When should I start my pepper & tomato seeds?

marial1214(Z 6 PA)December 24, 2009

I am trying to learn when I must start the seeds indoors for placement into the ground I believe mid May, that's past the frost date for Zone 6. I usually buy the big plants thinking they will produce faster, which I beleive is a myth. For 2010 I want to try to grow the pepper and tomato plants myself from seeds.

This info taken from the seed packet of Early Girl Tomato:

Days to Germination 7 - 10

Days to Harvest 52 - 52

Assuming I would like to harvest my first early girl tomato on July 1st I have to put the started plants into the ground on or by May 22nd right? Ok that's the easy part.

Now...it gets tricky so hold on to your gardening hats....Q: How mature must the seedling plant be before I could place it into the ground mid May? In other words, during which month should i start my tomato seedlings indoors? Or my pepper seeds for that matter?

I dont understand WHEN to start any of my seedlings for my 3 types of peppers or my 4 kinds of tomatoes. It's my first year to try to grow seeds for these plants.

Can someone please help me with this part?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
lantanascape(z6 Idaho)

When you start them will depend on how diligent you want to be in babying your seedlings. If you are willing to do a lot of work potting them up, making sure they get lots of light and warmth, you can start them earlier and get earlier tomatoes. If you're not willing to do all of that, you should start them later.

I am also in Zone 6, though Idaho can vary a lot from PA. Last year, I started my peppers and tomatoes March 1, and planted out around May 15. The tomatoes were big and strapping by then, but I potted them up to gallon pots, and was putting them outdoors under plastic every day for a few weeks before transplanting. However, my peppers were smaller than I would have liked. This year I am buying a heat mat and starting the peppers and eggplant and 1-2 early tomatoes in mid-February to hopefully have bushy, 6" plants to put out in May. I will start the rest of my tomatoes on March 1 again this year. I picked my first Stupice tomato July 4 last year, and we had a cool, wet spring.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 11:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Dont forget to plant twice as many for those that dont sprout and die before transplanting. Then if there is a plant swap you have some to offer there.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 3:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Tomato: 6-8 weeks before your avg last frost,
Pepper: 8-10 weeks.

In addition, you can stagger plantings I.E. 6, 7 and 8 wks to hedge your bets as sometimes cold weather might wipe out your newly transplanted plants or you might be able to get an unusually early start due to a warmer spring. Sometimes the two happen during the same spring. Other times it seems like spring will never come and the late planted seed will be in the best shape of all of the plantings.

I do this very commonly as there isn't a place to drive to within over an hour to get plants if mine don't work out. I ain't driving an hour to get a dozen tomato plants.


    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 4:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Ditto what michael said - standard experienced recommendation is Tomatoes: 6-8 weeks before your avg last frost date and Peppers: 8-10 weeks. Stretch it much more than that and you have older, stressed, and leggy transplants that don't tolerate hardening off or transplantation nearly as well.

That said, many still insist on starting them months before transplanting time. ;)


PS: there is a long "when to start 2010 transplants" discussion currently running on the Tomato forum here you might want to read.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 4:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
marbles_n_the_garden(DownEast Maine, Zone 5)

I have found that peppers can handle an earlier start than tomatoes. They can do it without getting leggy (under the same light conditions as tomatoes). I snip off any flowers that form before putting them outside. In the north, it is tough to get much of a pepper crop over any length of time, so I start very early. It is true, you end up in larger cups, using more seed starter, but it is worth it. Setting out larger pepper plants brings in more of a crop--even if they take the same amount of time to set fruit as their smaller counterparts.

Tomatoes are very quick growers, so I only start as early as suggested on the pack or in books. Any earlier, and I find that they get leggy and sulk more than later started ones when planted out.

Eggplants can also be started very early like peppers. All three plants need good amounts of light, so I use a South-facing window WITH lights.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 7:47PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bella_trix(z6b SE PA)

Hi marial1214,

I'm in your same zone in PA, mid-north Montgomery County. I set out my tomatoes about May 1-15. I do everything a little early, so I'm risking frost. Last year, a late frost hit on May 19th, so I had to build tent cities with Xmas lights around my tomatoes. They were fine, but it was a lot of work. I find it to be worth it to plant them early.

