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.
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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.
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:
- black-eyed Susan
- balloon flower
- shasta daisies and painted daisies
- meadow blazingstar liatris (butterfly magnet)
- blanket flower (gaillardia)
- many, many more
Annual Seeds for Winter Sowing:
- morning glory
- black-eyed Susan vine
- 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 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.
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.
Here are my little milk jug greenhouses making an appearance.
I just have to share this handy Winter Sowing Chart that I’ve been using
to keep track of the seeds I’ve winter sown. Next year, it will be so helpful
to be able to refer to it and see what worked and what didn’t. There’s also
a Winter Sowing Checklist so that you can check off steps as you go.
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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.
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!
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:
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),
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