Winter Sowing can improve your garden while saving you money! Learn how and why you should save those milk jugs for winter sowing.
What is Winter sowing?
Simply put, Winter sowing is getting seeds into the soil in containers outdoors. This lets the weather conditions break dormancy and germinates the seeds when the conditions are right.
Why start seeds in the Winter?
Winter sowing works as mother nature does, which awakens seeds that fall to the ground after the plants have died off at the end of their growing season. Winter Seeding gives you the opportunity to avoid the cost of potting trays.
Which plants should you winter sow?
The easiest seeds to begin your winter seeding experience are seeds that need to be stratified or seeds of plants that are cold-hardy enough to withstand the cold temperatures in your growing zone. These should be considered for best results. A few seeds that will do well in most areas are Poppies, Snapdragons, Columbines, Black-eyed Susan, Broccoli, Cabbage, Lettuce, and Cauliflower. Winter sowing can be applied to all seeds, but some seeds should be started later than others to avoid having plants outgrowing the container before the threat of freezing temperatures has passed.
How to Winter sow?
Winter sowing is best done between the months of December and March; the month to seed will depend largely on your growing zone and the conditions the seeds must experience before they are ready to break dormancy and germinate. Once you decide which seeds you want to start, you will need clean containers, planting medium, permanent marker, and box cutter.
Step 1. Prepare containers – Sowing in Milk Jugs
I primarily use milk jugs as my go-to container, but any deep dish with a clear top, such as disposable fast-food containers, will work. The container will need to have about four inches of planting medium to create an environment that can support the proper growth of the seeds. I make my cut just above the base of the handle on the jug, leaving a strong hinge to ensure that the top and bottom don’t tear apart. The container should have drainage holes added to the bottom to prevent the drowning of the seeds. Here, I used a utility knife, but a soldering tool works best.
Step 2. Fill containers
Fill the container with the planting medium, place the seeds on the medium, cover the seeds lightly, and firm the medium.
Step 3. Label and Seal containers
Secure the top and bottom of the container to help protect the seeds from animals or bad weather while they await the spring. Label the containers using a permanent marker. I like numbering the containers and creating a list; this helps me review what I have gotten ready and what remains to be done. Once finished, move the containers to a location where they are protected from wind and animals.
Step 4. Keep the content moist.
Periodically, peer down into the container and check the soil’s moisture; water the container evenly and lightly if needed. I use a pump-up garden sprayer for this task; it allows me to use the top of the container instead of removing the tape that holds the two halves together.
Step 5. Germination and sprouting.
Once the seeds have germinated and the plants begin growing, leave the container closed; this will continue to protect the plants from animals and weather as it protects the seeds. As the plants begin growing, keep an eye on the moisture levels and the temperatures.
Step 6. Getting the plants ready for the garden.
As the plants begin to outgrow the containers and the weather warms up, open the containers and begin the process of hardening off the plants. Don’t forget to close the containers when the temperatures are forecast to be low enough to threaten the health of the plants. If the plants are getting leggy, consider transplanting them into individual containers to avoid them becoming entangled.
Step 7. Planting time.
Once the plants are ready and the weather is right, carefully remove them and transplant them into your garden or container.
Materials Needed for Winter Sowing
- Milk Jugs
- Vinegar jugs
- Takeout food containers
- Potting medium
- Potting soil
- Combination of the potting soil, compost
- Cutting Utensil
- Utility knife
- Duct tape
- Permanent marker
- Paint pen
- Fingernail polish
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