Seed packets and plant labels for vegetables often include the phrase “days to maturity” and a number. This can be confusing because it doesn’t explain how to calculate the days. Once you know when days to maturity begins and how you use the info it will help you plan your vegetable garden.
What does days to maturity mean?
If the information doesn’t specify days to maturity from transplant or days to maturity from seed, then assume “days to maturity” refers to the number of days it takes from planting to harvest.
- For seeds sown directly in the soil, start counting from the day you plant the seed.
- When you buy a seedling with a plant label, planting refers to the day you transplant the seedling into the pot or garden. This is the same for seeds you start indoors and transplant outside when the weather warms.
What can affect a vegetable’s days to maturity?
The date range is an estimate of how long the plant needs to grow until you pick the fruits or leaves. Depending on the growing conditions, a plant may ripen a little earlier or later than the range given. Factors that impact the time needed:
- Too much water
- Pest damage
- Cold temperatures slow heat-loving plants (eggplants, tomatoes, etc.)
- Heatwaves cause cool-loving plants to bolt/go to seed (lettuce, radishes, etc.)
Why does a plant’s days to maturity matter?
Days to maturity is important to know if you want to plant vegetables with different harvest times. For example, you may want to grow a quick-maturing cherry tomato, for snacking and salads earlier in summer. You may also want to plant a beefsteak type tomato that you pick later in summer, so you’ll have large tomatoes to slice for sandwiches. And if you have space, you could plant more varieties that yield a large crop for jars of canned tomatoes.
Pro-tip: You can stagger the planting time of lettuce, beans and root vegetables to control how much is ready to harvest at once. Planting vegetable seeds at intervals is called “succession planting”.
In areas with a short growing season, seek out vegetable plants that will ripen before the first fall frost. People who live in regions with a short growing season can’t grow vegetables that take a long time to mature.
Knowing the length of your growing season and if a vegetable can produce within that time helps you be a better gardener. We have tips for planting a vegetable garden from seed, including a chart to personalize your own seed-starting plan.