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Winter Sowing (Yes You Can Garden in Winter)

Yes, you can garden in winter, it’s called Winter Sowing. Have you ever heard of winter sowing? Winter Sowing is a method of propagating new plants for your gardens simply by starting seeds outdoors in the winter. Several years ago, I read an article in Northern Gardener Magazine written by a master gardener, with whom I later became acquainted. After seeing the results of Michelle’s winter sowing, I knew I had to try it. It’s so incredibly easy and a great way to get some beautiful perennials for your flower gardens for super cheap.I start seeds indoors too, but maybe you don’t have the room or the money for a light setup, or the time to take care of baby seedlings. If that’s the case, then winter sowing is for you.

Not only can you sow perennial flowers and hardy annual flowers, but you can also winter sow tender annuals, vegetables and herbs. At the end of the post, I share a link to a document that gives specific instructions for this.

Winter Sowing is basically a process whereby you create little greenhouses and sow seeds that need chilling or stratification. These little greenhouses are placed outdoors in the elements and then we let nature take it’s course. There are different methods of winter sowing, but I’m going to stick with what I know and what has worked for me.

Winter Sowing - Learn How to Grow Perennials in the Winter

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There’s a ton of great information in this post!
And it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to Winter Sowing.
To make it easier to grasp, I’ve created a PDF printable Workbook/Guide
of this post, which includes all the information in this
Winter Sowing article.
Plus, some helpful planning charts and checklists
to help you be successful at Winter Sowing.
The Winter Sowing Workbook and Guide is
available for the low introductory price of $5.00.
Simply click the button below and follow the instructions.
(Be sure to check the box to receive free updates to the Guide.)

 

Supplies Needed for Winter Sowing:

  • Several clean, plastic, gallon-sized milk jugs or water jugs, plastic deli containers or anything else you can come up with. Just keep in mind that your containers should be at least 4 or 5 inches deep and the top of the containers should be somewhat transparent, so the sun can shine through.
  • Potting mix – Don’t get too hung up on this. I’ve used cheap potting soil, a seed starting mix, miracle gro potting mix, pro-mix and a combination of whatever I had. Basically you want a good soil that is light and drains well. In the dead of winter, sometimes it’s difficult to find a good potting mix, so you can’t be too picky with your soil.
  • Seeds – I love Botanical Interests Seeds. The seeds packets are extremely informative and beautiful! And, more importantly, I always get a great germination rate.
  • A marker that won’t fade (I highly recommend using paint markers.)
  • Plant tags or labels
  • Clear packing tape or duct tape (I use this packing tape.)
  • A sharp knife or scissors
  • Free printable Winter Sowing Chart – this chart helps me keep track of what I’ve sown and the results.

Winter Sowing Supplies

Seeds That Work Well for Winter Sowing:

A large part of gardening and learning is experimentation, so if you’re curious if a particular seed will work for Winter Sowing, go ahead and try it, cause you really don’t have much to lose. Here is a list of seeds that I’ve had success with for Winter Sowing:


 

Perennial Seeds for Winter Sowing:

  • coneflower
  • black-eyed Susan
  • balloon flower
  • foxglove
  • delphinium
  • shasta daisies and painted daisies
  • meadow blazingstar liatris (butterfly magnet)
  • blanket flower (gaillardia)
  • yarrow
  • veronica
  • many, many more

Annual Seeds for Winter Sowing:

  • morning glory
  • snapdragon
  • marigold
  • black-eyed Susan vine
  • cosmos
  • zinnia
  • any annual flower that reseeds itself in your garden

Here’s a collage for pinning to Pinterest to remind you of this post later. There are more collages at the bottom of the page. Thanks for pinning!

Winter Sowing Collage

The Benefits of Winter Sowing

Okay, gardeners, this is the best part! Why winter sow? What are the benefits of winter sowing?

