Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Sowing 101

The excitement of the holidays has passed and we northerners have had a bit of a break from the garden.  Our green thumbs are itching to make something grow, but it's January and the ground is frozen. What's a gardener to do? 

Since it's the perfect time to sow seeds for next spring's garden (yes, that's right), I'm going to repeat a post I published a couple of years ago with instructions on just how to do it.

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Originally published in January 2008:

The seeds are sown in their milk jugs and parked outside so Mother Nature can do her thing. I remember the first year I tried this method of growing annuals and perennials from seed; I just couldn't imagine that it was going to work. But it did, which is why I'm doing it for the third year now.


Here's a brief and simple tutorial of my version of winter sowing:

  1. I rinsed out the opaque gallon-sized milk jugs with the hose. Then I took an ice pick and poked several holes in the bottom for drainage.



  2. I cut the jug in half at the base of the handle, leaving a small hinge so the top stays attached to the bottom.



  3. Next, I scooped the potting medium into the bottom to a level of 2-3 inches deep. I used the hose set to "mist" to wet the soil thoroughly and sat them on the front porch to drain. Watering the soil before sowing the seeds prevents the seeds from being displaced by the water pressure.

  4. The next day I brought the jugs into the house and planted each one with the seeds I'd chosen, then covered them with a light layer of soil.


    How many seeds I have of each variety and the size of those seeds determines how densely I sprinkle the seeds in each jug. If they're really small, I just broadcast them over the soil and when they germinate and later reach transplanting stage, I plant small sections of the seedlings rather than individual plants.

  5. Duct tape is then used to seal the jugs back up and I mark them by number and by name with a permanent Sharpie marker. I keep a record of what I've planted on a list with corresponding numbers and names.



  6. Finally, I placed the jugs (caps off!) outside on the east side of the gazebo on top of the stones so they will drain well.


Winter sowing works well for seeds that need stratification/scarification as well as those plants that self-seed naturally in the garden. The advantage to winter sowing is that it gives you a little head start on things by allowing the seeds to germinate at the earliest possible time that weather permits. Rather than starting them inside, where you have to control light, temperature and moisture levels, winter sowing allows you to just sow and go using natural conditions!

By mid-spring, I'll have something that looks like this:





For more information on winter sowing, including appropriate seed lists for your zone, check out http://wintersown.org.

17 comments:

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I am always amazed at this method. I must try it sometime. It appears so easy.

Janet said...

How very clever!! Wow, may have to rethink sowing some seeds now!

Dave@TheHomeGarden said...

I tried it last year but didn't do so well. I should try winter sowing again!

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Thank you Kylee! What an excellent post! I might try it, just for fun.

evolutionofagardener said...

I've seen this mentioned a few times, but don't know much about it. I'll have to try it sometime. Thanks for showing how easy it is.

patientgardener said...

I have read that seeds benefit from the cold so might try this

KMG said...

Oh, Thank you, thank you! I heard about this method last summer and could not remember the specifics about how it was done. I've been saving my jugs and coke bottles and have my seeds ready. I am in zone 6b (upper Middle TN) when should I sow my seeds? It's 15 degrees here this week. Yuck!

Kathleen said...

This is such a great idea Kylee! Thanks for sharing. I think it would be perfect for those hard to start varieties.
Also a BIG thank you for the seeds you shared with me and your pretty garden card. That is another great idea ~ making your photos into cards via Shutterfly. I may have to check into that myself. I will definitely appreciate having a piece of "My Little Acre" in my Colorado garden this year. Thank you for your generosity and Happy New Year!

Shady Gardener said...

Kylee, I tried this last year and it worked beautifully!!! I'm just about ready to do it again. Thank you so much for the inspiration and the instructions. :-)

Jenny said...

Thanks for posting such clear instructions. I'd love to see follow posts on this showing what you've planted successfully this way & any maintenance you do through the spring with them.

Sarah said...

Thanks for posting this! I tried wintersowing 2 years ago and was pleased with the results. I completely forgot last year, and nearly forgot again this year!

vrtlarica said...

This is very helpful post. Thanks for sharing.

Carri said...

Nice! I'm gonna have to try this! Any advice on which seeds don't seem to work well with this method?

Rose said...

How interesting that you posted this this week, Kylee! I just got out the book on winter sowing I purchased from Monica, the Garden Faerie, at Spring Fling last May. I've been looking through it while house-bound from the snow. I'm going to try it on a small scale this winter--just have to start saving some milk jugs!

rebecca sweet said...

What a fantastic idea - I'm so glad you re-posted this, too! Seriously...awesome photos to go along with it. Have you considered sending it to a magazine? DM the post link to Michelle G. at Fine Gardening - she'll most likely forward it to the Editor who's in charge of the 'Twips' section (Kerry Ann) and who may want to include it....great job!!

DirtDigger (Tessa) said...

I read about this last year and promised myself that I'd try it! Maybe this is the year :). I just moved recently, so this will be a limited year for growing- until I see what I have out there and get the soil in shape!

I'm curious- with your low temperatures, how do you keep your hose from freezing!

Monica the Garden Faerie said...

Hi Kylee, I didn't know you winter-sowed! I think this will be my sixth season and I love it. I use a power drill to make my holes, but I just loved corded tools! HARR! Looking forward to your updates on your seedlings. I haven't sowed mine yet this year.

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