What does “days” mean on my seed packet?

Posted on: February 3rd, 2012 by Judy 14 Comments

For many gardeners, this time of year is one of the most anticipated. Garden planning and seed buying season holds all of the joy of the gift giving (and receiving) of my youth, but with a twist: I almost always get what I want. And, when people make jokes about “the gift that keeps on giving”, they’re right and it’s not meant with irony.

Average number of days from transplant to first ripe fruitWe delightedly peel through the pages of colorful catalogs, imagining gorgeous blooms and prolific mounds of produce. Each description is better than the last and the summer breezes blow gently off the pages. Can you tell I really love this stuff? Being one of the lucky few that writes this stuff, there are some things I’m often asked about the descriptions in catalogs. This time of year I get lots of questions about the meaning of “days”. I’m glad people keep me on my toes and ask me to explain some things that often go unexplained.

The number of days can mean a couple of things. First, this is an average number. The number of days it takes a plant to perform certain functions is influenced by temperature, day length, soil fertility, available moisture, and sun exposure. If these conditions aren’t optimal, it can influence harvest times by 50%! If you keep a garden journal, it will give the most accurate days for each variety you grow in your area.

Average numer of days from direct sowing to harvestIf you are growing a plant directly from seed in its final destination, “days” means the time from sowing the seed to the first day it’s ready to harvest. Remember that lots of our garden produce is of sub-tropical origin. If your soil is cool, it can take longer for seeds to germinate.

If you are growing a plant that is traditionally grown into a transplant then moved into the garden, then “days” actually means days from transplant to first ripe fruit. If the transplanting is done carefully to minimize plant stress, the delay can be minimized. If the transplanting is stressful for the plant, it can increase the time to harvest, as the transplant will take extra time to adjust.

There are some plants that don’t have a “traditional” or “accepted” starting method, like melons, cucumbers, squash, and celery. We can apply the same guidelines to these as well. If you sow direct, then “days” means days from sowing to harvest. If you grow a transplant, “days” means days from transplant to harvest. What is important to remember is that transplanting allows you to start some plants easier by controlling their environment. But, the transplanting process can start the timer back to zero, so plan for this time.

Got question? Simple or complex, I LOVE to talk plants with anyone. Ask your questions here and see then in a future blog. Don’t be shy, just ask!

14 Responses

  1. I will have to think about some good container ideas. Great idea for a contest.

  2. jack says:

    Thanks for all the information. Enjoyed my visit to your blog.

  3. Ann says:

    Excellent blog. I am planning a garden on our property in WV which has never had a garden there before. Having cruised the bevy of seed catalogs and of course Botanical Interests I anxiously await, are giving me a lot to think about. My biggest challenge will be gardening where the deer and black bear roam. Do you have any tips on deer issues other than using an 8 foot fence to keep the critters out? Is there anything I can use on the grounds that will actually keep deer at bay.


    • admin says:

      Deer are a tricky topic. There is no sure cure except for the fence. I’ve seen lots of remedies, like Irish Spring soap, hot pepper, rotten egg whites, and human hair. I used to live in deer country and I only found 1 immutable truth: Very hungry deer will brave any perceived danger to get to food.

  4. bertha says:

    As a Penn State Master Gardener of crawford County, our theme in 2011 was edible container gardening. Since living alone and having no one telling me I couldn’t put the containers on my blacktop diveway, I had great sucess in growing many vegetables and flowers in self watering containers,some bought and some homemade. I will send some pictures later.

  5. The Edenton Farmers Market says:

    Trying a heat mat with thermostat set under trays in a south window on sunny days and under 500W equivalent in CFU on dreary days here in eastern NC.

    I’ll let you know:)

  6. Ken From Orange Co says:

    Location: Orange County, So. Calif.

    In November I planted cauliflower, cabbage and beets ( all seeds from Bot. Int.) but so far they have not done much. About half the seeds have sprouted to maybe 3-4 inches at best. This despite the fact that we have had a mild winter with a good amount of sun.

    The seeds were put in a raised 8×4 bed that gets direct sun. We have had some cold nights (for this area) down to 37, but for several weeks I formed a greenhouse over the bed using a clear heavy plastic tarp. We have had unusually strong off-shore cold winds (out famous Santa Ana winds) for this time of year, but we also have had plenty of 80 degree days!

