It’s still pretty chilly outside here in the Midwest, and we’re feeing a little antsy about getting back into the garden. It’s not quite time to start planting yet, but it is the perfect time to start thinking about planning your summer vegetable garden. While we have a pretty long growing season here in Des Moines at about 175 days, some things need a little longer to mature. We can get a jump on the season by starting some of our seeds indoors this spring.
Here’s our guide to starting seeds in Iowa.
What You Need to Start Seeds Indoors
Starting seeds indoors is fairly simple, but it’ll go a lot better if you have a few specific items that make the planting process easier. Here are the items you’ll need to get the best results possible when starting seeds indoors.
Starter soil mix
Plastic plant trays (with clear covers)
Grow lights (minimum of one 2′ light per tray of seeds, but two is even better!)
Seedling starter heating mat
Why Use a Grow Light?
We consider grow lights a seed starting essential because even in the brightest window, most seedlings will grow tall, leggy, and weak without supplemental grow lights. Many grow lights these days are LEDs, so they use hardly any energy, and the bulbs won’t burn out for years and years to come.
Grow lights need to be very close to the trays when plants are just sprouting, no more than 4 inches above the soil. This is to ensure the plants get enough light and don’t get too tall and spindly. As your seedlings grow, you can move the lights up, always keeping them around 3-4 inches from the tops of the plants. To make sure seedlings get enough light, keep grow lights on for 12-14 hours per day.
Using Heating Mats
Seedling starter heating mats are nice to have, but they’re not necessarily essential. You’ll have the most success with seed germination if you keep the soil temperature between 70-75°F. A heat mat makes it easy to maintain this temperature for your seedlings if the temperature in your house tends to fluctuate.
Labels are essential, believe us! If you don’t put labels on your seedlings, the chances are that you’ll forget what you planted in each tray after a week or two. We have a few different options for planting labels that you can write the names on, or if you’ve got popsicle sticks left over from a child’s school project, you could use them.
When To Start Different Vegetables and Herbs
Many seed packets include information about when to plant the seeds indoors. Usually, they mention the number of weeks before the last frost date. Our last frost in Iowa is generally around the middle of April, so count backward from April 15 to determine when you should start planting each of your seeds indoors.
January January is a little too early for starting most seeds. There are a few woody herbs that are slow growers, like oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme, and sage, that you can start in January if you like.
February Towards the end of February, you should be planting seeds for bell peppers, cabbage, celery, eggplant, leeks, onions, and tomatoes.
March About the middle of March, you can start planting seeds for broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, cucumbers, and Swiss chard.
Towards the end of March, you can start planting seeds for cantaloupe, watermelon, lettuce, pumpkins, squashes, and sweet potatoes.
April By mid-April, you should be able to start transplanting your seedlings outdoors, and direct seeding others into the garden.
It might be too early to start sowing now, but it is a great time to do some research about any new vegetables and herbs you want to try this year. If you have trays and seedling containers you’re reusing this year, make sure to wash them up and rinse them with a water and bleach solution. If you already have grow lights, check to make sure the bulbs are all working. If you need to stock up or replace any equipment, visit our garden center in Des Moines! We can get you any seed starting supplies you need, as well as plenty of exciting seeds to inspire your planning.
Gardening is constantly evolving, which is a gift to us gardeners that want to change things up and keep up with the latest new idea. Every year the whole gardening process starts again, with planning, planting, nurturing, and finally the beauty of your efforts in full bloom. Every spring we get the choice of which classics we want to hang onto for another year, and what new styles we’re ready to embrace! Although flower beds are nice, containers are where true creativity has the chance to flow.
Containers for Any Home: Containers can work for anyone from a tiny apartment space with mere square feet on the balcony to rural homesteads with acres of land. They’re the perfect place to experiment without the larger commitment of planting in beds. Best of all, they act like throw pillows for your landscape, accenting here and there to frame the rest of your garden design. As such pivotal pieces in your backyard repertoire, it’s worth taking some time to design what goes into them.
Creating a Container Design: Setting a great foundation is vital to the success of your container garden, so taking a little time to consider the details before you start is important. While these gardens aren’t as high-maintenance as your traditional garden beds, a bit of thought is what takes your container from “nice” to “stunning.” If you want your designs to be the envy of your neighborhood, start by considering the “3 P’s:”
Prepping – Choose the details wisely, starting with your planter. You’ll want something made with durable material, holes for drainage in the bottom, and the right size to give your plant’s roots the space they need to develop. Once you’ve selected the perfect container for your logistical needs (and aesthetic), use some high-quality sterile potting soil to get started.
Planning – Due to the size of your containers, your plants are going to be growing close together. It might seem odd, but this is part of the appeal! It gives them the unbeatable intensity that makes them look so fantastic as accents in your yard! Growing so close means that you’ll want to match plants with similar needs together so they can share the same sun exposure, fertilizer, and watering. Also, consider the shape of the plants and how they fit together. You might choose a tall, statement-making “thriller” as the centerpiece, something with a mounding habit to be the “filler,” and something trailing that adds even more height to your container as the “spiller.” Arrange them all from tallest to shortest from the middle outwards, so you can see and appreciate all the plants and they all receive the sun they deserve.
Planting – Once your container is prepped and planned, it’s time to re-pot your transplants or plant your seeds and give them enough water to get started. Establish a schedule of watering, fertilizing, and maintaining your gorgeous plants and enjoy your growing season of fabulous growth and your design simply glowing.
If you aren’t sure what to plant, there are tons of different looks you can recreate! A quick Google or Pinterest search is bound to turn up some dazzling looks that you can copy or use as inspiration to start. Or you can take a look at some of the expertly curated recipes we’ve put together on our site. We love building our containers as we shop, choosing one plant that we fall in love with and simply can’t go without, and structuring the rest of our container look around that.
The possibilities with container gardens are endless. Here are some ideas for what you can do with your container that ranges from functional to extravagant:
Vegetable Container Gardens: Can you imagine picking your entire salad from one tiny container? Vegetables like tomato, celery, onion, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and peppers can all be grown together! Choose your salad staples and grow them within grazing distance of the kitchen for the freshest produce all summer, like your own private produce aisle in your backyard! Tuck some marigolds into the container for a pretty boost that does some heavy lifting, repelling pests.
Herb Container Gardens: Herbs are the original container crop, as they’re hardy enough to thrive just about anywhere. Think of your normal spice rotation when you pick your herbs so that you can plant what you use the most of. Your herbs will thrive the more you pull from them for seasoning! Some of our container favorites are cilantro, thyme, mint, basil, rosemary, and oregano. The texture of these leafy plants is delightful to look at and you’ll be treated to a heavy herb perfume every time you walk by.
Flower Container Gardens: This is the classic aesthetic-driven look for containers and we can see why. With thousands of varieties to choose from in millions of combinations, it’s yours to play with the color, texture, style, and look of a flower container. To keep the options simple, we find that the best containers work with about three species, in three different sizes, in three different but related colors. That way you have quite the array of visual effect without getting overly complicated. Try matching flowers to something you fall in love with at the store, or pick up something in one of the year’s trendiest colors or styles for something that is cutting-edge and trendy.
When your containers are established, the options that they hold for your garden are endless. Feel free to move and relocate to refresh your look, and enjoy a patch of intense blooming and life wherever it’s most convenient for you! Containers are the perfect blending of style, convenience, and personal touch. They’re a staple for any backyard, and their flexibility means that there’s something perfect out there for everyone!
Ted Lare Design Build specializes in Des Moines Landscaping Design and Installation.
We cover a wide range of Central Iowa. We have installed landscapes for many years in all areas of the Des Moines metro, including West Des Moines, Des Moines, Waukee, Clive, Urbandale, Johnston, Ankeny, Altoona, Indianola, and Norwalk.