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Winter Seed Sowing

There are many ways to start seeds. You can start them in a sunny window, under lights, in a heated greenhouse...or winter!! Yes you can!

Winter sowing is the easiest and the least labor intensive way to start seeds. It is the best way to start perennials (plants that come back year after year) and hardy annuals that need cold to germinate. (See a list of plants at the end of this article.)

All you need are some clear or white translucent plastic jugs, like milk jugs, 2 ltr. soft drink

bottles or gallon water jugs, potting soil, seeds, duct tape or painter's tape, plastic plant markers (white plastic knives work great in a pinch), and a water proof marker. I like to use paint pens, because they don’t fade in the sun.

Drill or burn holes in the bottom of your container for drainage.

Mark your milk jug almost all the way around right below the handle on a milk jug, or about 4” up from the bottom of any other container. Carefully cut along the line with a box cutter or scissors. Leave an inch or so for a hinge.

Fill your jugs with potting soil. Water thoroughly. Plant your seeds according to the instructions on the seed packet. Do not over crowd your seeds. Spray with water again on top to make sure your seeds are moist.

Put a marker inside the container for extra insurance in case the marking on the outside is lost to the elements. Tape the container closed. Be sure to label the outside.

Make sure the lid is removed! Snow and rain will enter though the top to water, but you should check them about once a week to make sure they aren’t drying out. If they do, use a spray bottle and spray the inside until moist. Don’t use a hose or watering can, because you will dislodge your seeds.

Your seeds will sprout at the optimal time for that particular plant and will be ready to plant out in the garden by March or April, already hardened off to the extreme temperature changes. You will have flowers a full one or two months earlier than seeds started in the ground or in the house. And with practically no work!

Here are some hardy annuals that you can try:

Queen Ann’s Lace

Bachelor Buttons

Morning Glories


Sweet Peas






A collection of hardy plants that can be winter sown.

You can start tender annuals, like Zinnias and Sunflowers in the same way, only much later in the season, in March or April. But you must cover them at night and during freezing weather. Don’t plant them out in the garden until the danger of frost is passed.

This method will also work with most perennials that are hardy to your growing zone, but they probably won’t bloom until the following year.

By he time your baby plants are ready to transplant into the garden, they should have pretty substantial root systems and they will probably be tangled together. Don’t worry too much about gently prying the roots apart with your fingers or cutting them apart with a knife. These will be tough little plants and will recover quickly.

So have fun! Get the kids involved, too. Let them help you plant. They will love the anticipation and peaking down the hole in the top of the jugs to see what has sprouted! And so will you!

~Lee Ann~

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