    The same bed over the 2011 summer grew both corn (Bot. int. seeds) and pumpkins (from seeds I saved from our Halloween pumpkins in 2010) We had so many pumpkins that we had many Jack-O-Lanterns, cooking pumpkins, and so on. Before the winter veg was planted the soil was amended with organic compost.

    Any thoughts what might be going on? I have noticed some of the leaves have either been blown off by winds, but more than likely nibbled off by field mice they get in (yet, these mice usually are not around much during the winter).

    Thank you!

    Ken Goldenberg
    Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

    PS: Bad summer for cucumbers and squash do to a mild temps, yet tomatoes, grapes and strawberries (from nursery plants) did great!

    • admin says:

      It is hard to pin down exactly what may be going on with your plants. There seem to be a lot of less-than-ideal factors coming together. There are some possibilities I can suggest, but they are only suggestions. The short days of winter can greatly slow the growth of vegetables. Large temperature fluctuations can cause enough shock in plants to slow their growth to a crawl. This could have been caused by both the cold winds and the plastic covering. It sounds like there may be insect pressure. This can slow growth as can any problems below ground. Some pictures would really help with diagnosis. I might also suggest that you pay a visit to your cooperative extension service and see if they have any locally specific knowledge of about your concerns. I hope this helps.

      Ryan – The Horticulturist

  7. Ken From Orange Co says:

    PS Again – After reading your MICRO GREENS article, that’s basically what I have! Maybe I should make a salad!!!!

    • admin says:

      You can always eat your plants young but I’d be curious about how they progress. On the other hand, you may find that re-rowing solves your problem. Plants that grow during their optimal time of year can often out-grow any setbacks they may encounter.

  8. Mary Deaton says:

    Good article. I would love to see someone define what is meant by “cool season.” Seed packets often say what the soil temperature needs to be to start a particular seed and have it germinate, but I have never figured out at what air temperature the weather changes from cool to hot. For example, I can plant spinach when the soil temperature is as low as 40-45, but at what air temperature does traditional cool season spinach start to bolt? Where I live – 1600 feet elevation on the west-facing slopes of the Cascade Mountains – we may not see 60+ daytime temperatures until mid-June and nighttime temperatures may not get above 50 until July or even August in some years. Other years, July, August, and early September can have temperatures in the 80′s. It is rare if temperatures rise above 90 for any lengthy period of time. IS 80 degrees still cool or is it hot? Is 70-75 cool or hot?

    • admin says:

      This, like many other garden terms could use some agreement and definition from garden media at large. Cool and warm season are meant to denote the season in which the main part of the crop is harvested. This may or may not coincide with soil temperatures (i.e. a cool season plant sown in summer and harvested in fall). The question of when the season changes from cool to warm, and then back has a few factors that blend together to create an effect. If we are talking about bolting (prematurely going to seed), then it is important to remember that plants usually go to seed for a few reasons: stress, photoperiod, temperature, and vernalization. Sometimes these go together, like photoperiod and temperature, or temperature and stress.
      To address your specific questions, in the case of spinach, 70-80 may not be too “warm” if there are no other confounding factors like low humidity, disease, or very old plants. I hope this helps.

      Ryan – The Garden Coach

  9. David King says:

    It was lovely to see your line that harvest dates may vary up to 50%. I thought it was just because we are neglected in California! In LA, our harvest deviate wildly from the dates on packets, especially with root crops and other veggies we grow in Winter. We plant winter crops in fall as the days get cooler and shorter. Looking at dates on a packet, we are amazed at predictions of 60 days for beets – ours will take 120 or so. Tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers and other heat loving crops, approximate the date much more closely. This makes me feel a lot less like a gardener in arms with the rest of the US. We tend to feel forgot because we have a different climate, different soils – in fact, we are on a different tectonic plate!
    Thank you for this article and – especially – thank you for signing the safe seed pledge and working to keep our gardens free from genetically engineered food.

    David King
    Seed Library of Los Angeles

  10. [...] to harvest. If you grow a transplant, “days” means days from transplant to harvest.”  http://botanicalinterests.com/inthegarden/gardeningcoach/what-does-days-mean-on-my-seed-packet/ .  We also get some valuable information about the plant’s growing habit.  Would this be a [...]

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