12+ Beginner Winter Sowing Tips/Lessons | Gardening

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winter sowing jugsBeginners Guide to Winter Sowing

Last year was our first year to winter sowing.  We went in with no expectations, and I had big goals, and we failed miserably.  This year, I’m taking a step back and being realistic on what we can do.  I’m sharing my tips for beginner winter sowing.  If you have not winter sowed, you’ll want to read this and learn from our mistakes.

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numbered milk jugs

What is Winter Sowing?

Winter Sowing is when you start your seeds in containers, above ground in the cold winter months, to produce hardier plants.  You get ahead start growing your garden, before Spring comes.  Seeds are placed in containers with dirt and water, some drainage and you can then place them outside in the snow.  The seeds will go through stratification (getting cold/freezing) and then be ready to start growing as the temperatures warm up.  Once the temps warm, the seeds will sprout.  You can then transfer the plants into the ground so they can grow.

tied milk jug

Tips for Winter Sowing

  1. Decide what seeds you want to sow & how many – Research if your plants can be winter sown.  Most that don’t will say they have to be planted in the ground. Depending on your availability to monitor the seeds, you may want to do fewer jugs.  If you have more time, do more. We failed doing 12, while managing jobs, kids and renovations.
  2. What containers to use – we use milk jugs.  You can use juice containers, something that is opaque.  You want the top to be opaque or clear.  I have seen some people use food containers from take out that are black on the bottom and clear on the top.  We prefer milk jugs for the fact it has a handle, I can secure it to the crate so it doesn’t fly away or get removed. I collect milk jugs as we use them up and wash them out.  Your recycling center may allow you to remove them, or ask local businesses to collect for you.
  3. Put drain holes in, but not too many – put 4-5 drain holes in your jug.  If you put too many, you’ll drain out the water/moisture.  You want some, but not too many.  I put in 10 and things just dried out too quickly.  IF you put too many in, you can put a coffee filter in the bottom of your jug, BEFORE you put the dirt in.  If you already have things planted, water that one often if you notice it’s dry.
  4. Get the right soil – Use soil, but, not the kind you use for indoor plants. We use a gardening soil blend.  It’s also what we use in our raised beds as well.  Avoid something that has a lot of twigs in it, you don’t want mulch.
  5. Identify the plants – Have several ways to identify your plants.  We used permanent markers, that faded in the sun.  Avoid color markers (black will fade even).  We have marked the jugs on the top, side and bottom with the seeds inside.  I’ve wrote it on the milk label too.  We’ve also numbered the jugs to cross reference on paper not in the sun.
  6. Have a back up plan to identify the plants – Besides the number of the jugs and naming them, we also placed stakes/popsicle sticks inside the jugs in case those options fail.
  7. Cut the container – When using milk jugs, I read a lot of people cutting the milk jugs in half and then closing them up with duct tape.  This works great, unless your tape doesn’t hold and the jug goes flying around the yard.  We cut the jugs this year, up to and around the milk sticker.  So that area keeps both pieces connected.
  8. Secure the containers form the wind – We put the jugs out in a south facing area in the snow to get sun.  They did and then the wind came and blew them away or animals took off with them.  So we put them in a milk crate to keep them from flying away.
  9. Secure with string/rope – We have put string around the milk jugs handle (why I like milk jugs), and tied them to the crate.  The handles are facing the corners as well.  The string is cut about 2 feet, so that we can move the jug in and out if needed.
  10. Containers in the snow – Once the containers are loaded with the dirt, seeds and watered, add them into the crate and place into a nice snowy area.  Make sure the milk jug screw caps are off.
  11. Monitor/water plants – if you are getting times of warm weather, no rain or snow, you may want to water your plants (carefully).  If you notice condensation in your containers, they are doing great.  This is where we failed with our winter sowing.  We did not water enough.  If you don’t put a lot of dirt in your container, this will require frequent watering.
  12. Plant the plants when it warms up – Check the weather and make sure that the weather is not going to get cold (killing plants cold), and if it’s not, plant your plants.  We waited to long, didn’t plant/water the plants and some died.
  13. Invasive plants go in containers – if you are planting an invasive plant (like peppermint/catnip), put them in a container.  Invasive plants like this will spread.
  14. Keep bee loving plants away from entries – Keep high traffic areas free from plants that bees like (catnip).  They will be drawn to that area and could possibly get into your house.

Thinking of winter sowing? We've got over 12 tips and lessons learned from our experience gardening in the winter.

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