How to Easily Start Seeds Outdoors in Winter Using the Winter Sowing Method

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Winter Sowing-learn how to plant seeds in the dead of winter! An easy way to grow your garden. Plant the seed and then forget about it until spring! Part of my Seed Starting 101 Series on The Reid Homestead Winter Sowing An easy method to sow your seeds in winter, using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid HomesteadWinter Sowing An easy method to sow your seeds in winter, using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid HomesteadWinter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid HomesteadWinter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as mini greenhouses. Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead #wintersowing #wintergardening #seedstarting #gardening
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What is Winter Sowing?

Winter Sowing is using plastic milk jugs or other plastic containers, and using them as mini-greenhouses outside in the middle of winter, to sow your seeds. I first read about Winter Sowing, here on Kevin Jacob’s blog.  I have been doing this now for the last 5 years or so, and it has worked so well for me, that I wanted to share the idea in hopes that it works for you too. Because it is SOOOOO EASY!!!!! Sow those seeds, and then forget about them for a few month! Seriously. That is all. To see how I also start seeds the traditional way, using all sorts of equipment indoors, please see my Essential Seed Starting Equipment post.

Winter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead
Seedlings that were planted via the winter sowing method, ready to be transplanted.

Winter Sowing Containers or Mini Greenhouses for Winter Sowing:

I like to use milk jugs for my winter sowing 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 opposite from 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.

Winter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead
Poke drainage holes in the bottom using a hot screwdriver tip warmed over a flame.
Winter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead
Cut the milk jug all around about 4″ from the bottom, leaving about an 1″ intact beneath the handle to act as a hinge for the lid.

How to Plant your Winter Sowing Jugs:

Fill the bottom part of the jug with 3″ of damp potting soil. I use the same kind of potting soil I talk about in my Seed Starting Equipment post.  Have some duct tape or similar tape on hand, that you will need to seal the lids closed. Also, stick a label in there also with the name of the seeds you are planning to sow. 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 with water so the top 1″ or so of soil is damp. Close the jug. Tape the jug closed all the way around. Make sure the original plastic lid that came with the container has been removed to allow for rain to get in, and the air to circulate out when it gets warm in there.

Winter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead
Fill the bottom with about 3″ of potting soil and plant seeds as directed on the packet, but you may plant closer together as you will be transplanting them as soon as they are large enough and the weather warms.

Caring for your Winter Sowing Containers:

Set your Winter Sowing 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. 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.

Winter Sowing plant your seeds in winter in milk jugs that act as mini greenhouses plant and forget! Seed Sowing 101 Series The Reid Homestead
This Winter Sowing jug has been prepared and planted, and is all set to be set outside.

Winter Sowing Flower Seed

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. 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.

Winter Sowing Vegetables

I like to start my cold season vegetable crops in February. Then by late March they should be ready for transplanting. 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.

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! I am anxious to hear how you all do!

Winter Sowing tutorial Sow your seeds in winter using milk jugs as min greenhouses Seed Starting 101 Series The Reid Homestead
Plant a lot! These are practically like FREE when you plant your own! Who doesn’t like cheap/free plants???

 

 

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Tamara


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16 COMMENTS

  1. Rebekah | 22nd Feb 18

    Thanks for this great information. Going to try this.

    • Tamara | 22nd Feb 18

      Hi Rebekah! Glad you stopped by! Please let me know if you have any questions. Have a great day!

  2. Alecia | 23rd Feb 18

    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

    • Tamara | 23rd Feb 18

      Hi Alecia,
      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!

  3. Laura | 26th Feb 18

    Looks like a great idea! Thanks!

    • Tamara | 26th Feb 18

      Hi Laura, Thanks for stopping by! I hope you try it with lots of success!

  4. Liz | 26th Feb 18

    What garden zone are you ? I am in Manitoba and wonder which winter month to start these in

    • Tamara | 26th Feb 18

      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!

  5. Dave | 27th Feb 18

    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!

    • Tamara | 27th Feb 18

      Hi Dave! I sure hope it works for you! Please keep me posted. 🙂

  6. Babychaser | 27th Feb 18

    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!

    Blessings,
    Babychaser
    mamasbrush.wordpress.com

    • Tamara | 27th Feb 18

      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!

  7. Babychaser | 27th Feb 18

    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!

    • Tamara | 27th Feb 18

      Thank you! 😉

  8. Krysta | 6th Mar 18

    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 🙂

    • Tamara | 6th Mar 18

      Hi Krysta, thanks for stopping by! I hope you have great results!

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