Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wintersowing 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.

Warmer weather earlier in the week provided me with the motivation to prepare the jugs for planting. I'd been saving them for this purpose, deciding to limit it this year to a dozen. I still want to plant some seeds the traditional way, too.

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

  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.

Wintersowing works well for seeds that need stratification/scarification as well as those plants that self-seed naturally in the garden. The advantage to wintersowing 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, wintersowing allows you to just sow and go using natural conditions!

For more information on wintersowing, including appropriate seed lists for your zone, check out

This year's seed list:

  • Gaillardia 'Fanfare'
  • Purple datura
  • Rudbeckia hirta 'Cherokee Sunset'
  • Giant Yellow Scabiosa
  • Cerinthe major 'Kiwi Blue'
  • Portulaca grandiflora
  • Coreopsis tinctoria 'Mahogany Midget'
  • Emilia coccinia 'Scarlet Magic'
  • Pulsatilla
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  • Catnip
  • *to be determined*

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


Barbara said...

What a glorious idea, Kylee! What are your lowest temperatures, now till Spring? I'd like to try this too, but I am a bit afraid, the whole would freeze when we have temperatures below 0° Celsius.

Rosie's Whimsy said...

That is a great idea. I would have never considered this. I am saving this post in my Gardening file. If you can do that in Ohio, I might be able to it in PA as well. Thanks Bunches!

Tom Arbour said...

Wow...very cool idea. A milk jug as a greenhouse. I need to try this.


min hus said...

Nice explanation of winter sowing - with photos even, wow!

I'm trying winter sowing for the first time this year. I've only finished two containers so far, but I'm planning to do many, many more. My head is filled with visions of low-cost flowers for my sparse beds. And it's a nice way to play in the dirt in winter! :)

Sky said...

my husband will be thrilled to read this. he loves to plant seeds! i don't like to because we are so delayed in getting sunshine here since we are so far north - by the time they get big enough to produce our summer is over. i hope it works here in the pacific northwest. our spring really doesn't arrive until mid may. our winters are fairly mild (usually 32-34 at night with highs in low 40s, but we will get a few days of freezing). it rains every day in winter here, however. i wonder if we should wait until late feb to do this. perhaps we should also put them in an area protected from the daily rains. we could water them ourselves. i think we will try and see what happens. thanks for your perfectly detailed instructions!

Kylee Baumle said...

Barbara ~ Absolutely they DO freeze, for long periods of time and over and over (freeze, then thaw, freeze, then thaw). Average low temperatures for the winter months here are in the teens (F), which are well below freezing. There have been times when the jugs have been totally buried in snow, too. Many seeds need that freezing and thawing cycle to loosen their seed coat for germination. Not all seeds are appropriate for wintersowing, of course, but you'd be surprised at how many that are! Check out the lists for each zone at the link I provided. Try it! :-)

Rosie ~ Oh yes, absolutely you can do it in Pennsylvania, Rosie. I was pretty skeptical the first year I did it, too, but when I peeked down into the opening and saw the little seedlings coming up, I became a believer. I won't lie and say I had a 100% success rate with everything I planted, but enough that I keep doing it. Seeds are cheap enough that you really don't have anything to lose by doing it!

Tom ~ Yes, you do need to try it! And you're exactly right - the milk jug acts like a little vented greenhouse. Depending on your climate, as the weather warms in the spring, you may need to water the jugs from time to time if the soil dries out, but we get spring rains often enough, I've never had to do that, plus the milk jug has condensation that helps keep things moist.

minhus ~ Oh yeah, this is a great way to continue "gardening" through the winter. That's a big reason why I did it that first winter. And then the seeds GREW!!! Too much fun!
I've added a link to your blog in my Ohio blog list. Hope that's okay!

Kylee Baumle said...

Sky ~We normally can't plant seeds in the ground here until May either because average last frost date is May 15th. I would just plant them and put them where they get full sun. Make sure you put enough holes for drainage, since you get a lot of rain and you'll be fine. I wouldn't wait until February, I'd do it now if I were you. Or you could do some of each and see what happens. Conditions vary throughout the world, obviously and even within a single zone, but this method works in all of them, so make your husband and happy man and start saving those milk jugs! ;-)

min hus said...

Adding my link is more than okay, it's great. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Simply brilliant idea/story well told. Thanks for brightening my day . . . yet again, Kylee.
David Perry

Meg said...

Very cool! We have a huge amount of gallon jugs saved up, though we were planning to cut the bottoms off and use them as mini-greenhouses for earlier sowing of squash and stuff. I really like the idea of getting some other seeds started much earlier, though. I think we're going to have to try this.

And those green boots are fantastic!

Robin's Nesting Place said...

