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What is Winter Sowing?
(updated for 2021) Winter Sowing is sowing your seeds in milk jugs or other plastic containers, and using them as mini-greenhouses outside in the middle of winter. Winter sowing is an easy, simple, inexpensive way to sow seeds.
I have been doing this now for the last 8 years or so, and it has worked so well for me, that I wanted to share this Winter Sowing tutorial in hopes that it works for you too. Because it is SOOOOO EASY!!!!! Sow those seeds, and then forget about them for a few months! Seriously. That is all.
Scroll down to get my free printable Winter Sowing Schedule!
Related posts you may be interested in:
2018 Winter Sowing Results
How to Grow Lavender from Seed using the Winter Sowing Method
Seed Starting 101: Essential Seed Starting Equipment post
Seed Starting Schedule for Garden Zone 8b
Homesteading Tasks in the Winter
Our Homesteading and Gardening favorites in our Amazon Shop!
Our Garden Harvest Tally Spreadsheet is now available!
Winter Gardening with Winter Sowing
Another reason I love winter sowing, is it allows me to get back into my gardening groove before the weather truly lets me. I don't know about you, but after the holidays are over, I start getting the gardening itch.
Winter sowing allows me to actually begin gardening in the winter, but without really dealing with the nastiness of winter. I plant the seeds indoors, and then just pop them outside and let nature do the rest.
It's also a great STEM project for the kids to do when they get bored over the winter! See 100+ Ideas for Bored Kids on the Homestead for more ideas! Or check out these cute Snowman Wood Bead Ornaments or these cute Gnome Christmas Ornaments to make with the kids this winter!
Frugal Seed Starting with Winter Sowing
Winter Sowing is also a much more frugal way to start seeds. No need to buy all that seed starting equipment such as heat mats, grow lights, plant trays, etc. Just save your used milk jugs or other plastic containers, and then the only thing you need to acquire is the potting soil to grow in, and the seeds! And duct tape to seal the container closed with.
Winter Sowing Containers are Mini Greenhouses
I like to use milk jugs for my winter sowing containers, but any similar type of container will work. First step is to collect your milk jugs or other plastic containers.
To prepare them, first, poke a bunch of holes in the bottom for drainage, and a few holes around the top for extra air circulation. I use a Phillips head screwdriver that I heat up over a gas burner, than just poke it thru the plastic a bunch of times.
Then you cut the milk jug almost all the way around about 4" up from the bottom, but leaving an inch or so intact below the handle, as a hinge, so that you can lift the upper part of the jug open. I use an X-acto knife to do this.
What Types of Containers Can I use for Winter Sowing?
Below is a list of containers that may be suitable for winter sowing. Just be sure that your container is not too shallow. You will need room for the plants to grow with the lid or cover in place.
Milk Jugs: Generally, milk jugs are the recommended ideal container to winter sow your seeds in. If you don't drink milk, ask your friends and family to save them for you, or ask at your local coffee house or espresso stand to save them for you!
However, many other containers will also work if you don't drink milk.
2 liter soda bottles
plastic spinach/greens bins (tape two bottoms together so you get more height for your seedlings to grow in)
rotisserie chicken containers. Really any clear plastic bin/container should work as long as you vent it properly and drain it properly.
Water Jugs: You could also buy gallons of water in similar jugs for fairly cheaply.
Planting Pots with Domes: Or, I recently came across these 6" plastic pots with domes and have seen people using them for winter sowing with success. You may want to add a few holes to the top of the dome or make the one there bigger to allow for the rain to get in.
Clear Plastic Bins Zip-tied together: You could also plant in 4" pots, set the pots in a shallow clear plastic bin, get a second clear plastic bin the same size and flip it over and use it as a cover over the first bin. Drill some holes around the sides of both and zip tie together. Be sure to drill holes into the bottoms of both ins. The bottom bin needs drainage holes, and the top big will need hole in what will not be the top of your winter sowing ensemble, to allow rain in and for air circulation.
Which Soil to Use for Winter Sowing
The most important aspect of the soil you choose to use, is to use a soil that drains well. If the soil stays too wet, the seeds may rot. I usually use the same kind of potting soil I talk about in my Seed Starting Equipment post, which is a moisture control potting soil.
You don't need to use the moisture control, it's just what I usually have on hand. If you are purchasing soil specifically for use in winter sowing, I would not choose the moisture control potting soil unless you live in a very dry climate.
When Should You Start Winter Sowing
The most recommend time to begin winter sowing is after the winter solstice which is December 21. However, being that this is such a busy time for most folks with the holidays, I tend to recommend starting in January. This is when I begin.
