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 past winter solstice and time for me to start winter sowing again, I thought I would explain this 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 cam on December 21 2020. 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 outside! (Is there such a thing? LOL)
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.
If you haven’t planned to do this, it might be hard to find seeds at this time. Perhaps you would like to order some seeds here.
Earthcare Seeds Butterfly Garden Flower Seeds 1000 Seeds
200 Electric Blue & White HALF MOON LOBELIA Erinus Flower Seeds
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 Indoors – The Hassle
I recall many years wrestling with trying to grow seedlings under 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.
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? Be sure to mark with some type of permanent marker. You don’t want the name to wear off!
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!
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 (for ventilation), 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!
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. Don’t plant too many seeds in one container if you have a hard time thinning them out. Just as other methods, you need to nurture the strong ones. After all, if you plant 50 seeds in that ice cream bucket, no way is there room for 50 plants!
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. And start getting your containers ready. Don’t worry if you haven’t planted on the winter solstice. Do it in January or even early February when you are planning your Spring garden!
Shared this with my husband and he agrees to give this a shot this winter. I will try in Jan/Feb as Dec is busy here too in our household in Colorado. I will have to be on the lookout for the containers. We have soil and seeds from another project.
Wishing you great success. That is awesome. Try it on a small scale at first, don’t overplant. I saved anything “see thru”, milk jugs were my first tries, then salad containers, pastry boxes. Anything with a clear lid so sun can get through. It is the most exciting thing when you go outside in March and check the containers and they have sprouts! Don’t let them blow away!
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.
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/
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!
Thanks so much, Trudi. Because of you, I have so many plants each year and it is so easy doing it!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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….
I visited your site. Marvelous! Love that greenhouse!
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.
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.
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!
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)