Seedling emergence timing is crucial in competitive plant communities and so contributes to species fitness. To understand the mechanistic basis of variation in seedling emergence timing, we exploited the contrasting behaviour of two Arabidopsis thaliana ecotypes: Cape Verde Islands (Cvi) and Burren (Bur-0). We used RNA-Seq analysis of RNA from exhumed seeds and quantitative trait loci (QTL) analyses on a mapping population from crossing the Cvi and Bur-0 ecotypes. We determined genome-wide expression patterns over an annual dormancy cycle in both ecotypes, identifying nine major clusters based on the seasonal timing of gene expression, and variation in behaviour between them. QTL were identified for depth of seed dormancy and seedling emergence timing (SET). Both analyses showed a key role for DOG1 in determining depth of dormancy, but did not support a direct role for DOG1 in generating altered seasonal patterns of seedling emergence. The principle QTL determining SET (SET1: dormancy cycling) is physically close on chromosome 5, but is distinct from DOG1. We show that SET1 and two other SET QTLs each contain a candidate gene (AHG1, ANAC060, PDF1 respectively) closely associated with DOG1 and abscisic acid signalling and suggest a model for the control of SET in the field.