  • It’s crazy EASY!
  • It takes up no space indoors.
  • There’s no light setup.
  • The plants don’t have to be hardened off.
  • Mother Nature does all the work!

Winter Sowing Schedule – When to Winter Sow

Remember, it’s winter sowing, not fall sowing. I’ve seen gardeners start winter sowing in the fall, then the weather warms up and the seeds start sprouting just to be zapped with frost when the weather turns cold again. When to start winter sowing really depends on what gardening zone you are in. For colder zones like 3, 4 and 5, this is the general time frame that works best:

January and February – winter sow perennials that need cold stratification.
Mid – Late March – winter sow hardier annuals like the ones listed above.
Late March – Early April – winter sow tender annuals, vegetables and herbs

If you are in warmer gardening zones (zones 6 and 7), you can bump your winter sowing up a few weeks and even start in December. Really don’t get too hung up on a winter sowing schedule or a winter sowing calendar. The process is very simple and Mother Nature will figure out the timing for you.

Steps for Winter Sowing:

  • If you use gallon jugs, cut them around the middle neatly on three sides, leaving 5 or 6 inches on the bottom. You can discard the caps. 
  • Poke some drainage holes in the bottom of your container. Make sure the holes are big enough so that they don’t close over.
  • Fill your containers with 3 – 4 inches of soil. Tamp it down gently to fill in air pockets. Water the soil to get it fairly moist but not soggy. At this point make sure the drainage holes in the bottom of your containers are working.
  • Plant your seeds according to the directions on the packet. If you don’t have the seed packet to refer to, as a general rule-of-thumb, the smaller the seed, the more shallow you plant it. Teeny, tiny seeds usually don’t need any covering at all.
  • After your seeds are covered, give them a light sprinkling of water (I use a spray bottle). Skip this step if your soil is already moist.
  • Write the name of your seeds on the container. Make sure to use a marker that will withstand weather elements. I also put a plant tag inside the container.
  • Next you’re going to tape the lid or top of the jug to the bottom. If you aren’t using a milk jug, poke some holes in the top of your taped up container for ventilation. You want your seedling to get watered from rain and snow. Also, in the spring the holes will serve for ventilation. And there you have it – a little green house. 
  • Place your container(s) outdoors. Select a spot where your little greenhouses are safe from wind and animals, but be sure they are exposed to the elements. They need moisture from snow and rain. Some seeds like perennials need a period of freeze and thaw (called cold stratification). I put my containers on the deck where I can see the containers and watch them in the spring.
  • Now all that’s left is waiting for nature to do it’s magic. Really you’re just going to ignore those little containers for the rest of winter. Resist the urge to meddle with Mother Nature!

This is what a Minnesota winter looks like. Under this mound of snow on our deck are about 20 little milk jug greenhouses.

Winter in Minnesota - Winter Sowing

Here are my little milk jug greenhouses making an appearance.

Milk Jug Greenhouse in a Mound of Snow

 

Winter Sowing – What to Do In Spring

When the weather starts to warm up in the Spring, you’ll be able to see your seeds sprouting. At this point you’ll need to make sure your new sprouts are getting enough water and ventilation. Poke a few more holes in the top of your containers and/or loosen some of the tape to allow for more air flow. The little seedlings will enjoy some days with the lids opened completely and then closed back in the evening.

Once it warms up and frost isn’t an issue, completely remove the lids. At some point, I will either divide and transplant the seedlings into bigger individual pots or directly plant them in my garden.

My winter sown plants are always very healthy looking plants. Here are a few of  my successes from my winter sowing last winter. I’ve always wanted to have a large patch of Foxgloves, so I’m working on that patch of foxgloves by winter sowing. I’ve also had great success with Painted Daisies and the bunnies thoroughly enjoy this addition to the garden. Delphinium is another easy winter sown perennial and is always a lovely addition to any flower garden.

Perennial Flowers - the results of Winter Sowing.

