If you’re a regular gardener, every time the snow starts to melt you might be tempted to start some seeds. This year, I have tried to keep myself occupied with an Aerogarden and an indoor greens shelf.

If you’re just launching your first balcony or backyard garden, you may think you have a few months before all the gardening begins. Think again! Here you’ll find a comprehensive timetable for starting seeds in the 5a North American Growing Zone (AKA Toronto!).

Toronto vegetable garden seed starting schedule

Why Do I Have to Start Seeds at Different Times?

Unfortunately, there is more math involved in gardening than one might think. Usually, it will be calculating seed and soil costs, nitrogen and nutrients, or soil acidity amending. But the one that I find the most tedious is seed starting, harvest dates, and succession planting.

When calculated properly, your garden will be more productive than any year previous. By timing multiple rounds of seeds, you can harvest and replace plants you eat right away. You can also schedule a quicker crop rotation to build soil quality manage companion plants.

When Should Seeds Be Transplanted Outside?

Each seed will need different things, and most of the information can be found in the table below. Some seeds need specific temperatures to germinate. Consider getting a seed starting mat if you live in a cold apartment. Other seeds like strawberries need a few months in the fridge to start their sprouting.

seed starting schedule for zone 5a vegetable garden


CropTransplant Out Notes
ArtichokesOn expected last frost (LF)This beautiful crop is actually an early flower bud. Harvest the majority of your blooms in 90ish days, and allow a few vibrant buds to bloom for your seed collection. They’re hardy, but need a fair amount of space.
Basil1-week post LFBasil is one of the more expensive seeds I’ve come across, but fear not, because established plants are very easy to propagate. Start early and prune often for lovely, bushy plants.
Beets2 weeks before LFI don’t personally love beets, so I don’t grow them very often. But they’re a hardy crop that preserves well.
Broccoli2weeks before LFIf you’re working with a small space, consider Rapini or Rabe, which will also need less time to mature.
CalendulaOn LFThis beautiful, hardy flower will attract early pollinators to the garden and are also medicinal.
Cabbage 4 weeks before LF
Cauliflower2 weeks before LFRemember to blanche your buds or you’ll have a bitter crop.
Celery1 week after LFCelery and its cousins like lovage need a long time to establish themselves, so you could even get away with starting a few of these in January.
Chard2 weeks before LFAn easy-to-grow crop that is perfect for windowsill gardening. Start early and re-plant all summer long in shady gardens.
Kale4 weeks before LF
Leeks2 weeks before LFYou want to start leeks 8-10 weeks before you transplant them outside. they’re are good companions for lettuce and cabbage, so start a few seeds every 2 weeks from January to February and you’ll have tons of yummy greens.
Lettuce3-4 weeks before LFThe plant that people usually start their home gardening journey with. You can actually re-plant a lot of store-bought lettuce and grow a new head, or you can grow cut-and-come-again varieties for inexpensive and delicious salads.
Onions 4 weeks before LFThese puppies need a lot of patience, and like full sun with well-draining soil. Because they grow underground, they’re safe to grow on windy balconies.
Peppers3 weeks after LFTransplant before roots are restricted and don’t overwater to develop the best flavours.
Peas6-8 weeks before LFDelicious and snackable, peas do well in cooler temperatures, so switch them out for beans in the summer heat.
Parsley2-3 weeks before LFParsley takes a while to germinate, and even longer to fully establish itself. Give the seeds a good month of germinating before you write them off as duds.
Spinach3-6 weeks before LF
Tomatoes1-2 weeks after LFTomatoes lovers rejoice, your time has finally come. These crops need the heat but on average don’t produce fruit for 60-80 days, sometimes more. Starting them inside now and transplanting them regularly ensures they are hardy enough to withstand outdoors by the time you transplant them in June. It will also give you a chance to harvest two tomato crops in the summer. Choose lovey salad tomatoes like cherries or beefsteak that are best enjoyed straight off the vine. Start late in the month.


CropTransplant OutNotes
Cucumbers 1-2 weeks after LFCucumbers don’t love their roots being disturbed, and they don’t like dry dry soil. So give them a good cover crop, automated irrigation, or a deep container with lots of compost when growing on a balcony.
Melons4 weeks after LFI wrote off melon growing when I was limited to just a balcony garden, but there are tons of small space varieties popping up.
MustardDirect SowThis hardy green is a great way to fill shady space. Prune regularly for spicy, hardy greens.
Marigolds1 week after LFA beautiful flower that makes a great border plant to distract pests. Can be a couple of centimetres high to a couple of feet high depending on the variety.
RadishDirect SowPerfect for filling any awkward space in your sunny garden. Some varieties can be harvested as early as 20 days. Daikon are also commonly recommended for amending soil with heavy clay.
Squash2 weeks after LFHearty crops are available in all ranges of sizes and flavours. Trellis them up to avoid moisture problems and ground pests munching, and be prepared to fight all ranges of fungus.
SunflowersOn LFOne of the best crops for bioremediation, this beautiful flower is a great way to brighten up the garden and create a sturdy trellis for other climbing varieties.


Our last frost for this year is expected to come between April 11th – 20th on average. Toronto’s last frost comes on average a month before other towns in the GTA.

CropTransplant OutNotes
AmaranthJuneI started growing this beautiful crop last year, as it’s grown on almost every continent and all parts of the plant are edible. The leaves come in all colours and are heat and drought-tolerant. Late in the season, it also produces grain and self-seeds like crazy.
Beansmid-late June Until the evening is regularly over 15C, keep these guys inside. They thrive in slightly acidic soil, so if your seeds don’t start, add a tsp of vinegar to your water tray.
CarrotsDirect SowCarrots are a hardy crop that stores well and can be grown at any time of the year. They like loose soil and most harvest in 60-80 days.
Corn Direct SowIf you’re looking for something impressive and colourful, consider growing some ornamental corns on your balcony this summer, or participate in seed saving for a heritage variety. You can look for micro-varieties that are being bred for growing in small spaces.
PotatoesDirect SowThere are some really cool DIYs for growing potatoes in pots.
TomatoesJulyIf you want a great late crop of tomatoes, start yourself some extra seedlings now and prepare them to go out by the end of July. Consider meatier varieties like San Manzano for tomato sauce making and canning.


CropTransplant OutNotes
Broccoli Replacement Crop
Brussels SproutsJulyLooking for a great fall crop? Brussels Sprouts grow on large trunks, so 1 plant can give you 80 sprouts or more. Their growing period is longer than most other crops.
CucumbersReplacement CropIf you want to have beautiful cucumbers well into the end of August, start your second plant now and keep an eye out for Japanese beetles.
Sweet PotatoesDirect SowA popular crop from southern countries, this quick-growing vine creates a large harvest from a small space, and the leaves are edible too!
Fall Squash July/AugustTime to start your patty pans and sugar pumpkins. If you’re growing larger varieties, consider fruit hammocks.

What seeds are you most excited to grow this year? Let me know in the comments below, I’m always looking for new varieties to add to my collection. If you’re looking for resources to start gardening, here is a pretty comprehensive post on that. Happy gardening!

swiss chard in a vegetable garden