Kylee!!! I've been waiting with baited breath to get my lead from you on this! I read about winter sowing last year and have been watching closely this month for your winter sowing post. I'm going to try this! I actually bought seeds today while I was out but those are mostly for direct sowing. Now I'm dying to go to somewhere for more seed.

On these do you use the seed starting mix or just potting soil?

Anonymous said...

Ohhhh! I thought you had to cut the whole bottom off and use the top to cover seeds planted in the ground.

Well, It's a very good thing I read this first. Thank-you so much for the info.

That's a great variety of plants you have started.

Will you place lids on the jugs at night?

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What an ingenious system. I might be inspired to try this. I can't wait to see your results. I could have been saving those jugs for some time. Hmmmmm....

Kylee Baumle said...

Meg ~ I hope you'll try it and report your results! Don't expect 100% success, because that's not likely to happen, but it's worthwhile doing and fun!
Like my boots, eh? Me, too. LOL! They're easy to get on and off and wonderful to wear when things are mucky and wet and generally icky. They're super easy to clean off with the hose!

Robin ~ Get a move on, girl! Actually, you've got a bit of time yet. Time enough to get your act together. As far at potting medium - I've used three different things. The first year I used soil from the garden. It worked fine, but I had a lot of weeds come up with the seedlings. Not enough to be a real problem, but the next year I used bags of soil that I purchased at Lowe's for 88 cents each. I can't remember what it was called, but it was just plain old dirt. LOL. This year I meant to buy more of that, but forgot. When I went to get it, I didn't see the same thing, but they had organic top soil very cheap, so I bought that. That may prove to be even worse than my garden soil for weeds, I don't know. When I was scooping it into the jugs, I found some seedlings of something already growing in it. The only problem is if you can't tell the weeds from the flowers, but generally it's not that hard, especially if you get a good rate of germination on your flower seeds. I think the trick is to sow the seeds heavily and then the flowers will grow thick enough to overpower any weeds that might grow with them. When you go to transplant your seedlings, you can weed out any unwanted stuff. It's not a huge deal, because after all, you have to contend with the same issue when you plant them in the garden, and it's still less of a problem in the jugs than in the garden.

Kylee Baumle said...

Greg W ~ You could do it that way, but I think it might be hard to keep the milk jugs in place.

No, no lids ever. Those lids are laying at the bottom of the garbage can!

Lisa ~ I've had good results in the two previous years which is why I'm doing it again. I'd suggest you try at least half a dozen or more. Our daughter Kara did six last year and every one of hers germinated and grew, but that's not typical I don't think.

Anonymous said...

Your photographs documenting the process in this post are just perfect. This is a great could be a magazine or a newspaper article.

Gina said...

kylee - your jugs sure are a lot nicer than mine! I should buy an ice pick! I noticed you have the tops off - I thought they were suppose to stay on! Should I go remove mine?

Kylee Baumle said...

David ~ Thank you! It's always a pleasure to hear from you.

mss@Zanthan Gardens ~ What a nice thing for you to say! I'm glad you found my instructions easy to follow. :-)

Gina ~ I never use the caps. At all. No matter what kind of container you use for wintersowing, you have to have vents. The hole at the top of the milk jug provides that. Take 'em off! Take 'em all off! LOL

Barbara said...

What a brilliant idea.

Barbara said...

Thank you Kylee for your answer! I'll try it for sure!
Have a good week!

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Okay, now I'm too intrigued not to try this. I always have a hard time with seeds so this may be the trick I need to actually be successful.

Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

Katie said...

The precision in which your holes and seeds are spaces, your plastic was cut, and duct tape placed makes me appreciate this post even more!

Thanks for the awesome how-to with pictures! Now I can turn my attention to all of those plastic containers in the garage that I've been saving...

Katie at GardenPunks

Yolanda Elizabet Heuzen said...

Thanks for the tutorial Kylee, it's very clear but I have two little problems:
1) milk doesn't come in jugs over here
2) I don't like milk.

Any suggestions? ;-)

Lots of success with your seeds, may they all come up!

Meg said...

Yolanda E., I have sort of the same problem. We don't drink milk either, and though my dad has been saving jugs for us, I think we'll need more. I was thinking about using relatively large 1 or 2L plastic juice bottles, or trying to get my hands on some of those plastic take-out trays that they use for salads and stuff, with the clear plastic lids.

kate said...

What a great post! I don't buy milk in these jugs, but I have bought water, so I have a few jugs. (Just a possibility for YE & Meg)

I am going to check out and see if I can do this ... it gets so cold, that I'm not sure it would work too well.

Now that I have a wonderful collection of seeds, I would love to try it.

Shady Gardener said...

Thank you, Kylee! You must know I need a visual step-by-step! Now, to find the seeds! :-)

blus said...

I am so glad to find your forum. I juat discovered winter sowing a few days ago and set my first jug out today. Also -I went to and sent off for free seeds! I just had to send a SASE.Check it out! link at

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