Sowing Seeds in Winter

I have done winter sowing on occasions over the past several years. My success has been as varied as my methods.

So, just what is winter sowing? Winter sowing is the process of planting seeds during the winter. Winter sowing is usually started around the first day of winter. This will allow the seeds to go through the natural stratification process during the cool weather. When the warm weather comes they will sprout and be ready for transplanting into the gardens at the proper planting time. It is best to use seeds from plants that naturally reseed in your area but feel free to experiment with any types of seed, both annual and perennial seeds are good candidates. One sunflower I experimented with ended up growing over 12 feet tall.

Winter sowing involves preparing a protective environment to help insure success. There are several approaches to this. Using plastic containers such as soda or milk bottles is one method. Some of the plastic food containers with clear covers and deeper trays work also with a little less effort. Plastic row covers will work too. Keep in mind that if you’re in an area of heavy snow fall the row covers could collapse.

Using plastic bottles: When using plastic bottles or even food containers the first thing you need to is thoroughly clean the container. The larger, 2 L, soda bottles work fairly well and so do the transparent milk bottles. The sunlight has to be able get through so using the solid white milk bottles is not recommended. After washing you prepare the bottle for planting by first drilling some holes in the bottom for drainage. (Please follow good safety practices when using any power tools or sharp instruments.) Now it’s time to cut the bottom portion of the bottle. You can make this any size you want but I recommend about 4 inches. If you’re using milk bottles you may want to cut higher and only cut 3 sides of the bottle to make a hinged top.

Once cut, fill the bottom almost to the top with a good quality potting soil leaving enough room to cover the seeds the proper amount according to your seed packets. Moisten the soil and allow the excess water to drain off. Unlike planting in cells where you put two or three seeds per cell, you will sprinkle the seed evenly over the whole surface. Cover the seeds with the recommended amount of soil.

Now it’s time to close the container by taping the top back to the bottom. Leave the cap off. Prepare a label so you’ll remember what is in the bottle. Make sure you use a weather proof marker so it won’t wear off so easily. As a precaution you can also put a number or letter on each bottle and write that down in note pad along with the contents.

I typically set my containers along one row of my vegetable garden and recess them into the soil a few inches for stability. You can also put them into plastic crates.

There’s very little to do once the planting is done other than wait for spring. Just check the containers periodically for moisture. If you can see condensation in the bottle you’re fine, otherwise add a small amount of water. Depending on your climate this may be 3 or 4 times during the season. Since I’m in a mild climate I check mine more frequently and if they look dry I’ll water a little.

When spring comes they will be ready for planting and should not require hardening off like store bought seedlings since they’ve been outside all winter.

This year I’m using a plastic row cover and I started much earlier then normal. I’ve got a 4″ square pot of something starting to grow. This is one I forgot to mark when I planted it. I also have several paper egg cartons with seeds planted in them under the plastic tunnel.

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