Winter sowing, giving it a go

z4herblady(4)January 27, 2008

I'm aware there is a forum for this subject but would appreciate local know-how.

What have you sowed to date? Is is possible to do annuals? When?

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I know the forum is here too, and I for one, just don't get how this can work in our zone. Most seed needs to be sown AFTER last spring frost. There is a class on Tuesday evening sponsored by MN State Horticultural from 6:30-8:30p.m. 1755 N. Prior Ave. Falcon Heights,651-643-3601, ext.211. I saw it in the Sunday paper, I'm thinking of going.
I talked to a garden person at Lowes, she was in the Master Garden program, and she also didn't know about this winter sowing.
It's of interest to me for sure.Hope this helps some.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 7:03AM
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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

I saw the info about the class too, but it gets to be a long drive for me so I won't be going. If you go, please get back to us with your impressions. I haven't tried it yet, but I'm going to be giving it a try. I'm going to start with a few hosta seeds and some reseeding annuals. After all, if some of those plants can germinate here in spite of our winters and birds and critters eating the seeds, they should do even better in the protected environment of a mini greenhouse. From what I've read seeds that need cold stratification should do especially well with this method.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 9:39AM
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I'm more of a zone 3 than 4, and used the winter sowing last year, on a very limited scale, as I wasn't sure it would work. I had great luck with hollihocks, getting germination from some five year old seed that had never done anything with conventional indoor seeding. Phlox also did well, as well as rudbeckia. My planting was sort of a hit and miss affair, as I was sure it wouldn't work. Now I'm very impressed with it. After I had put the little jugs and bottles out last year, we had a huge snow and it got very cold, but nothing disturbed the things I had sowed.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 11:32AM
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Ok, guys... I am pumped! I signed myself and a girlfriend of mine both up for this class after hearing about it here in this forum about a month ago. (Thanks Lynn!) I have been waiting now paitently for this class and am very excited to hear what they have to say.
I will post again afterward if anyone is interested in hearing about what we learned or my impressions after the class. I have spent some time over the past month on the WS forum, and people seem to say that it works here in this climate just fine.

Feel free to email me if you would like more info after the class. (It is tomorrow night from 6:30-8:00pm)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 3:26PM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

It does work in our zone and I believe it would work in any zone. When you winter sow, you sow your seeds in containers. They sit there until the weather warms up, whether that is 2 weeks, 2 months, or more. The containter acts as a mini-greenhouse. The seeds don't sprout until the weather is right. Think about it. How did plants grow before we started harvesting the seeds and waiting until last frost or whenever? They winter sowed themselves, that's how. And they didn't have the benefit of the mini-greenhouse that we are providing them. After they sprouted, some froze, others survived. By wintersowing in containters, we are giving more plants the chance to survive. Go to the winter sowing forum and read the FAQ there. It's amazing, but it works. I haven't done nearly so much winter sowing as some of the folks here on the MN forum, but I have successfully winter sown a number of plants, both perennials and annuals. Both flowers and veggies.

Here is my list (including the date sown) from 2005:

Feb 12, 05
Virginia Bluebells
Butterfly Mix
Hummingbird Mix
Dianthus 'Rainbow Loveliness' Pink
Blue Balloon Flower
Joe Pye Weed
Yarrow Lavender
Garden Phlox
Siberian Iris Purple
Milkweed 'White Swamp'
Candy Lily
Hosta - 'Love Pat'
Gay Feather
Clematis 'Sweet Autumn' White
Petunia - Wave
Bachelor's Button
Mallow White
Sedum 'Frosty Morn'
Cleome Pink

Feb 27th 05
Blue Fescue, Select - Grass x 2
Pony Tails, Mexican Feather - Grass
Feathertop - Grass
Basil, Lemon - Ocimum basilicum citriodorum - Annual
Dill, Mammoth - Anethum graveolens - Annual
Spearmint Mentha spicata - Perennial
Sage, Common - Salvia officinalis - Perennial
Parsley, Single Italian Plain-Leafed
True Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia - Perennial
Mesclun - Sweet Salad Mix - Lettuce
Sedum - Frosty Morn

That same year, I only kept track of emergence dates through mid to late April, but here's what I had at that point. Nothing froze. Not one plant.

