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Harnett County,
North Carolina

Cooperative Extension 

When should I plant vegetable seeds to grow transplants for the garden?


Question When should I plant vegetable seeds to grow transplants for the garden?

Answer The short answer is 6 weeks before transplanting. The average growing time for vegetable seedlings before transplanting is 6 weeks. Most folks want the short answer these days. However, the short answer omits a lot of important information.

Here is a good example. Watermelons, squash, cantaloupe, and lettuce will require 3 to 4 weeks of growing time before they need to be transplanted. Asparagus and eggplants need approximately 8 weeks before transplanting. Onions need closer to 12 weeks, but who plants onion seeds? Cucumbers are at the other end of the spectrum. They need only 2 to 3 weeks of growing time before they can be moved to the garden.

The most important aspect of growing transplants is the frost. People commonly start their seeds too early. While they wait for the threat of frost to pass, they have to hold the young plants indoors. Excess growing time before transplanting can cause problems. Of course frost on the transplants will cause the ultimate problem - death.

The last frost date for most of Harnett County is April 7th, give or take 12 days. The saying “give or take” means there is a window of time (some folks say “plus or minus”). April 7th is not the actual last day of frost. This window covers a time span from the 27th of March through the 19th of April. This frost window varies across the state. Marion (in McDowell County) has an average last frost of April 9th, give or take 11 days. Edenton (Chowan County) is in the clear early with their last day being March 23rd, give or take 11 days. Ashe County holds the record with their last day being May 15th, give or take 15 days.

Some gardeners will plant several batches of transplants which are spaced about a week apart. This is a method of hedging your bet. Three separate plantings (spaced a week apart) will cover most of the last frost windows across North Carolina.

Pay attention to the weatherman (like you can trust him). If possible, try to transplant your seedlings on a cloudy day or very late in the day. This will help the plants suffer less water loss and begin root growth.

Be advised that seedlings you start indoors need a lot of light. Additional indoor lighting may draw the attention of neighbors, the power company or the sheriff department. When all else fails, transplants can be purchased at your local garden supply store. For more info on starting transplants, visit If you don’t have internet access, call the Cooperative Extension Office at 893-7533 or email me at

If you can’t get to the front door as soon as the sheriff’s deputies knock, then get out of the way. They will open the door themselves. I’m no lawyer, but I’d advise you to stick to the vegetable story.

Gary L. Pierce

Horticulture Extension Agent

Harnett County

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