How To Winter Sow Seed Outdoors

Have you ever noticed how plants from seeds that come up voluntarily in the garden and flower beds seem to be more vigorous than transplanted plants? Seeds fall in late Summer or in Fall, endure Winter without any human assistance, and reemerge the following Spring or Summer. You can winter sow seeds on purpose and get the same effect. I didn't invent the concept of sowing in the Winter for flowers the following Spring. A lady named Trudy created system and organization that's cheap and simple. And it works. (see credits at the end of this article.)

Here are things you'll need to get started with winter sowing:

* Containers * Markers * Box cutter * Ice pick or soldering iron * Duct tape * Clear packing tape * Seeds * Saran wrap * Potting soil * Notebook

Milk jugs, ½ gallon or gallon size, soda pop bottles, & margarine tubs are some of the containers I like to use. Soak the containers in a 1:10 Clorox solution and allow to air dry.

Mark one line 4" from the bottom of the container and another line 3" from the bottom.

After warming the box cutter's blade, slice along the 4"-from-the-bottom line, but don't cut the container in two; instead, leave untouched about 2" to create a kind of hinge.

Using a soldering iron or ice pick (or whatever you prefer), poke drainage holes in the bottom of the container. For milk jugs, poke 5 holes. Not as large as the holes on plastic plant pot. If you’re using plastic containers with lids, make some holes in the lid, too.

Write the name of the seeds you're about to sow on the duct tape and place the duct tape label on the bottom half of the container, a few inches beneath the severed part. Some people prefer using a numbering system, such as 3J -- rather than using the plant's name.

Fill a large, very cheap, mixing bowl with potting soil then wet the soil completely. Fill the container up to the 3" line and (finally!) sprinkle the seeds. Tamp lightly to ensure there is good soil-to-seed contact, close the top to the bottom of the container, and seal with clear packing tape, and the containers are ready for the outdoors. Choose a full sun location where runoff from the roof won't drown the seeds. If the location becomes windy or is likely to be nudged by curious animals, you'll want to prop your containers so they don't fall over.

You can cut off the bottom of the container and plant directly in the garden as well. I like milk jugs because they are not completely clear and do not get as hot in direct sunlight. Just bury the jug about 3 inches in the soil. Leaving the soil line a little below the soil surface also can help prevent frost bite.You can take off the cap when the weather is too warm and replace it when cold weather arrives. You also get protection from cutworms this way also.

Sometimes, as you are placing finished containers on the tray you use to carry the containers outdoors, condensation inside the containers begins, but usually the condensation forms soon after the containers are put outdoors. It is critical that you see condensation inside the containers because that means there's sufficient moisture for the seeds. Usually, containers won't need supplemental water until the temperatures begin to warm. When condensation stops showing, tilt the container on the side very gently and let water trickle slowly down, being careful not to dislodge the seeds or place the containers on a shallow tray filled with water and let the containers soak up the water. Even in Zone 8 garden, condensation forms best when the containers are placed in full sun, although you can move the slow-to-germinate containers to a shadier spot when temperatures warm up.

There’s no need to pot seedlings up to larger pots: the seedlings can be planted directly in the ground. Trudi calls it the "hunk o'seedlings" method: grab a piece and plant. No pricking out and no acclimating the seedlings to the outdoors since they've been growing outdoors all winter. Of course, for larger seedlings, you'll be able to break off individual seedlings, but the hunk-o' works. Winter sown seedlings are very sturdy little guys!

Why is Saran wrap on the list? If you use margarine containers, for instance, you'll want to cover them with Saran wrap, but be sure to poke a few holes on the top. It may be necessary to place hoops made from hangers to create a structure for the Saran wrap so that it doesn’t touch the tops of the seedlings.

Using a notebook will help you know which seeds you've winter sowed and when. I also like to note when I see germination, when I've planted the seedlings, and when flowers first appear. But of course all that is optional.

Okay, which seeds can you winter sow? Hardy annuals, perennials, biennials, shrubs, and trees. If an annual reseeds in your area, then it's hardy for you. Trudi's list of hardy annuals in the FAQ's is so helpful.

Please visit WinterSown.Org, the originating source for accurate Winter Sowing information.

Click Here To Go To Kwik Seed Store