Starting Seeds Outdoors

garden soil

Hi friends! The weather in Northern Virginia has been so nice the last few weeks, so I’ve been spending a lot of time getting the garden ready for planting. I know I wrote about starting seeds indoors a few weeks ago, but today I’m going to share my tips on starting seeds outdoors.

Growing up gardening with my dad in Maryland, he always waited until Mother’s Day weekend to plant most of the plants outdoors. In the
Mid-Atlantic, Spring can be a tricky thing, and even when you’ve had weeks of 70 degree weather, you’ll get a random Thursday night low of 25 at the end of April that will kill everything. When it’s this nice out for a few weeks, I get really impatient to start planting tomatoes and peppers and green beans and all the other yumminess outside. So, I scratch that itch by starting seeds outdoors that are pretty hardy and made to withstand a late spring frost.

The big benefit of starting seeds outdoors in early spring is you get to start harvesting when you’re just finishing planting your usual summer plants–for me, that’s usually the beginning to mid June.

How to Choose the Right Seeds for Early Planting

The easiest way to find the right seeds for starting seeds outdoors in the spring is to look at the label of the seed packets. Look for seeds that are labeled “early spring”. These tend to be hardier seeds/plants that can withstand a late frost if it occurs. Save the seeds labeled “plant after the danger of frost” until, well, you’re after the danger of frost. For us, that’s usually the first week in May (hence my dad’s Mother’s Day rules).

I love Burpee seeds–they’re reliable and provide easy planting and care instructions.

If you’re not sure where to start, look for some lettuces, spinach, peas, onions, brussel sprouts, beets, or radishes. Now, not all varieties of each of these are safe for early spring, so again, make sure you check the packaging. (These links are more expensive than the packing, but they have free shipping. If you have a free shipping coupon on Burpee.com, you’ll save money buying direct from the source!)

Choosing the Right Spot in your Garden

view of backyard
The left side of my garden is usually sunnier, so my seeds and herbs end up on the right side.

I have a smaller backyard, but I plant a ton of vegetables, so space can be limited. I have to carefully choose where everything goes. I save the sunniest spots for my peppers and tomatoes, and then I ration out the rest of the space.

Most early spring crops don’t tolerate the hot, dry sunny spots I save for my peppers and tomatoes anyways, so it works well. I usually put the seeds in on the other side of the garden, where it’s partly shady, and they do well.

Make sure wherever you choose to plant them, you get get the right amount of sunlight (listed on the seed packet) and the soil stays well drained.

Disclosure: The links in this post are affiliate links, meaning, at no cost to you, I earn a small commission if you click the link and purchase the item. 

Let’s Get Started!

Ok, now that you’ve picked out your seeds and the spot in the garden, let’s get started!

Step 1: Prepare your Soil

garden needing weeding

If you haven’t weeded your garden before this, that’s the first thing you need to do. And, after weeding, you should till the soil. For those of you new to gardening, that means working the soil (stirring, cultivating, turning, whatever word you want to use) so it’s soft and easy to dig in. I use a 3-tine hand cultivator, but you can use a garden rake, a shovel, an electric tiller, whatever you find easiest to you. I like the 3-tine cultivator, as its tines are a bigger than a standard garden rake, so it’s easier to pull out weeds.

Once I’ve tilled the soil, I’ll use my hands or a garden rake to even out the soil. And lastly, I make little raised rows for the seeds. These rows will help excess water drain off the seed roots, and for little seeds, a little too much water is a big deal.

Adding Garden Soil

The first time I plant in a garden I usually add some seed starting soil or vegetable garden soil into the ground dirt. My dad taught me to do this to add some nutrients back into natural soil and to give my seeds the best chance. If you’re a more advanced gardener and measure pH and measure nutrients in your own soil, then you’re way more advanced than I am and should probably take over writing this post 🙂 I have not learned to do that yet, so for now, I hedge my bets by adding garden soil to my natural soil once every few years.

Step 2: Dig your Holes for your Seeds

soil rows waiting for seeds

Time to dig holes for your seeds! Make sure you follow the instructions on your seed packet for the depth of your holes and how far apart they need to be to accomodate your growing plant.

If you’re planting lettuce or spinach in a row, you can take your finger and drag a line in the soil, about a half inch deep.

For the peas I planted, they need a hole 1/2″-1″ deep, so I stuck my finger into the soil, about half way down to my second knuckle, every 4-6″ in the soil.

Step 3: Plant your Seeds

spinach seeds in the ground
Those little white/gray things are spinach seeds

For your lettuce and spinach, I typically slowly shake the seeds out along the row. The seeds are so small, you can’t individually drop them. Then, just lightly cover them with soil.

For your other plants, drop 1-2 seeds in each hole and then gently cover them.

covering seeds with soil

Step 4: Water & Label

pea seeds planted with trellis
Peas like to climb, so I use a cucumber trellis to help them grow.

Next, water your seeds until your soil is soaked. You need to be careful with the seeds and young sprouts. A heavy stream of water can displace the seeds and wash them away.

Use the mist setting on your hose nozzle (if you have one). Otherwise, I use a watering can with a nozzle that has a light stream. Or, when you lose that nozzle (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything), pour the water into your hand and let it drip down onto the ground below.

If your seeds need a support (like peas), place that now. I use a cucumber trellis, so my peas can climb as much as they want.

Then I label the rows if I’m planting different things together with these simple stake labels–like my lettuce and spinach. Yes, when the sprout, I’ll know what they are, but if they never sprout, I like to know what failed, so I can try something different when I replant them.

Step 5: Water Routinely & Wait for your Seeds to Grow

seeds sprouting
It’s hard to see, but those little green things are my lettuce sprouting after 1 week!

Water your seeds every few days (or whenever the soil is dry to the touch) and wait for your seeds to sprout. Lettuce and spinach comes up super quick–in 1-2 weeks! The rest of your seeds you may be waiting a little longer, but just be patient and soon you’ll have yummy veggies to eat in early summer!

~Lauren

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