See below for more details on my recommended sowing schedule. I have broken things down by types of things to plant and when I plant them down below in further detail.
If you would like to print out my recommended Winter Sowing Schedule which includes more details, see below and sign up to get my free Winter Sowing Schedule / Calendar printable!
How to Plant your Winter Sowing Milk Jugs:
- Fill the bottom part of the jug with 3" of damp potting soil. Moisten the soil before using, by placing some soil in a plastic bin and watering and then mixing the water in well. The soil should hold its shape when squeezed, but not be dripping wet.
- Plant the seeds into the soil as directed on the package for depth of planting. I tend to plant the seeds pretty densely, knowing that I will be dividing up the plants to transplant later in the spring.
- Spray the surface with water so the top 1" or so of soil is quite damp.
- Close the jug and tape the jug closed all the way around.
- You can leave the plastic cap that came with the milk jug on, until the seeds germinate. This will keep the moisture in there, which helps hasten seed germination.
- Once the seeds germinate, remove plastic lid to allow for rain to get in, and the air to circulate out when it gets warm in there.
- Have some duct tape or similar tape on hand, that you will need to seal the two halves of the jug closed.
- Also, stick a label in there also with the name of the seeds you are planning to sow. Don't write on the tape or jug, as the sun will fade it. Ask me how I know!
Where to Place Your Winter Sowing Containers:
Set your Winter Sown containers outdoors in a sunny location that will receive rain. Do not put under an eave which might prevent rain from entering into the open top.
Caring for your Winter Sowing Containers:
Then, just be watchful of really warm weather. If the seeds have germinated and you get an out of the blue HOT day, the plants may bake in there with the lid still on.
So if you are getting some unseasonably warm weather, take the tape off and open up the lids. You may need to water them also.
If it cools back down, tape them closed again. Then just watch.
Once the plants are big enough to be filling the jugs with their greenery, it is time to pop the tops off like I just mentioned. And transplant as soon as you can for what you have grown.
What Seeds Can You Winter Sow?
You can winter sow perennials, annuals, herbs, and vegetables. So basically most anything that you can start from seed. It is the frugal way to start a lot of plants from seed, whether you are planting a new perennial bed, or filling a lot of containers with annuals, or putting in a vegetable or herb garden.
Winter sowing in milk jugs is the way to get a lot of plants for little money. It is a true frugal gardening method! And if you end up with more than you can use, just sell them! Or, grow extra on purpose to sell! Learn how I sell my extra seedlings for tips!
Winter Sowing Flower Seed, Perennials and Annuals
I like to grow my own perennials and annuals using winter sowing. I tend to start out with hardy perennial seeds first, as early as January and through the month of February.
Then I plant annuals and more tender perennials later in March. Winter sowing flowers & perennials is a great inexpensive way to grow your garden. Save your own seeds, or exchange seed with friends or family and grow your own.
I usually start as early as January with lavender, phlox, rudbeckia, and other similar perennials. I will then do winter sow sweet peas a few weeks later. And a few weeks after that, I will winter sow snapdragons, marigolds, nasturtium, lobelia, alyssum and other annuals.
But this is such a super flexible way of growing, if you haven't started in January, go ahead and sow all the things in late Feb or March! Just remember to keep notes, so next year you can refer back and change up how you do things if you need too.
Winter Sowing Vegetables
I like to start my cold season vegetable crops in February. Some cold season veggies I have winter sown with success, are all the brassicas (kale, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc), greens such as chard, spinach and lettuce as well as root veggies and onions. Then by late March they should be ready for transplanting.
See my article Grow More Food with Fall and Winter Crops for more ideas!
You could even try some warm weather vegetables like summer squash, winter squash or pumpkins in April. You could also start your cucumbers and melons in April as well. I have not tried warm season crops like tomatoes and peppers using winter sowing, but I bet it would work also if you follow the guidelines below.
Can You Winter Sow Tomatoes?
You can try to winter sow tomato seed in very late winter or early spring, but this is one crop that I do not winter sow. Tomatoes and peppers and other heat loving vegetables, will not do well in cold winter temperatures. These crops usually need a soil temperature between 70-80 degrees to germinate, and once they do germinate, they do not do well in temperatures lower than 50 degrees.
Winter sowing milk jugs are usually set outside and left alone in the deep winter with freezing temps. If you are still having winter like temperatures, especially at night, the heat will escape the winter sowing containers, and this will negatively effect those heat loving crops. Even during the day, if you are having really cold weather, these milk jugs will not warm up enough for these crops to thrive.
