start in the Fall
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
- Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium)
- Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)
- Pincushion flower (Scabiosa Atropurpurea)
- Marigold (Calendula officinalis) 'Indian Prince'
- Echium 'Blue Bedder'
- Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)
- Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus)