The best vegetables to start indoors in early spring, have a long germination to producing period or are very sensitive to the dangers of the late frost. For gardeners in the Midwest or northeast it becomes especially important to start these plants indoors as the growing season is much shorter than warmer climates.
The other option is to head to your nearest nursery to purchase seedlings to plant directly into the garden once the risk of the late frost has passed. If you choose to grow from seeds, it is typically recommended to start planting seeds about 4-8 weeks prior to the last frost date. Most seeds packets will give you a specific time span for planting indoors based on the plant and the variety. This time frame gives the plants a good head start for the growing season and ensures they are mature enough to tolerate transplanting outdoors. To find your ideal planting date, a great resource is the Almanac planting calendar. This customizes your plant times by your zip code and estimated last frost date. The Almanac planting calender is a great reference.
Starting vegetables indoors is a great way to start the garden and satisfy that gardening itch as we wait for the weather to become more accommodating. The plants below are popular suggestions for every garden and are some of the best vegetables to consider starting indoors.
Broccoli is one of the best vegetables to start indoors in early spring, due to the long maturation time. Broccoli is popular to buy from stores as a seedling, and can be sowed even 1-2 months prior to the last frost date. This being said, from my experience planting as a seed starting indoors is recommended as germination is much better and gives the plants a great head start to the growing season. Broccoli is a great source of calcium, iron, and vitamin C and what kid doesn’t love broccoli with every meal, making this a staple to our yearly garden.
90-110 days (seed to production)
Full sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily
Broccoli seeds are planted about 1/4 inch deep, space the seedlings about 3-4 ft
Brussel sprouts are one of the best vegetables to start indoors due their long seed to production time frame. Similar to many on this list, best to start 4-6 weeks prior to last frost and then transplanted to the outdoor garden. As noted below, Brussel sprouts have a very long maturation time of up to 100-120 days, therefore starting is almost a must for those in the Midwest or northeast. The positive news is that each plant has a high yield, and each plant can produce up to 40-60 heads. Brussel sprouts are harvested in fall, and recommended to harvest AFTER the first frost of the year as it will augment the taste / reduce some bitterness. Crown mature from low to high on the stalk and harvested by cutting/sniping each head at the base of the stalk. There will be a leaf that originates just under each head, which can be removed as the head is harvested. Remember the heads mature from the bottom to top of the plant, so the lower heads will be ready to harvest earlier than the top.
100-120 days (seed to production)
Full sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
Plants seeds ½ in in the soil and about 3-4 inches apart, thin seedlings 18-24 inches apart.
Delicious cooked or raw, cabbage is considered a cool season vegetable, best grown in the spring and fall, and one of the best vegetables to start indoors. Due to a longer seed to cabbage head maturation this is one of the best vegetables to start indoors in early spring, about 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost and then transplanted to the outdoor garden. Would recommend staggering planting by 1-2 weeks, as this will provide a prolonged harvesting window as opposed to all the heads maturing at once. Mature cabbage heads are firm when lightly squeezed and size depends on the type of cabbage planted. When ready to be harvested, cut the cabbage head just above the start of the outer leaves.
60-100 days (seed to production)
Full Sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
Cabbage seeds are planted 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep
Sow seeds about 6-8 weeks before the first frost-free date
A stable for many gardens and fan favorites due to the beautiful foliate, colorful fruits, and sheer number of different varieties. You have your pick from sweet peppers to hot peppers to ornamental. Bell peppers, jalapenos, and habaneros may be the most well-known, but there are hundreds of hybrids that improve hardiness or increase flavor or spiciness which allows for mixing and matching experimentation.
These plants are sensitive to freezing temperatures making this one of the best vegetables to start indoors in early spring and then transplanting to your outdoor garden. To be safe and protect from frost damage, transplant outdoor 2-3 weeks after last threat of spring frost.
100-140 days (seed to production)
Full Sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
Start indoors 4-6 weeks prior to the final frost date
Does not handle freezing weather and should be transplanted outdoors 2-3 weeks after the last spring frost
Tomatoes hate the cold and can be damaged significantly or killed by even light frosts. If starting indoors as seeds, you need to start about 6-8 weeks prior to the last frost date in your region and then wait to transplant to your outdoor garden for about 2-3 weeks after that date. Tomatoes grow best and produce the sweetest juicy tomatoes in loam soil which is a mixture of sand, silt and clay.
60-80 days (seed to production)
Full Sun: 6-8 hours of direct sunlight
Plant 24-36 inches apart
Does not handle freezing weather and should be transplanted outdoors after the last spring frost
Excels with rich, loamy soil, add compost and fertilizer rich in phosphorus and potassium
Tips and Pointers For Starting Your Plants Indoors
Here are some useful tips to help your seed and seedlings starting to be successful. You can find a much more in depth guide on starting an indoor greenhouse here.
- Grow lights are important but don’t need to be particularly fancy. You should select an LED or fluorescent light fixture that’s “full-spectrum” (that provides light wavelengths that mimic sunlight).
- With grow lights, make sure to position the lights above the seedlings correctly. Typically the light should be about 4 to 6 inches above the canopy of the seedlings. You may have to lower the light or elevate your seed starting containers early on and adjust as your plants grow.
- Be seed-savy. Pay attention to pricing and recommended zones on the description. Pick from seed catalogs that are specific to your area for better guarantees that the seeds you pick will be successful in the climate that you live in.
- Make a list of what you’d like to grow. Pay close attention to the spacing required for each plant and make a diaphragm of where you plan to plant every plant so you stay organized and group the correct plants together. A garden planner is a great way to do this.
- Not every seed will germinate and there will be losses to plants from pests and disease to prepare accordingly. Plant a couple of extras just in case and this will allow you to pick the healthiest seedlings for transplanting. Don’t be discouraged, even the most experienced gardeners have a 100% survival rate!
- Those extra seeds that you’ll be pouring back into the packet, do this over the pot where you have just planted. That way if they do fall in, they will be in the same container and batch of seeds.
- Many quick-growing crops can be planted several times during a growing season. Plant new rounds of seeds every couple of weeks and that way you can look forward to a succession of harvests, rather than them maturing at once. This will ensure fresh produce throughout the entire growing season.
And there you have it; with this information you can select some of the best vegetables to start indoors and the basics to start your indoor garden. Starting plants indoors can be a great way to get a head start on your garden, save money and produce healthier plants. By following these steps, you’ll be able to start your own indoor garden in no time. Happy planting!