You can try in the spring, but you would want night time temps to be above 50 degrees. And if you get warm daytime temps, you would need to open the containers so that the heat does not cook the seedlings. At this point, it is not really winter sowing anymore, but using milk jugs simply as a seed starting container. See more of my tips on Growing Tomatoes.
Winter Sowing Zone 8
I am in gardening zone 8b, and these are winter sowing methods that have worked well for me here in the PNW. Please let me know if you try this growing method and what you plant when!
If you aren't sure what to plant when, I suggest starting a bit of seed, and then 4 weeks later, start another batch. Keep notes and compare what did well when. Then next year, you will have a better idea of what to plant when. I am anxious to hear how you all do!
Winter Sowing Seed Starting Schedule / Calendar Free Printable!
If you would like to grab my members only Winter Sowing Schedule/Calendar for Garden Zone 8b free printable, just sign up below!
If you are already a subscriber to my newsletter, access it in my Freebie Resource Library! (check one of my emails for the password!)
Winter Sowing Results and More Information
Be sure to check out my Winter Sowing Results article where I share what I have grown using winter sowing!
Also, come and watch my Winter Sowing Tutorial Web Story!
For more information on Winter Sowing: I used to suggest the WinterSown.Org but I see now that it's not working. Don't know if this is a temporary problem or not so I will leave the link. I know there are a couple of big winter sowing groups on Facebook, so you could also try there.
Some of my other popular articles you may be interested in:
How to Use Eggshells in the Garden
Simple Easy No Work Composting (+DIY Compost Bin Tutorial from a trash bin)
How to Store Onions from the Garden Through the Winter
Which Pressure Canner Should You Get?
Want to Remember This?
Please Save "Seed Starting 101: Winter Sowing in Milk Jugs" to your favorite Gardening Board on Pinterest!
Thanks for this great information. Going to try this.
Hi Rebekah! Glad you stopped by! Please let me know if you have any questions. Have a great day!
So happy to find your Pinterest, I’m in augusta ga, also zone 8. Look forward to seeing your posts.
Hi Marie! Happy to have you here!
This takes care of stratification too? I'm planning to grow Columbine from seed and I'm trying to figure out the best way to do it. This looks perfect
Yes, I think it does. With Columbine, I would just sprinkle the seed on top of the soil, spray, and call it good. Hope it works well for you! Thanks for visiting!
Looks like a great idea! Thanks!
Hi Laura, Thanks for stopping by! I hope you try it with lots of success!
What garden zone are you ? I am in Manitoba and wonder which winter month to start these in
Hi Liz, I am in zone 8b. I'm not sure what garden zone Manitoba is in, but I imagine it is a lot colder than here in the Pacific NW. Winter Sowing is very forgiving. I would go ahead and try planting some hardy perennials now, and see how they do. Those are the first things I always plant, and have done them as early as early January. Maybe do half the seed now, and then in a few weeks, try another batch with the rest of the seed just as back up. But I honestly think they will both do fine. Good luck! And let me know how it goes!
I am going to try this with some milkweed seeds that we have. Trying to attract more monarchs to the gardens here. I have seeds in cold stratification right now, so trying this method will give me a second way to try to start these difficult seeds to germinate. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Dave! I sure hope it works for you! Please keep me posted. 🙂
Would yoj be willing to sharz milkweed seeds especially common and hairy balls? I would be more than happy to send you a SASE, plus I may have something you'd like. For instance I have 3 different varieties of butterfly bush(I just don't know how or when to get thee seeds), I have purple wistera, and my New England Asters are about to bloom. I also have passion vine fruit, purple milk thistle, and wow my jerasulam Artichokes lots of Zinnias. I have tithonia as well!
Thanks for sharing this. I tried it last year (even with peppers and tomatoes) with only partial success, but looking back, I think poor starter soil was more to blame. I'll have to try again!
Hi Babychaser! Yes, please try again! It has worked so well for me! Make sure you use a moisture control potting soil, that way it can't dry out to fast. I hope you have much better luck this year! Please let me know how it goes for you!
I should add that the partial success means that they came up but were never strong and healthy. Most didn't survive transplant, but that could have been other issues too. 🙂 Yours are beautiful!
Thank you! 😉
Great idea! I’m also in Manitoba. I’m giving this a shot (just planted March 1’st) with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, rhubarb and evening primrose seeds 🙂
Hi Krysta, thanks for stopping by! I hope you have great results!