Winter sowed seedlings emerged.....

by April 2, 2005
Bachelor's Buttons

by April 3, 2005
Some butterfly mix
Some hummingbird mix

by April 23, 2005
Virginia Bluebells
Blue Balloon Flowers
Joe Pye Weed - 1 :-)
Yarrow lavender - a little
Milkweed White Swamp - at least a week ago
Gay Feather - 1
Clematis Sweet Autumn White
Blue Fescue - at least a week ago
Lettuce Mesclun mix

Not emerged by Apr 23
Sedum Frosty Morn
Basil, Lemon
Grass - Pony Tail
Sedum Frosty Morn
Mallow White
Petunia Wave
Hosta Love Pat
Candy Lily
Siberian Iris purple
Garden Phlox

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 7:22PM
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dirt_yfingernails(z3-4 MN)

Ditto what jel said. I used winter sowing several years at my old place until I moved 2 1/2 years ago. From hundreds of trades on Gardenweb's seed exchange, I was able to fill my yard with indescribable varieties of trees, bushes, flowers, etc. from wintersowing. The only things I found that didn't do well for me were the warm weather plants such as tomatoes and peppers, although I used an old vehicle before I had it hauled off and "winter sowed" those crops successfully in it. If you had an unheated greenhouse or cold frame you might try that.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 10:33AM
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dirt_yfingernails(z3-4 MN)

And some seeds actually require chilling to germinate. I've had seeds germinate that next spring that were supposed to take several warm-cold cycles to germinate. Some annuals and perennials just need that chilling time.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 10:36AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

I have been ws for several years. Love it. Annuals will ws well. They tend to bloom later in the year. If I want early bloom I either sow inside or buy starter plants. Different people have different results with certain seeds. I always ws impatiens and am pleased with the results. Others will not sow impatiens.

I start ws hardy perennials anytime after December though most are started in February because that fits my schedule best. Other perennials and hardy annuals are planted during late February or early March. Half hardy annuals later March. Tender annuals April.

I spring sowed (same technique as winter sowing but sown in the spring) tomatoes and peppers last year in April. Some short season tomatoes produced early. The others produced later with a bountiful harvest. That said, I will sow a few varieties indoors this year for an earlier harvest. I like to set tomatoes outside in a WOW in early April.

Julie_mn has been my wintersowing mentor and I have been grateful for her advice.

I enjoy experimenting with different seeds, varieties, and techniques.

With winter sowing and seed exchanges I have grown and enjoyed many plants that I would not have tried otherwise.

The greatest problem that I have had is trying to find a place to plant all the seedlings that I want to keep.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 2:00PM
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Well,the class was very good. I learned alot, and was glad I went.There are many seeds that can be winter sowed, and it doesn't take alot to do it.
You can use any type of recyclable material like, milk jugs(w/o the lid) they have to be cleaned really well, and you cut around it until you have a little spot left by the handle, to open and close it, fill with potting soil, (punch some holes in the bottom,first) water it until the soil is like mud, let it drain overnight, put your seeds in, cover with a little more soil, water a little more, get some clear duct tape, label it, and you're good to go!
There are other things too, like bigger styrofoam cups with lids, veggie trays with the lids, all these can be used.
When you place them outside, put on the east, west, or south side of your house,never on the north.
I would suggest going back to the other forum. There is alot of info, but it's very simple to do.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 12:52AM
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I agree! It was a wonderful class! I am really happy that I was able to go.
The process is as easy as the other forum's directions say it is! You can use a lot of different recyclables to grow them in. (I even found when I Googled "Winter Sowing" people that are using zip lock baggies! You can't get much more simple than that!)
If you look at the FAQ on the Winter Sowing Forum, and there is also a separate winter sowing website (Google it), it explains the process all very well!
What a great time and money saver!!! I am excited to get started!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 4:22PM
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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