Depending on the perennials selected, the first year they may not flower, but the next year they will and they’ll just keep getting bigger and better each year. Is there a perennial you want to try, but don’t want to shell out the money for it? Winter sowing is a great way to get that perennial plant for practically nothing. So, go ahead and give winter sowing a try; play around with it, experiment and keep track of what works best for you. You’ll be so glad you did!

There’s a ton of great information in this post!
And it can be a bit overwhelming if you’re new to Winter Sowing.
To make it easier to grasp, I’ve created a PDF printable Workbook/Guide
of this post, which includes all the information in this
Winter Sowing article.
Plus, some helpful planning charts and checklists
to help you be successful at Winter Sowing.
The Winter Sowing Workbook and Guide is
available for the low introductory price of $5.00.
Simply click the button below and follow the instructions.
(Be sure to check the box to receive free updates to the Guide.)

Learn More About Winter Sowing

If you would like to learn more about winter sowing, below are some links to additional resources:

Here is the original article that got me thinking about winter sowing that appeared in the Jan/Feb 2009 edition of Northern Gardener magazine. janfeb09itssoweasy

Here is another article written by Michelle that talks about winter sowing vegetables. I haven’t done this yet, but I’m hoping to give it a try this year.  38-41.SowVeg-NG-Jan.Feb_

Here is an article from WinterSown.org. This article was written by Trudi Greissle Davidoff, the person who originally came up with the idea of winter sowing. Trudi also has a Facebook group dedicated to Winter Sowing.

Are you looking for some other gardening activities you can do in the winter? If so, be sure to check out these posts:

DIY Gardening Journal
Seed Starting Indoors
Winter Activities for Gardeners
How to Jumpstart Summer Blooming Bulbs

Thanks a bunch for stopping by today to learn about winter sowing. Are you going to give it a try? Please leave a comment and let me know. Or, if you’ve already tried winter sowing, tell me about your successes. 

Happy gardening (even in winter),

Joanna

p.s. Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest for lots of great gardening ideas and tons of gardener’s eye candy. Gingham Gardens is also on Facebook – come say “hi.”

Shop Amazon to have your winter sowing supplies delivered right to your door.

Would you like more gardening ideas? Follow Gingham Gardens on Pinterest.

Pins to Share:

Image of Flower Seeds and Milk Jug with Text Overlay - Winter Sowing

Image of Garden Seeds with Text Overlay - Easiest & Cheapest way to grow new plants for your Garden Winter Sowing

Image of Milk Jug Planter with text overlay - Learn Winter Sowing

47 Comments

  1. Joanna, I am so excited about my winter sowing as well! I tried sunflowers, zinnias and cone flowers last year and all flowered and were huge! The cone flowers flowered late, but stinn flowered in season one from seed. Amazing. I am in New Jersey and am a believer in winter sowing now. I have tried many times to plant from seed indoors with no luck. Now I can begin early with success! I am doing at least six for this year. I was going to put the containers right in the empty garden bed for the best exposure to light, we are very shaded, but it’s out in the open. Would it be better to have more shelter from wind with less sun or more sun and more wind exposure? Thank you!

    1. Hi Ginny – I’m so glad you’re excited about winter sowing. You don’t really need to worry about sun until around the middle of March. Then you can move your containers. But, it won’t hurt them to leave them in the sun. Really whatever is easiest for you. If you feel like your containers will stay put on a windy day, I wouldn’t worry too much about the wind. When the seeds germinate and you start to open them up, wind will make the new seedlings strong. Thanks for stopping by and come back soon. Joanna

  2. This method works for propagating hydrangeas too. I had one huge “Annabelle” variety and wanted to extend it into a hedge between our property and the neighbors. Since I could not afford the nursery stock, I took three cuttings and placed them in an oversized pot with simple water bottles as the cover and hoped for the best.. Fast forward five years and they are over 6 feet tall and wide! I’m at a new home now and have an extensive area I want to plant. I was dreading the cost associated with such a task. You have given me the tools, inspiration and hope I need to tackle this project. Thank you!