I am going to try this next winter I’m in Ohio so not sure when to start my seeds I love free plant seeds I have about 200 plants in my basement right now I grow for donations in the summer. Mostly veggies but now I’m growing some lupine straw and cone flowers so excited to try your way
Hi Laura! Yes! Give it a try! It is so easy! You may want to start things a little bit later than I do as I am in 8b. But take notes on what you plant when, and then the following year you can adjust if you need too! Good luck!
What outside temp should you open the jugs up? So they don't cook inside.
Hello! I usually will lift the lids if it gets into the high 60's, definitely into the 70's or warmer. 🙂
Hi Tamara, I've been reaching about this, this evening and really feel like I'm going to try it this winter. In reading lots of comments, i noticed a few people who said that their experience with winter sowing ended up with leggy, weak plants. Do you think this could happen if the plants aren't transplanted soon enough? I'm in northeast Georgia, Zone 7b, and I am wondering what would be too soon for me to sow seeds. Maybe another reader in my zone could address my question if you're uncertain about my zone.
Hi Lila, I have not experienced leggy week plants using the winter sowing method. The seeds are grown outside, under the light of the sun, much like in natural conditions. Leggy seedlings are usually do to lack of light, so that plants reach out to what little light they have. Perhaps if the winter sowing containers are not in full sun, they may get leggy. That is really the only way I can see this happening. You could check out the website wintersown.org for more tips or to find other winter sowers in your zone. I hope you have as much success growing using this method as I have!
I thought leggy plants usually happened when the plants weren't given breeze or a fan after germinating. Of course, opening the jugs on nice days could help that
Hi Pam, Leggy plants are more often caused by the plant stretching out reaching for light, when there isn't enough. A fan or wind, helps strengthen the stem, but does not solve the legginess issue. Hope that helps!
Hi Pam, Leggy plants generally happen more from plants reaching out to the light when not enough is available. A fan can help strengthen a stem, but does not really help prevent legginess. Hope that helps!
I tried this method last year with very good results. My chamomile was amazing! I wish I'd taken better notes, that's a great idea. I have about 30 jugs ready to plant this year including milkweed and many different brassicas.
Hi Kerry! Glad this worked well for you! I will have to get my hands on chamomile seed and give that a try this year! Thanks for posting!
Tamara, dud you ever get any chamomile seeds? I may have enough left to share with you. I've shared and mailed out a lot so far. Just let me know and I'll see if I can helo. Thank you for everything.
Thank you Anna, but yes, I got some already!
This is a great idea. I'm in Montana, zone 4, so I will have to start a bit later but I want to try it out for sure! I'm excited to see how it turns out! Has anyone else in zone 5 or 4 tried this method?
Hii Jessica! Good luck with your winter sowing efforts! You might find more winter sowers in the website wintersown.org. They have a very active forum there!
Would this work with white milk jugs also? I am wondering because I understand that some sunlight will penetrate the translucent milk jugs, but the milk jugs I use are the solid white kinds.
Hi Mahmud! I believe it will still work. I have used both kinds with success! Happy Growing!
Thanks Tamara. I was wondering this too since most of the milk jugs our family uses are the white ones.
Yes, I have also used the solid white milk jugs with success!
I planned on Winter Sowing this year...2020. I am in Ohio 6B.
It did not snow to any amount this year so my milk jugs never were planted with seed.
I assumed that the snow insulates the soil and provides moisture.
I am really disappointed and really want to do this next winter.
It is April 15. Is it too late to plant Cosmos and Verbena?
Hi Diana, No, you don't need snow to winter sow! It works with snow or no snow! So do try it next year! It is a little late for most winter sowing now, but you can always try the Cosmos and Verbena and see what happens. Just remember if it gets warm out, to move your jug into the shade if they have germinated so not to cook them due to the greenhouse effect.
Dianna, I love verbena, all types. I was curious did you get your cosmos going? I do plant my cosmo seeds in the spring directly outdoors next to something sturdy. Most of them succeed but now I've seen it all because every year a few out of all of them grow up tall, thick and stem out like a tree! You should of seen my face but those also were the ones that looked real weedy, growing out control without any blooms and we pulled more than 1 up and out because we didn't they were cosmos because the other cosmos were already blooming, thinner, shorter and weaker but after I saw that what I thought was a huge weed bloom then we never pulled another up. You must try the sulfur orange cosmos which don't grow up weedy and tall like trees but their scent is amazing although their colr is more if a yellow rather than orange. If you'd like some of my cosmo seeds then let me know.