Thanks to both of you for your report on the class. Sounds as though it would have been fun to attend. Oh well, Maybe someday they'll offer some of those classes in outstate areas too.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 10:59PM
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I wanted to let any newbies to winter sowing that you can find all of the information on garden web. I am self taught when I broke my foot I spent about 20 hours plus on the winter sowing site and a little help from JulieMN. I actually taught a friend of mine who is a master gardener and now she teaches it through community ed. It is very easyyyyy. You can do any perennial now and milk or water jugs is my favorite containor. I also use plastic styrofoam cups and place them in trays and cover them in a clear bag with a cople holes on top. I usually do annuals in end of March/April depending on the weather. Last year the first time in 4 years of winter sowing we had some freezing temps and the tender annuals that I didn't protect fried which is the first time ever. The ones I protected I threw a large old comforter over the containers and those were fine. If you have the time to go under the winter sowing site many gardners post photos of there containers. Its very addictive!!!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2008 at 11:35PM
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Winter Sowing is a very good way to grow many plants. I do mostly perennials via winter sowing, and a few annuals towards the end of winter. Most of my annuals still get started under grow lights. This will be my 5th winter of wintersowing! As Tammy suggested, visit the winter sowing forum on GardenWeb.

As Spring approaches, you need to watch for drying soil and water; lift lids as weather gets warmer so the plants won't fry. Each jug/container is like its very own mini greenhouse. Endless possiblity of containers to use. I wouldn't have near as many plants in my gardens if it weren't for wintersowing!

Hopefully pic will post - Some winter sown jugs at end of winter a few years ago.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2008 at 2:02PM
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julie_mn(z4 MN Henn)

Yep- Very easy!! And OH SO GOOD too!
I would caution you to take any ones word for "law" when it comes to WS though- you will find what works well for you-
I do keep some containers on the north side of the house- and- when we get those early warm ups with freezes still a coming- I have moved early easy germinators over to the north side of the house so they don't heat up and start growing too soon-
I would probably say not to put them on the south side of the house- unless you are set up like Tammy or Sandy and have a back up green house to put those early guys into-
I have fried containers on the asphalt on the south- I kinda do not water as well as I should- and so for me- I have learned to keep the containers as closed as possible- with side vents instead of open tops- and to keep them on the ground so the wind and fluctuating temps up on shelves or tables are at a minimum. Not to mention accidental tips...
I use a small drill and small drill bit to make the drain and vent holes in my containers- I like lidded containers like the glade ware containers- or the containers organic spinach comes in- and Ice Cream Buckets are the best for a large amount of seeds of a single variety.
I follow the "rule of thumb" with ws. If I can see my thumb through the container- even just the vague outline- I put drain and vent holes in it. Then I put a thumbs depth (close to 3") of soilless potting mixture (DEFINITLY NOT DIRT)in it, and am sure to leave at least an inch of "head" room for the wee ones to sprout up - and water well with HOT water- and check the drainage. I will add more holes if needed. If drainage is sufficient- I should be able to sprinkle the seeds on the top (yep- on top of the dirt and leave them that way) as soon as the mix is no longer HOT- that is a very short time in my cold basement 10 to 15 minutes at most- pop in a very mini plant marker made from cut up mini blinds and written on with a very skinny mechanical pencil- pop the top on- set in a buss tub and stack it HIGH! and when it is full- haul them all up the stairs and out into the snow. Repeating the process till I am out of containers or seeds....
Wintersowing is an incredible gift to us northern gardeners! How else could any one start hundreds of different types of seeds (each year - even when I promise myself I WILL NOT DO THAT again..)and still enjoy the blooms from so many in the same season- from your own home, without lights, or "lost" space in your living quarters, for the cost of postage and dirt? Ok- and a few odd looks from folks for various reasons.... container collecting... Buying FROZEN dirt..... All those clear and almost clear plastic containers lining the edges of your yard......
Yep! You CAN garden all year in MN! Wintersowing is the way to go!!

