Most seed packets, garden books, and websites provide information about a plant's "Days to Maturity." This information is critical, as it tells you when to start growing your plant based on your particular location and climate.
What "Days to Maturity" Means
Plant maturity information tells you how long it takes from the time the seed is sown to the point when the plant is ready to set fruit or flower. It is a tool provided to help the gardener determine when to plant vegetables and annual flowers so that the plant will successfully grow and produce in the garden.
When to Start Counting the Days to Maturity
There is no standard definition for when to start the countdown to plant maturity, but most sources agree on the following guidelines:
- If you start the seed indoors and transplant it into your garden, start counting from when you transplant. This also holds true for transplants you purchase.
- If you direct sow seeds in the garden, start counting when the seed germinates, which is usually within a week or two of planting. Some gardeners prefer to wait until the true leaves appear, which should be within another week.
Factors Impacting Time to Maturity
Depending on the plant and its needs, certain environmental factors can lead to plant stress, which plays havoc with maturity dates. For example:
- Cold weather can cause some seedlings to slow their growth and perhaps even stunt it.
- Plants that prefer cooler temperatures can bolt to seed quickly in cool weather but may slow their growth during a heatwave.
- Too little or too much rain can also play havoc with young plants.
Another issue to consider is the fact that "days to maturity" relate to the point at which vegetables are ready to be picked, for example. However, different gardeners have various standards for when a plant is ready to be harvested. For instance, some gardeners prefer young, tender lettuce leaves or cucumbers while others prefer to allow their vegetables to grow to full size.
How to Use "Days to Maturity" Information
Days to maturity information is most useful to gardeners who know their local climate and growing season well. A gardener with a short 90-day growing season can look at a packet of melon seeds and see that the plant requires 110 days to mature. While there are ways to protect and coddle plants that need longer seasons than your area offers, the wiser option would be to look for a melon with a shorter growing season. Gardeners can also see, at a glance, that perennial plants can be expected to take two to three years to mature, and can plan their plant choices accordingly.
Days to maturity information can also help gardeners to plan their gardens for continuously blooming flowers and multiple crops. For example, a gardener can ensure a long summer of fresh tomatoes by planting Early Girls (which take 50 days to come to maturity) along with Zebras (which take 75 days to come to maturity) and Beefsteaks (which mature at 96 days). Even if it takes a little more or less time for these plants to mature in your particular zone, they will also mature in the same order—providing fresh tomatoes for months.
While ideal growing conditions are rare, given somewhat reasonable conditions, you can expect the number on the seed packet to be an accurate gauge.