Seeds will be planted tomorrow...unless hubby has stored the milk jugs!😇💕
Hey! Thanks for all the great tips, Tamara! We are in the PNW as well. We have a simple 6x8 greenhouse that we got back in March and it has been going strong for 7 months now. I emptied it to build some "stadium seating" shelves in order to use the space more efficiently. I was just going to try planting this coming week (it's mid-October) and figured I'd need to get some heating mats. What do you think? If I am vigilant about keeping the soil moist, will this work indoors? Thanks!
Hi Karen, I imagine it would, but you would probably need to supplement light. Our days are so short now that I think not getting enough light is going to prevent seed from starting and if it does, from thriving. The point of Winter Sowing is to be able to do it outdoors without supplemental light or heat, so not sure what advantages trying it in the greenhouse might have. If it were me, I would instead try to get my hands on some winter hardy veggie starts such as kale, chard or other greens and you could pot them up in the greenhouse and they would do well, although they would do just as well outside. Hope that helps!
Hi Tamara - Thanks for the reply! Yeah, I see what you're saying... the milk jugs really create their own greenhouse situation. It's been so mild out so far this fall that we still have lettuce, spinach, cilantro and parsley growing outside, though far slower now with the shorter days. Maybe we'll try both approaches and see how it turns out - I love a good experiment! Thanks for the great idea and clear instructions!
I'd be curious to hear your results! 🙂
I love this idea. I noticed your jugs were sitting on a wood deck. I have a large concrete patio. My question is this - would you set the jugs on the patio or the ground?
Hi Kay! They should be fine on either the patio or the ground for the winter. Once it warms up enough for the patio to retain a great deal of warmth, I would move them off of it or transplant them as they will dry out quickly with the extra heat. Hope that helps!
My jugs are clear not translucent. Do you think they will work or will the sun light be too strong?
Hi Tina, I think they will be fine! I have also used spinach boxes which are clear, and know that other people have used clear soda bottles.
I live in an apartment and would love to try this ,would it work for me ? I would love to teach my grand children all about gardening .
Hi DeAnna! Yes, as long as you have an area outdoors you can set them where the sun and rain can reach them!
Thank you SO much for this information for zone 8b. I also live in this zone but it seems few people have shared their experiences for winter sowing here in our rainy PNW. I'm trying to figure out when to start. Its January 3rd, and I'm eager to try but it's definitely not cold this winter, but very mild. Is it still okay to start soon? I'm wanting to try flowers and vegetables. I saw your list and will be doing research on which flowers and veggies can possibly survive winter sowing.
Yes! You can start in January, I tend to stick to hardy perennials this month. To be safe, sow some seed now, and then sow another batch in 4 weeks. Take notes on which did better for you, and do that next year! I am a HUGE proponent of taking notes in my garden journal, for reference next time! Happy sowing!
I am thrilled to find this website. I am also a Zone 8 gardener, 8 a to be specific (DFW). Thank you for this picture tutorial. When to start squash seeds. Thanks.
Hi Lakshmi, Squash is a warm season crop, and I would not really advise you to start it any time soon, as it won't thrive with cold night time temps. For squash, I would wait until the second half of April. By then the night won't be so cold, and the milk jugs with the tops left on, will provide enough coverage to keep them warm enough at night. However, in doing this, I would still keep my eye on the weather, and if we were to get a big freeze, they would need to be brought in at night to keep them safe as they do not like temps lower than 50 degrees. Hope this helps!
Thank you for your time. I appreciate it. I have started initially with cauliflower, spinach and cabbage.
Do you think this would work in zone 5b? Winter can be quite harsh here.
Hi Howard, Yes! It can definitely work in zone 5b, however, I would not use my planting time suggestions for that cold an area. I would bump everything out by at least a month, so hardy perennials try the 2nd half of Feb and into March and then April would be tender perennials, annuals and cold season crops such as brassicas, greens, root crops. Keep good notes and refer back to them next year. And to be on the safe side, sow 2 batches of everything 4 weeks apart and see what works better for you!
So, do you start all of the seeds at one time? Or just the winter ones in Feb. and then the spring ones in March? And so on.
Hi Megan, if you scroll down in my article, I cover what I plant when, here in zone 8b. I have a section on Winter Sowing Flowers and another on Winter Sowing Vegetables. I hope that helps! Happy sowing!
Yay! I'm in the same planting zone so this information is gold. We tried our first garden last spring with a miniscule amount of success (I'm not native to Central Texas and had a lot to learn!). I also just realized it's already time for germination but with that snow last weekend, I kinda forgot it's time to get going on the garden. Looking forward to trying again, especially with the much needed outside vs inside tomato/broccoli/cabbage start this year. 😀 Thank you for providing this information.