    Bookmark   February 4, 2008 at 7:22PM
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jennypat Zone 3b NW MN(Zone 3b NW MN)

I did WS last year for the first time. Oh My goodness was that fun!! I had more flowers than I had room for. So last fall I prepared 2 new beds. Popped in some irises I bought from a local guy. And the rest of it is waiting until spring for my next batch of WS flowers.

Speaking of that, I should really go through my seeds and see what I need. Anyone have any Jack in the Pulpit??

Jenny p

    Bookmark   February 8, 2008 at 2:28PM
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mngardener1(4 - Minnesota)

Hi all! I too am a Minesota gardener that will be ws for the first time. I have a problem...the more I read,the more I am confused! First I am told to plant them in jugs and put them in clear plastic bags. Now I hear to take the caps off for ventilation and put holes in the top and bottom for ventilation - what is right for Minnesota? How do you plant in bottles and milk jugs, do you cut the jugs in half, add the soil and seeds and then re-connect them using twist ties? Also, why not use potting soil? What do you use?

One more thing...I have lots of extra seeds of coneflowers, blanket flowers, poppies, as well as a few others that I can't remember, so let me know if you could use some!

Thanks for all of your help - its nice to see a MINNESOTA discussion - at least I know it has been tried here!

My email address is


    Bookmark   February 10, 2008 at 2:50PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

There are all sorts of containers used by winter sowers. Two important things to remember 1) make holes for ventilation and drainage 2) use at least 3" of soil so it doesn't dry out too quickly

At the bottom of each forum page is a small search box that you can use to help find more information on how to prepare containers, etc.

Here is one I found:

Here is a link that might be useful: Different ways of cutting jugs

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 4:39AM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Last year I used mostly milk jugs cutting a U flap on one side. The flap stays open to add soil and seeds then can be pushed down until it needs to be opened again for ventilation when the weather is warmer. I also put 3-4" pots inside plastic boxes which had clear tops or were covered with plastic bags.

Here is a link which will give more information on using a plastic bag with a milk jug which has a window cut out on one side. Page down to find photos.

I know how confusing it is to be a first timer and reading and reading and still not knowing just what to do. I found it helpful to look at the photos over and over again to check for details. Experiment with one technique that you think you understand. If you have a camera post a photo of your container, if not, tell us what you did and we will cheer with your progress and give suggestions if needed.

We use potting mix rather than soil as the soil gets too hard. The mix stays loose and lets germinating seeds push through easily. I prefer Pro Mix, many others use Miracle Grow potting mix. There are lots of varieties. Search for potting mix to find postings on that topic also.

Here is a link that might be useful: newbie inspiration

    Bookmark   February 11, 2008 at 5:38AM
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I am wsing for the first time this year also. I did a lot of reading on the wsing forum first and it does seem a little confusing. The biggest thing I've learned so far is that if it seems hard, I'm making it too hard. It is so easy it almost feels like cheating.
There seem to be oodles of ways to make a jug into a mini greenhouse, so you just have to find the way that you like best.
So here's another way to consider ;)
I tend to keep things as simple as possible. I've been using a lot of milk jugs because I have a good source for them. To prepare it I first toss out the lid, then use a utility knife to make several cuts in the bottom of the jug (maybe 12 or 16) for drainage. Then I cut the top of the jug off at the base of the handle, not cutting the handle itself. So the handle keeps the top and the bottom connected. I can then bend the handle back to plant the jug and use a strip of duct tape to "reconnect" the top to the bottom on the opposite side of the container from the handle.
Oh, just one more thing, don't forget to label your jugs or you'll have oodles of sprouting unknown plants...LOL

    Bookmark   February 12, 2008 at 10:03PM
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