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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gardening: Preparing now to give seeds a good start

Because we have a short growing season, it is important to start many crops like onions and leeks early indoors starting in early February. Melons, squash and cucumbers can be started in late April.  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

Remnants of last week’s blast of snow are still on the ground but in a few short weeks, it will be time to think about starting seeds indoors.

This will be the first of a series of articles on choosing and planting seeds indoors, setting up good lighting to get them going and then managing them until planting time. If you have specific questions, please let me know.

Here in the Inland Northwest, we have a short growing season and starting many vegetable and flower seeds early indoors is key. Our growing season in the Spokane area runs from early May to about the middle of September. North and east of the city, the season can be shorter by two weeks on either end. Then there are the notorious cold pockets that demand planting even later. So, think about where you are in the area and plan accordingly. If you are new to the area, ask your neighbor gardeners what their experiences are. Also, remember to choose short season varieties that will ripen by mid-September.

The next consideration is where you are going to start your seeds. They need warmth in the 70s to germinate and grow well. If you only have a cool bedroom or basement room, you will need to add more time to your planting schedule. I start mine on a rack in our furnace room which stays around 70 degrees most of the time.

There are dozens of charts out there that give you target starting dates, but the best are going to be those that let you enter a ZIP code or last frost date. ZIP codes can be tied to the USDA Zone Hardiness Map to give you your specific growing zone. Spokane is in Zones 5 and 6, which means our last frost date is around the middle of May and the first frost date is mid- to late September. One of my favorite interactive charts is from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a popular seed company for both home and commercial market gardeners. Their chart is at Enter our last frost date of May 15 to set the dates.

In general, plants like onions, leeks, eggplant and parsley need to be planted by mid-February. Onions and leeks need to be about the size of a pencil to plant out. Eggplant takes time to germinate and grow to size. Even though the Johnny’s chart says late March, experience says it’s better to start tomatoes and peppers in early March. Cool-season crops like cabbage, kale, cauliflower, broccoli and kohlrabi need to be started in early to mid-March for planting out at the end of April. Lastly, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, melons and watermelon need to be started in late April for planting in late May and early June.

Tip of the week: Gently remove the now-heavy blocks of snow off the tops of shrubs to minimize winter damage and breakage in the next storm.

Pat Munts can be reached at