Hi Jennifer, glad you found this info helpful! I am in zone 8b, but live up near Seattle, no snow here yet! But they say maybe next week. Perfect for winter sowing!
Hope you get your snow! It was quite unusual for the amount we received but thankfully my 4 year old got his wish to build a snowman and have a snowball fight! I was also surprised to read we could be in the same zone being on two sides of the country, that's so interesting to know that happens... definitely a reminder I have so much to learn. I'll be starting at the garden this weekend depending on weather. The last freeze date is quickly approaching! Best wishes for your winter planting this season, look forward to reading more posts 😀
Hi I first off want to say I appreciate you sharing your experience, information, and pictures. It is extremely helpful. I am currently building a house with my husband, and we have a ton of newly excavated land around the house, and I am planning on filling it with flowers. The soil is cleared from any brush or weeds, its just dirt, maybe a bit of raking pf leaves needs to be done, but for the most part, the soil is already ready for flowers. I have lots of clay loam soil on my land, and I have already planted a wildflower mixture and covered it with some straw. (hoping for wildflower meadow) I've also done the same with oriental poppy seeds, and echinacea. Hoping that by sowing them in the winter, and lightly covering with straw, to protect from the birds, that I will get blooms THIS year. In areas where the soil seems really clay compacted, I dug decent sized holes and filled with potting soil and then sowed seeds onto that, in case the plants needed better draining soil. Do you think that will work? I have more seeds of Oriental Poppys, Lavender, Rudbeckias, Echinacea, and Shasta daisies. Planning on using the winter sowing method for them here in SE Ohio, its Jan, 19 2020 and I am itching to sow them, however should I wait a little while until I do so? Also, I guess i am not clear on whether to leave the caps on or off, could I just leave the cap off completely the whole time?
Hi Anna, How exciting building a house! We built ours as well over 20 yrs ago, and are thinking about building our retirement home too in the next several years. Fun Fun! OK, sprinkling seed right onto the bare earth could still possibly result in some plants, if the conditions are ideal, and no little critters like slugs or snail come along and eat the newly germinated tender plants. By starting the seed in a more controlled, safe environment, you are likely to have a better outcome, and then you can transplant those seedlings when the plants are big enough for a more successful outcome. I would definitely try winter sowing the seeds as well, so that you have more control over them and it's easier to keep watch over them. Not sure what zone you are in, but yes, definitely try the winter sowing. I would probably wait another month or so, guessing you are in a colder climate than I am here in 8b. To be safe, sow a bit of each seed at the end of Feb, and then do so again 4 wks later. Take notes! Whatever worked best this year, you will have notes to refer back to next year. As far as the caps go, you can leave them on during the germination period if you are in a dry climate, it will help keep things inside the winter sowing jugs moist, which is better for germination. Where I live, it is damp enough here where that isn't necessary, and in fact, could cause the seeds to rot due to excess moisture. But once the seeds have germinated and you see signs of that inside the jug, you can remove the caps to allow for better airflow for the seedlings and to prevent them from getting too warm and getting burnt on warm days. Hope that helps!
Yes!! That helps so much!! Thank you so so much!! I’m so grateful! I may have other questions on the future!
Do the milk jugs need to be translucent? Mine are opaque, so I'm wondering if it will let in enough light.
Hi Erin, I have used the more opaque jugs with no problem, they should work fine!
I live in the inland Northwest. This is my first year trying the milk jug greenhouses, and I am having so much fun. Thank you for sharing your insight. I am wondering how long it takes for seeds to emerge. I planted lavender and rudbeckia in January, and now I feel like Toad in Frog and Toad waiting for the seeds to sprout. 😉 I just want to make sure I'm doing it right. I was excited to see all the veggies you start in February. That will be my next foray along with some annuals. Thanks again!
Hi Mary, thanks for stopping by! Seeds can take awhile to germinate, especially with this cold spell we have just gone through. Hang in there!
I happened upon this TODAY February 13, 2021. You have me wanting to finish off that gallon of milk and start some tomato seeds and jalapenos. I know that isn't really winter sowing but I am pretty sure this would work great for zone 8a almost b seed starting too! My desire for pepper sauce for my turnips is overwhelming since we moved and I have to start my garden all over again. My poor fruit trees an bushes are too big to move so it will be to start all over again on my orchard too. Thank you so much for this. My heart was breaking but you have given me hope for at least a start on fresh tomatoes again!
Hi Paula! Good luck with your gardening efforts this year!
