When is the right time to start my seeds? Check your thermometer

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I want to know when I can start my garden seeds indoors. It’s so nice outside here lately I think I should get started now. I am starting some on the windowsill and some on my enclosed unheated porch.

The calendar is still your reliable tool, not your thermometer. A calendar will supply you with accurate information but weather is fickle.

The time to start seeds is usually six to eight weeks before you want to put them outside in the garden. And for southern Michigan, that magic time is usually the middle to the end of May. So backing up the six to eight weeks, puts seed starting at the end of March to beginning of April. You are going to have problems if your seed starting areas are cold.

For the best seed germination, the soil should be approximately 70 degrees. That’s soil and not air temperature. When the soil is too cold, seeds will not germinate. If the soil stays moist, eventually your seeds rot.

The unheated porch is the Pit of Despair for vegetable seeds. Even your window sill may be too cold, especially if the sill is stone or a great deal of cold is radiating through the windows. Expectant seeds and baby plants like it warm. You may also not have the length or intensity of sunlight to get good growth when depending on outside light. That’s why the very serious veggie starters use fluorescent light to jump start the plants. You do not want a tomato plant that is a foot tall with a stem diameter of a pencil lead.

Your goal is to grow short, stocky, dark green plants with lots of small leaves. Lack of good quality light creates plants that are tall, light green and floppy. The leaves are few and far between. Many of these do not make the transition to the garden well and take so long to adapt that they produce poor crops.


I am going to level out my backyard this spring. I am having truckloads of topsoil brought in and I am having the lot leveled. I know enough not to put the soil around the tree trunks and am going to have little brick wells a bit bigger that the trunks made. The soil around these trees will be anywhere from six inches to three feet deep. What do you think of my plan?

I know from your perspective this sounds great, but from the trees’ perspective, this is a giant Recipe for Disaster.

Covering up trunks with soil is only a small bit of the problem when changing soil levels. The real problem is covering the soil and burying the trees’ feeder roots deeper.

Those roots are in the top 12 inches of soil and take in moisture. But the important part is that they are exchanging gases with the world above. The roots take in carbon dioxide and make oxygen. That is called respiration. That means breathing. And if your roots are six to 36 inches deeper, breathing pretty much stops. That means that your trees begin to decline, either slowly or rapidly. Their lives are going to be shorter than you would like.

Roots extend away from trunks much farther than the drip line or where the branches end. Roots could be as much as two to three times farther away from the trunk than the drip line with mature trees. That’s a lot of area. This is big decision time.

If that flat yard is crucial to your happiness, then skip the cost of the useless tree wells and just cut the trees down. It’s better than watching them decline until you have to have them cut down. If the trees are important to you, then add no more than three inches of fill. And currently, you have all the votes.

About Gretchen Voyle 51 Articles
Gretchen Voyle is the MSU Extension-Livingston County Horticulture Educator. She can be reached at (517) 546-3950.