Planting Seeds in Winter – Heard of Winter Sowing?

Planting seeds at the winter solstice. Outside in containers buried in the Ohio snows. Excuse me? 

Since it’s almost time for me to start winter sowing again, I thought I would explain my method of winter sowing. It is the no-fuss method for growing plants from seed and letting them grow as nature intends.

When do we start? Our winter solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere was December 21 2017. But check this site to see when your winter solstice occurs if you are in a different part of the world.  http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/winter-solstice.html  You want to be ready to sow your seeds so that you’ll have plants all ready and hardened off in the spring, right?

No, I am not “A few sandwiches short of a picnic.” Or  “Not the sharpest tool in the shed.” Or “Not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.”  It sounds so outlandish that you might think that it just couldn’t work. But I can testify that it does work. Because I have done it many winters. You can grow almost any seed for flowers, vegetables, trees, vines. And you do it by allowing nature to takes its own time, allowing the seed to survive and harden itself in the winter and spring thaws.  In fact, I have stopped doing it because I just have too many plants!

If you don’t believe it will work, just find a few random seeds you have around the garden such as coneflower or balloon flower. Plant them using this method and set them out on the porch in the snow. Don’t let them get knocked over or blown away, and see what happens in the spring.

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Or you may need soil?  Here in Ohio, I have to make sure I have purchased some in late fall before they put it all away for spring. But you can order bags of garden soil if you don’t have any. Here is a link.

Planting Seeds by Winter Sowing -TheHypertufaGardener

 

Planting Seeds Indoors – The Hassle

I recall many years wrestling with grow lights and shelving, turn the lights on, turn the lights off, damping off, spills and frustration. Each year I thought “Was this worth it?  Frazzled nerves? Frustration?  I would plant one year and not the next. I had a whole new gardening area and wanted to plant it without breaking the bank.

(And pulling my hair out.)

Then I found Trudi Greissle Davidoff  writing in the forums at GardenWeb.com. ( I think that site is now under Houzz.com. )  She presented a wonderful idea that made sense to me. Check out her Facebook group Winter Sowers  and see all the complete details for yourself. She  also has a website http://wintersown.org/

Winter-Sowing-Milk-Jug-Greenhouses - The Hypertufa Gardener

 

This idea is so wonderful. It was like “CrockPot” gardening. Sort of a “set it and forget it”  instead of tending seedlings inside during the Feb-April time period. You just plant at the December winter solstice or even later in Jan or Feb depending on your weather. You will set them outside in the cold and ice, snow will pile on them 1-2 feet deep. I usually plant in January because December is just too busy a month for me.

Be sure to mark your containers so you can identify what you have planted. Perhaps you can use these?

Vktech 100pcs 6 x10cm Plastic Plant T-type Tags Markers Nursery Garden Labels Gray (White)

Bosmere K440 Permanent Zinc-Faced Metal Marker with Carbon Pencil, 20-Pack

Once marked, you can just forget it!  Don’t worry. That’s how easy winter sowing is!

Empty Ice Cream Pail for Winter Sowing - The Hypertufa Gardener

Then on a warm day in spring, you will find tiny sprouts popping through the soil . I have drainage holes in the bottom and holes in the tops, so I just popped them off and looked. You can just leave the cap off a milk jug,  punch holes in the top of the ice cream bucket, anyway to allow air circulation and not have heat build up to “fry” the new plants.  These are your little greenhouses.

Seedlings! sprouts,! There they are. Mother Nature does it for you!

Balloon Flower via winter sowing Seeds in Winter- The Hypertufa Gardener

As it gets warmer and nicer, just punch more holes in the lids, letting more of the spring air into them. The “hardening off” just occurs naturally, and you get a sturdy plant. Don’t worry about frosty nights, as plants have grown up through the cold. Just keep them in the container , thinning  them out as they grow larger and become ready to put in the garden.  Remember they will already be hardened off.

Check out more in my Backyard Flower Garden.

 Would it work for you? What do you have to lose? I tried it and the rest is history. It positively does work. The only problem I had was restraint.  

Planting Seeds by Winter Sowing - The Hypertufa Gardener

OMG the volume of seeds I planted that first year!  I used milk jugs and clear pop bottles and then found the best for me: those gallon ice cream buckets…These had a strong structure, a lid to punch holes into easily, even a handle to carry them around.  Just had to empty them first!

( I think I gained 10 lbs that year!)  

 I planted so many containers that first year, and believe me I had a LOT of plants.

So what did I plant these past years for my garden and planters?

Balloon flowers  Platycodon”Sentimental Blue”, and Dianthus barbatus, all kinds of thyme,  saponaria ocymoides “Rock Soapwort” ,  Arenaria montana ”Mountain Sandwort”, delosperma cooperi,  alyssum,  oregano,  mints, etc.