This is my first year at trying winter sowing in zone 6a I believe. I started some Strawberry seeds in Jan and just this weekend started Shasta Daisy, African Daisy and Yarrow. Our Jan was warmer than it is now but I havent seen any activity with the strawberries. I'm still holding onto hope. I love the idea of this method and have my fingers crossed I have some success. Do you have any suggestions on when I might want to start my heat loving plants like tomatoes and peppers. This is only my 3rd year of gardening at all and I really appreciate finding resources like this to help this beginner along.
Hi Amy, I actually don't use this method for starting warm season crops, because we have such a short cool growing season here in the PNW. I start my heat loving tomato and peppers indoors, peppers in February and tomatoes in March, to be sure they have a warm head start to help elongate their growing season. I have heard of others starting them with this method, and if I were to do so, I would probably start them around April 1st here in garden zone 8b. But in doing so, you would still need to watch for freezing temps. Tomatoes and peppers don't like temps below 50, especially if they are tender young seedlings, so you would have to be sure to bring them inside when the outside temps get really cold, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of Winter Sowing, which is set it outside and forget about it! If you give it a try, I would encourage you to take lots of notes so you can refer back to them as you perfect your method. I hope that helps!
I'm in Ohio. Just planted all kinds of stuff, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, herbs, lavender and couple flowers. BUT, just realized I completely forgot to put drainage holes in the jugs!!!! Suggestions??? I'm afraid I may shift the dirt too much by lifting and trying to put holes in!! Need ideas how to fix!!
Hi Belenda! Oh boy! The drainage holes are definitely a must have, so you will have to figure out a way to get them in there. You could have someone hold each container and then use a screwdriver tip that has been heated up, to pierce the bottom a couple times. That's probably your best bet! Hope that works!
Are there certain brands of seeds that are better than others? It's the beginning of March and I'm in Zone 6a so I hope I'm not too late!
Hi Kathleen, Seeds are a personal choice, I prefer to go with non-gmo organic seeds. My favorite place to buy seeds is Baker Creek at rareseeds.com, I also like High Mowing Seed and Territorial Seed. You should be fine in 6a, but take notes of what you planted when, so you can refer back and know what did well and what didn't, so you can adjust your planting time next year if need be. Hope that helps!
I realize I'm arriving late to the party! I just discovered this idea of winter sowing. I don't have gallon milk jugs. You mentioned using spinach boxes. Are those the plastic (clam shells) that the pre-washed lettuce, kale, spinach, etc come in at the grocery store? Any other suggestions for containers? I'd like to try this method with zinnia seeds. I live in southern NJ (zone 7a). Thanks for your assistance.
Yes! Those plastic clam shells or anything plastic with a lid that you can poke holes in should work. I have seen people use everything from zip lock baggies to plastic water bottles or 2 liter soda bottles, rotisserie chicken containers, the list goes on and on!!! Zinnia seeds will work great! Have fun!
Thank you for all this info on winter sowing. I did this last year for the first time. I had mixed results. But am doing it again this year as it's fun and SO easy 🙂 We had a really mild warm winter last year and I did have to water the jugs. I live in NZ and I think my zone may be about a 9.
Hello, I am so glad that I found your blog. I have a question or 2, but - First, I live in West Tennessee, zone 7. I want to try & winter sow as much as I can this year(2021). I was told by others that winter sow that I need to sow everything at the same time for winter solstice. I believe it's December the 31st this year. Is this correct or no? Also can you take seeds. from hibiscus and such and winter sow? 1 last thing(sorry to be a pest), when it's yime to transplant them in the spring... are there any specific instructions... for example I was told to just tear the dirt apart into sections then place each section where I want it to grow... is that true or false? If anyone wants to get rid if milkweed seeds especially common milkweed then please contact me and thank you. I'm glad you told me that about hostas but it's got me to thinking if that would work with the seeds from the bloom stalks of gladiolus and Holly hocks? I hope you still see this because it's like 2021 now. Blessings and thank you.
Hi Anna, No, I don't sow everything at the same time, but I am in a very wet and mild climate. My seeds might rot if I did that due to all the rain we get here in the PNW. You may need to put your seeds in the freezer prior to planting, as some seeds need this to germinate. This is taken from Wikipedia: "In horticulture, stratification is a process of treating seeds to simulate natural conditions that the seeds must experience before germination can occur. Many seed species have an embryonic dormancy phase, and generally will not sprout until this dormancy is broken." Hibiscus is a tropical plant, so I am not sure if winter sowing those seeds would work, since they don't have a real winter in the tropics. But yes, you can take seeds that do grow from your area and winter sow them if they are plants that grow well in your area and you have a winter season. Yes, when transplanting in the spring, exactly that! Be sure to harden them off properly with the lid open and moving slowly into direct sunlight. (https://thereidhomestead.com/how-to-harden-off-your-seedlings/) Then dump them out of the containers, break apart the dirt to separate each plant and ideally plant them out when it is overcast for a few days so they can settle in before being roasted by hot direct sun. Hope that helps!.