I set out my sweet and hot peppers based on night time temperatures, usually around June 1st. They and sweet potatoes are the only plants that I don't put in the ground earlier than recommended.

For seed starting, I do the following:
Hot Peppers: January 15th (but I will be starting the Habaneros next week)
Sweet Peppers: February 15
Tomatoes: March 1
I have a VERY good light set up and my tomatoes grow thick, bushy and quickly. For all my plants, I pot up several times. For the tomatoes, I dig a deep (~12") hole, so even if they do get big, a fair amount of the stem is underground (they will put out roots from that stem). I've been doing some odd additions at planting time for the tomatoes: (bottom of hole) wool, crab compost, shrimp shells, Root Zone beneficial microbes, crushed calcium carbonate. I then water with Root Shield beneficial microbes (2T per gallon). The microbes/shrimp/crab compost is to prevent Verticillium wilt, but oddly, it also helped with late blight last year. The calcium carbonate is to prevent blossom end rot.

Hope some of this helps. I've attached a link to my seed starting setup (can't find the one I posted on this forum)

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Bellatrix - seed starting light setup

    Bookmark   December 24, 2009 at 9:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You have good advice above but one item has not been fully brought out. Hot peppers usually should be started earlier than sweet peppers. Since your planting date is May 15th or thereabouts, you should start tomatoes about March 15th to 25th. Sweet peppers should be started about 2 weeks earlier around March 1st to 10th. Hot peppers - and this especially means just about any of the habaneros or super hot peppers - should be started 2 weeks earlier still so around the 15th of February. Just as an fyi, you can slow plants down by exposing them to temperatures of about 45 degrees for a few hours. This will induce about 3 days of recuperation time for the plants during which the roots grow but the stem pretty much stays the same size.

Wish you the best with your plants and be sure to give them lots of light and love.


    Bookmark   December 25, 2009 at 8:41AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I start tomatoes about March 30th for setting out about May 10th......peppers started a few days earlier.
Splindly tall plants are what to avoid. I am retired and take mine outside on the picnic table from nearly day one when weather permits. That way they are stocky and already hardened .

    Bookmark   December 25, 2009 at 1:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
marial1214(Z 6 PA)

This is great info. Thanks. Bella, I like the photos of your lighting setup. I am not planning to get lights this year, I was going to use my south windows since I got 4 sets of sliders & windows above them, running down one side of the house. It gets like a sauna in the LR and dining room during the winter. It gets so hot we have to open the sliders during winter, while we eat lunch.

I dread my seeds drying out in the room.

I like the idea of not starting all seeds at once. Will I be able to buy the seed starter at Lowe's or HD during January?

I have to order my seeds asap, I heard if you dont get them by January online that they could be sold out. Nobody responded to my request on the seed exchange but that's okay. I think most of the traders are looking for something in return, I could not offer anything.

My other question is 'how do I make a hole in the bottom of my plastic cups?' Is one hole enough? 2-3 seeds in each okay? Maybe I'll find those cells at Lowe's. I am saving paper milk cartons too. I cut off the tops, then I have 'a pot.'

I am also reading through the info on seed growing. Thanks for all your tips.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2009 at 12:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I noticed a dozen or so tomato plants sprouted on one of the containers. They must be from the compost that I make but I am going to transplant them into small containers in a few weeks. These are not in greenhouse or anything but the container is under big tree so may have survived the freeze we had about a week ago. Its been fairly mild weather here - low in the lower 40s and highs in 55=60.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2009 at 2:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So if I start my tomatoes 8 weeks before avg last frost what size pot would you say they would be at the time of planting? What size would my peppers be at 10 weeks?
Last year I decided to grow seeds versus buy plants and didnt get an early enough start. Then my hot pepers didnt come on until late. I wont grow all my seeds this year, just the hot, sweet peppers that they dont offer at the local garden center's.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2009 at 3:00PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Best kind of mulch for vegetable garden
What kind of mulch is recommended for a veggie garden?...
Radish in Miami
I grow mostly tomatoes, but once in a while I plant...
Sincere Question - Why Participate?
If I had found this site from doing a web search because...
Can I use grape leaves as mulch?
I have alot of chopped and dried grape vine leaves....
Starting a garden in Corpus Christi Texas
I am a beginning gardener and I have gotten some helpful...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™