    1. Hi Lisa – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I love the idea of propagating hydrangeas too by winter sowing. I’m going to try this. Good luck in your new home and definitely try winter sowing. Happy gardening, Joanna

  3. Hey, in 2019 i waited around for the last frost to plant my seeds in the ground but the pandemic hit and apparently everyone wanted to start gardening so supply was limited on seeds, supplies, everything really.😬😬 Fast forward winter of 2020 read your article on winter sowing and was skeptical 🤨🤨at first but our winter here was intense which aided in my patience from constantly peeking.
    My container were completely buried!
    But once the snow melted and the sun came out I started to see my seedlings!!🤯🤯
    Spring is here and Looky Looky!!😳
    I planted around 60 containers and 80% of them started to sprout!
    😃😃😃😃😃😅

    1. Hello Tamika – I love this so much! I’m so happy you’re having great success with winter sowing. Be careful or you’ll get hooked… if you haven’t already. Happy gardening, Joanna

  4. First time winter sower. Trying to plan and design a drought tolerant perennial garden. I live in North Carolina 7b. Want to attract pollinators/ butterflies/humming birds. Looking to layer/ stagger ( 2in to 6 ft) . Suggestions/ favorites?
    Favorite seed companies?

    1. Thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens. I’m excited for you. Since you are in zone 7b, you will want to get started right away. My favorite seed companies are Botanical Interests, Swallowtail Seeds, Select Seeds and Park Seed. Here is a really good article about how to attract pollinators to your garden. Beware winter sowing is addictive! Lol! Good luck and happy gardening, Joanna

    2. Hey Mark,

      For mid-to late-summer pollinators, it’s hard to beat Agastache foeniculum (anise hyssop). I’ve had entire colonies of bees covering them. And armies of butterflies. They hold up to heat and drought ok where i am (suburban Philadelphia)…not sure about your area. And they’re decent 2 to 4 foot plants. Look great in masses or as a single feature plant.

      I’ve given up catering to hummers. Too finicky. One year, they love cardinal climber, next year they won’t look at it. I just put out a feeder and plant the plants I want. They never turn down the feeder. Haha. But past years I’ve had hummers consistently on Indian Pinks (spigelia marilandica), salvia (‘Black and Blue’), Bee balm (‘Jacob Cline’), and red honeysuckle ‘Alabama Crimson’. Not sure if any of these are really drought tolerant tho. Maybe the honeysuckle once it’s established. Indian pinks like a bit of shade and maybe damp roots. I think the black and blue salvia might be ok getting dry too, if it has some shade around noon.

      Just a few thoughts. Good luck and have fun!

      1. Hello Mike – thanks for stopping by Gingham Gardens and adding such a helpful comment on attracting pollinators on the Winter Sowing post. Happy gardening, Joanna

  5. I’m in zone 8b in the rainy PNW. Would that work for winter sowing or am I missing out on a fun experiment?

    1. I think you should give winter sowing a try. Just start with 4 or 5 milk jugs. Be sure to make lots of drainage holes in the bottom and consider putting your jugs in a semi protected area outdoors. Good luck!

      1. Thank you for your reply. I’ve been searching the internet to figure out when to start. I’ve been getting mixed reviews about starting now or starting late January. I think I’ll try both and see what happens.

    1. Hi Lili – sorry for the delay in getting back to you. To become a subscriber of Gingham Gardens and to gain access to the gardening printables library, simply complete the form below.

  6. this is awesome! i have never, never thought about using recycling these items. as soon as i have some gallon cartons i am trying some seeds i have. i am in zone 7b so this should be really great. thanks for sharing and thanks for providing Michelle’s links!!

    1. Thanks a bunch! I’m happy you enjoyed the post. Just beware… winter sowing can be addictive! 😁 Have fun with it and thanks for stopping by.