I live in 5B Southern Colorado It can get to-20 in January. When do you think would be a good time to plant and put these outside?
Hi Kent, I would bump everything out a few weeks at least, from one I do here in zone 8b. You could also check out the forums at wintersown.org to find others in your own growing climate to see what has worked for them. Whatever you choose to do, make copious notes, so you can refer back the next year and see what worked well and what didn't, so you can adjust your timing. Hope that helps!
Hey there! I read this a few years ago and have been winter sowing ever since. I am in a zone 5 area and I start my seeds a few weeks later than yours. I have previously tried them earlier, but get more consistent results if I am patient. The only seeds I have ever struggled to start are celery but that may have been a user error. Happy gardening!
Would a 5 gallon water jug work since we don't drink milk?
Hi Maureen, yes that should work! Any clear plastic container works well!
What a fascinating article you wrote about winter sowing in jugs.
I would have never known to try this but I have a question.
I did not realize you were located in zone 8b.
I am in zone 7b.
Should I download this planting schedule since we will definitely be dealing with different temperatures and start times.
Hi Susan! I already replied to this in an email, but thought I would post here as well as it may help other folks. Since you are in a slightly colder area than me, go ahead and use my time line as a base outline, but you may want to move things out a bit further by a few weeks. I always suggest to folks to keep notes. Write down what you started and when, and then follow up with how it did. If it did well, repeat the same next year. If it did not, next year start it a bit later, take notes again, and see if that works. Always keep notes and refer back to them! There are quite a few winter sowing groups on facebook also, so you can look for others in your area in them and see what worked well for them and compare notes. Hope that helps!
Thank you, Sorry I didn't see this answer until almost a year later. Oops!
I am real anxious to try this planting seeds in jugs. Thank you for sharing. I live in Zone 7 . You mentioned putting the jugs outside after planting. We get some cold nights here.
Hi Merilee, Don't stress about the cold nights! The way winter sowing works, is to simulate a natural seed starting process. If the seeds were to start on their own, in nature, they would also be subjected to cold nights. They will germinate when nature says that it is time too. The only time I would be concerned, is if you started heat loving crops like tomatoes or peppers, and they actually germinated due to a warm spell and then you get a freeze. If you have those type of seedlings growing, and you should get a harsh freeze, then yes, you may want to bring them in until it warms back up again. Hope that helps!
My question is - how do you store all of these milk jugs during the summer/autumn while building up the supply? This is something that I want to do, but I need to have a practical way of storing the milk jugs - simply can't think of a way to organize their storage
Hi Kimberley, It is hard to store the milk jugs, this is true, since they don't stack well. I usually just store them somewhere out of the way like in the garage or on our screen porch. You could also look at using Rubbermaid type clear plastic bins, as they do stack much easier. It would be a bit more of an investment, but you could use them again and again. I find the milk jugs only really last one season, maybe two, before they begin breaking down. Maybe one of my readers might offer a better storage suggestion? Sorry I couldn't be more help!
will nut tree seeds work with this program? Like persimmon seeds?
Hi Jerry, that is a very good question. I have not tried any nuts or persimmon seeds ever. If you have seed to spare, I don't see why it wouldn't work and I would try it! Would love to know how it works out!
Hello, where would I find information on this for zone 3?
Hi Kay, I am not sure where you would find similar info for zone 3, but I would try some of the winter sowing facebook groups. But the outline should be the same really, just start things a little bit later since you are in a colder climate. Take notes on what you start when, and how it ends up doing. If it didn't do as well as you had hoped, adjust slightly, maybe wait another week or two next year. Hope that helps!
I'm considering winter sowing for the first time and this was so clear and helpful. I'm afraid I'm already too late (Central TX, zone 8B) but I will try to have this in my mind as we head into fall so that I can be ready to seed start on the winter solstice. Thank you!
Hi Morgan, You are welcome!
Maya M Williams
When do you open your jugs in the Spring?
Hi Maya, it kind of depends on what you are growing in them. If they are cold hardy or hardy perennials, once they are up 2" or so. If they are tender or heat loving crops, you may need to open during the day when they get big enough, but close up at night if you are having temps near freezing. Always look at the long range forecast for the next 10 days or so before removing the lids permanently on anything tender or heat loving, as these types of plants don't like temps below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Hope that helps!