What does “days” mean on my seed packet?

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!

8 thoughts on “What does “days” mean on my seed packet?

    1. Hi Teddy,
      Days is referring to the total time until you can harvest. Many vegetables do not require indoor sowing. There are a few exceptions like tomatoes that take a long time to produce. In these cases the gardener benefits by starting indoors. Hope this answers your question and happy gardening!

      1. I wonder if people don’t have different meanings when they say “days to maturity.”
        At the seed company I often use, the “days” guideline (which of course depends on soil, climate, etc.) – but the “days” refers to days from GERMINATION to maturity.
        So… it depends!

  1. I would like to know number of days “of” harvest. In other words, how long should I expect to harvest from the first ripe say watermelon until the last watermelon ripens. Approximation would be accepted.

    I ask because I could possibly have two plantings and harvestings, starting one early spring and the other late summer, and have something to eat before first freeze.

    1. Hi Ella,
      What a good question. Unfortunately, each individual cultivar has not been studied in this way. Smaller cultivars take less time while larger fruits take longer and temperature plays a large role. In the absence of disease and presence of ideal weather watermelons will continue to produce a second crop after the first batch of fruit has ripened. If you have a very long growing season (say, 180 frost-free days or more) a staggered sowing (3 weeks apart) or sow two cultivars at the same time, one with longer days to mature, are both good approaches. I hope this is helpful. Happy harvesting!

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