  7. Joanna, I got an order of seeds in the mail yesterday and your newsletter today…it’s like a double treat. I am going to try winter sowing for the first time and I’m very excited to see how it works out. I’m curious if you have had problems with squirrels bothering your winter sowing greenhouses?

  8. Thank you for these instructions! I’ve never tried it before, but we moved into a new house last spring and are working on our back yard. I’m hoping to fill it with flower gardens and if I can save some money, it will help out a lot! I always enjoy reading your blogs and seeing your garden pictures–I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site!

    Happy planting!

    1. Wow, Lisa, this makes my day! Beware Winter Sowing can be addictive. I’ve grown lots of perennials this way. I’m happy you found Gingham Gardens.

  9. Thank you for this post , it’s a reminder. Last year following your advice I had good results with Queen Anne’s Lace & Agastache Blue Boa. Your post last year was timely. I am in a garden club & the member who was supposed to present a topic at a meeting was sick. I filled in for her at the last minute & demonstrated this. Several of them tried it with good results.This year I am going to give it shot with Formosa Lily seeds from a friend , Veronica ” First Lady” & Cone Flower” Milkshake” seeds from my garden. I hope you had a great Christmas & best wishes for the New Year,
    Good Luck, Joe

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Joe! I always appreciate your insight. Winter sowing is fun to try and fairly inexpensive especially if you save seeds from your garden. Good luck with your winter sowing and other garden planning.

  10. Wonderful idea. Will get started gardening after our roads clear. We use the same containers with the bottoms cut off leaving the lid on to cover the tomato plants that we put out too early. Perfect mini green house.

  11. Wonderful information! I’ve done time concept & it worked great. But never heard of starting these annuals this way. Could you elaborate on this. Is every step & care the same with these annuals?
    Love your site! Keep up the good work! You get a ada girl🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

    1. Hi there, Sue. First off, thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment! There is a link at the bottom of the post of an article written by a master gardener that gives directions on starting annual flowers and vegetables by winter sowing. Basically it’s a timing thing and you start them much later than you start perennial seeds. Give winter sowing a try. Joanna

  12. Great way to get a head start! I love Foxgloves and wish I had bunches of them! Now and then I have one come back,. Thanks for sharing with SYC.
    hugs,
    Jann

  13. Hi Joanne, I just happened to see your info on winter sowing on Pintrest. It mAkes me want to try it soon. We love gardening and trying new things.

    1. Hello, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Good luck with winter sowing and come back soon. Joanna

  14. Great post! I’m definitely going to try this. I usually buy my perennials at a local garden center. They’re very healthy, but very pricey. Thanks, again.

    1. Hi Debbie – thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my post on winter sowing. Once you get started, you’ll be hooked. There’s a facebook group called Winter Sowers that is very supportive if you have questions. Good luck!

  15. Great article and thank you for pointing me to it. I’ve been saving my water jugs to use for this purpose. I definitely want to try Verbena bonariensis this way, as I’ve had no luck growing in pots. I may also try some foxgloves this way. I start them in pots quite successfully but I think I’ll try this to and see what works best. I winter sow poppies in place but I might do a few this way so I can decide where they will go later.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Erin. I’m a long time reader and fan of your blog. Good luck with your winter sowing attempts.

  16. What great ideas! I always wondered how gardeners in colder climates tend to their gardens in colder weather. I’m spoiled here in Southern California and am able to garden most of the year. If I move to a colder place again I’ll know what to do with my garden in the winter. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ann. Sunny Southern Cal would feel so good about now. It’s been crazy cold here in Minnesota.

  17. Hello! I too love flowers. I am excited to see this post and I definitely plan to try it out this winter! We have a greenhouse mostly finished, but this will be great for giving me jump on the season. I’m already thinking about who I can ask to save milk jugs for me! 🙂

    I blog at http://www.ofbooksandblooms.com. I would be happy to see you there if you get a chance. 🙂

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