I  planted these so  that I can stuff my hypertufa troughs full. It would get expensive to try to buy all that, and I am frugal.

So remember this and try it this year!  You know you want to!

Find Trudi on Facebook in the group  Winter Sowers.

 

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Kim, The Hypertufa Gardener

Hi, I am Kim and thank you so much for visiting my magazine! I am a gardener and a hypertufa maker. If you came here to learn about hypertufa, I have a lot of information. But I also write about flower gardening and using succulents which are great drought-tolerant plants.

Of course, I have some recipes and some random family concerns which I hope interest you too! Please page through the Magazine and find what you like! and Subscribe!

I also have a YouTube channel called Kim’s Gardens where you can see my hypertufa as I make them. ( See My About Page)

16 thoughts on “Planting Seeds in Winter – Heard of Winter Sowing?

  • December 28, 2015 at 3:14 am
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    Can I winter sow in Sacramento (zone 9)? Would it be advantageous? In a normal year, we have 100°+ F seering sun during summer. During winter we get lots of rain, and sometimes we have one or two nights that freeze, but not always. Often the seasons in-between are short and no real distinct. Reply
    • December 28, 2015 at 10:21 am
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      In your case, I don't think you would have to worry about winter sowing in such a mild climate. I would plant in regular opened pots and just cover if a cold spell would occur. In this climate, we are below freezing and sometimes in the teens or lower for weeks or month or more. We need the little "greenhouse" but I don't think you would. You might want to visit the wintersown.org site or the facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/wintersown/ Reply
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  • December 19, 2015 at 10:09 pm
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    I enjoyed reading your article, nice photos too. I also like to use the little buckets, I got a bunch of pink ones at the dollar store--they have lasted for years. Thank you so much for sharing Winter Sowing and good luck with your seeds and site! Reply
    • December 20, 2015 at 6:19 am
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      Thanks so much, Trudi. Because of you, I have so many plants each year and it is so easy doing it! Reply
    • December 20, 2015 at 6:22 am
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      Thanks, I am always trying to pass the word along. You are probably familiar with people looking at you like you've lost your mind. LOL Reply
  • December 19, 2015 at 10:06 pm
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    What a really nice article and good photos too! I enjoyed reading it. I like the little buckets and use many of them, they last for years. Reply
  • August 24, 2014 at 10:14 pm
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    Hi again Kim- Have tried winter sowing- a little-will try more this year. I love the new look to your site. Still working on hypertufa-- You know you don't really have to eat all that icecream yourself -just let all your friends know what you are looking for & they will start saving them for you--I now have a closet room full of icecream, 2litre pop frozen yogurt you name it and my friends and neighbours are saving them for me and when I told them I would also take any and all flower pots and trays and even the styrofoam seedling trays, you should see everything I have gotten for nothing. I only buy seed starting mix and pro mix to pot up with- that way I don't get any bugs in the house when I start my seeds. Keep up the good work-Sandra Reply
    • August 25, 2014 at 7:05 am
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      Thanks, I have gathered quite a bit of containers this year. I don't do a whole lot of winter sowing since I have too many plants already. You will probably note many changes to my site over time. I am constantly changing something. Thanks for reading and commenting, Sandra. Reply
  • March 23, 2014 at 11:26 am
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    I used to winter sow, but now I do a lot of sowing in small portable plastic greenhouses, and in my hoophouse, which I use to cover one of my raised veggie beds. I used to use milk jugs, but then I graduated to just using plastic bins with clear tops, with 4-inch pots inside. I also just got a real greenhouse this year, so I'm doing some heat lovers in there. Reply
    • March 23, 2014 at 12:24 pm
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      I would love to have a "real" greenhouse, but this spring I will have to be content with the small one I bought, just put it up and slip a zippered cover over it. I can put some of my succulents out there earlier than normal. But I don't plan to heat that, just use radient heat from a light, I guess. I won't even have the plants out until it is 30º and above at night. Then the lights alone have kept it about 5º over that. Someday.... Reply
    • March 23, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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      I visited your site. Marvelous! Love that greenhouse! Reply
  • March 18, 2014 at 10:28 pm
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    I haven't done any winter sowing. I should give it a go but spring begins in two days. I am not sure Mother Nature is paying attention though. Reply
    • March 19, 2014 at 8:17 am
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      I know what you mean. It seems that spring will be cold for me here in Ohio. The only thing greening up is the weeds, and I have flowers on those. I better get on that right away or I will have hundreds more. Reply
  • March 17, 2014 at 11:44 am
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    I've been winter sowing for many years and it works as well in the south as it does up north. And those ice cream buckets usually work for two years for me at least! Reply
    • March 17, 2014 at 12:37 pm
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      Oh, I know what you mean. I can save them year to year, and not have the extra work of making new ones. I make them last until they are too brittle. (Still have to eat more ice cream. Just to get more lids for adjusting the holes, you understand...LOL) Reply

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