What to sow now for transplant later

Going through my tub of seed packets, I wondered whether it was too early to sow beans and sunflowers. Pam Pierce’s Golden Gate Gardening is my go-to reference for local gardening info and I just happened to have been recently gifted the third edition of her book. Michael Pollan says, “For vegetable gardening in the Bay Area, Golden Gate Gardening is indispensable – if you buy one gardening book, this is the one.” Here’s what I plan to do now in my home garden, based on her recommendations.

Veggies & annual herbs to sow now

These are vegetables and herbs I prefer to grow from seed in trays for transplanting later (consult a copy of the book if you’re curious about others). The table entitled “Growing Your Own Transplants” recommends these planting dates: 

Basil: March – May

Beans: late March – mid-April

Beets: April – July (these can also be direct-sown in the ground)

Cucumbers: March – April

Dill: First planting in April, then monthly till mid-July

Parsley: March – May

Winter squash, including pumpkin, butternut and acorn: March – May

Summer squash, including zucchini & pattypan:  Feb – May

Tomato:  Dec – April (there’s still time, folks!)

If you prefer to buy seedlings for transplanting, LEAF will be selling them despite having to cancel our big Earth Day sale. Our nursery manager, Elaine, is working hard to develop new sales protocols adapted to social distancing mandated by COVID-19 safety measures. We’ll be making an announcement soon.


These are my favorite annuals to grow for beneficial insects. Some have the double benefit of being great cut flowers as well. All can be easily started from seed April through May. Golden Gate Gardening has two chapters on flowers, though there isn’t a sowing chart for them like there is for vegetables.


These usually self-sow once you’ve planted them. They make a delightful frothy undercover among your vegetables and attract beneficial hoverflies.


Give these some room. I find one is plenty as it can grow to about 18” in diameter. Bees love them and the tiny blue flowers are a bright addition to salads. 


I grow the taller German variety – the English one is a ground cover. Both can be used for tea. Ladybugs are particularly attracted to chamomile, as well as honeybees, beneficial wasps and hoverflies. 


This is a sneaky plant. Every year one or two volunteer somewhere in my veggie beds. So once you plant it, you’re done. A favorite of beneficial insects, they also make a great filler in bouquets, though they do smell a little odd. I prefer the variety with lime green foliage. Give them some space – they fill a good 12” diameter.


There are many varieties and shades ranging from red to yellow, all of which are attractive to butterflies. Skippers particularly seem to like these. Marigolds are good companion plants for potatoes, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, eggplant, squash and peppers. They also repel white cabbage butterflies, but don’t plant them near your cabbages as they’re a foe of the cabbage.

Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)

Both the yellow and brown-washed varieties attract butterflies and beneficials. Rudbeckias also make long-lasting cut flowers. They’re like small sunflowers and have the added benefit of not dropping pollen if you bring them in the house.


There are so many varieties of sunflowers! Even if you have a small space, as long as you have sun, there are some varieties small enough to grow in pots on a balcony. Do be sure to grow some though, for the bees.


This is one of my favorites! They come in such a luscious range of pink to red to violet. There are even white and green varieties, though these colors aren’t attractive to butterflies. As with marigolds, I prefer the single varieties because they’re easier for butterflies and beneficials to access the pollen.  Zinnias are easy to grow and are an important late season nectar source for butterflies. And of course, zinnas make great cut flowers.

So dig out those seed packets and get sowing!

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