Winter Sowing

iclimbtrees(4a)November 17, 2013

Anyone tried the Winter Sowing technique described in the GardenWeb "What's New" section?

Just wondering if it can be done in our climate.


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It is a very interesting concept that I believe has merit. I tried winter sowing last year for the first time and had mixed results, but I think that was largely due to my inattentiveness and by using the wrong type of container. My main problem was that I would forget I had them and would forget to water come springtime. I think once the spring rains come it is best to just remove or open the bottle tops so that the rains can help keep them watered. The seedlings would also stiffen up better being exposed to the elements. But then you have to be sure to remember to protect them if a late frost occurs. I have not quite figured out a solution to this dilemma, other than trying to remember to pay closer attention to the project. Admittedly this is not likely to occur as come April I have many other things that I am attending to.

I had best success using clear two liter pop bottles versus milk jugs - I did not like the milk jug concept at all. I salvaged the pop bottles from the local recycling bins and then re-recycled them when I was done with them (doubtful they can be used more than once because the sunlight degrades the plastic and makes them brittle). I cut around the bottles but left an inch uncut to use as a hinge. I used a piece of duct tape to keep the top closed. I then numbered the bottles so that I could write down a reference key on paper of what was planted in which bottle. Much better than trusting plant markers in the bottles which may lose the information due to fading. I placed all my containers on a picnic table out where they got dappled sunlight through the bare trees. I put them in a simple 2x4 frame so they were captured to prevent the wind from tipping them over or blowing them off the table. Once the leaves came out I moved the table into partial sun until I transplanted the seedlings into pots.

I started my winter sowing project in very late February/early March. I see no reason to do it any earlier in our climate, unless you have some tricky stuff that needs intense cold-stratification for proper germination.

Anyway, I got around two dozen columbines, three dozen balloon flowers, a dozen delphiniums, and a dozen alpine strawberries started this way. While I was unsuccessful with several other varieties, I consider the results to be good enough for me to try this method again. I will only be using clear two liter pop bottles this time.

When the time came I chose to carefully divide the seedlings and nurse them in 4 inch pots until they recovered and started actively growing again, rather than transplanting directly into the ground. Don't know if a person really has to do this but it worked for me and I will continue this strategy.

I start plants from seed indoors and grow seedlings under lights, but vegetables get top priority now. Winter sowing is a way for me to still get some flowers and other things started that would normally get skipped as being low priority.

Maybe I will take some pics of how I do it and post here when the time comes...

Give it a try, I think you will have fun with it. Just remember that like everything else, there is a learning process.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 1:02PM
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Hi Tom,

That is all great to know.
I think even the most organized of us would forget about outside seeds during a late frost. Darned those late frosts!
Never sowed before so I'm gonna take your advise and do some inside starting in Feb.
Thinking about getting one of those seed starters from Parks Seeds. Not cheap but good for a newbie like me:)
Keep us posted on how things go for you and thanks again!


    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 6:43PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Winter sowing has been the easiest method of starting perennial seeds for me. After six years my gardens are filled and I am trying to restrain myself from sowing too many each year.

I use a combination of milk jugs and 2Ls. The jugs disintegrate after two years for me but I have reused the 2Ls for many years with no problems. I cut the tops completely off the 2Ls and after sowing replace the tops by pushing them over the bottom sections.

My procedure:
Hardy perennials get sown during anytime during the winter, unless they need cold stratification and tender perennials and annuals get sown in March or early April.

Like many new techniques there is a period of experimenting finding what works best for the individual. I suggest you spend some time reading the FAQ on the Winter Sowing Forum. People on the forum are very helpful answering questions.

The only seeds I now start inside are veggies, tomatoes and peppers and some annuals that I want to bloom earlier than they would if started outside.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 11:45AM
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"I cut the tops completely off the 2Ls and after sowing replace the tops by pushing them over the bottom sections." - *facepalm* - Of course, makes perfect sense, excellent idea. Much better than the hinge and tape garbage, thanks for posting. This is why I so enjoy hearing about other peoples methods and experiences.

Good to hear you get more life out of those bottles than I was expecting...

I would prefer a bit larger container than the 2 liter bottle, but it is such a common standard that I will continue to work with them. I actually came across some 3 liter bottles which are cool and the size I would prefer to use. Not very common though. Someone told me that dollar stores carry their store brand soda pop in those bottles. I rarely drink pop so I need more locals to drink more of that cheap soda so I can scrounge their empty bottles from the recycling bins! :-)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 12:29PM
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hostaholic2 z 4, MN

I've also used the containers that lettuce and spinach come in taking the bottoms and taping them together though it's kind of a pain. It's always a bit of an experiment but overall works fairly well, if as Tom said, I remember to water. Don't think I'll do it this year as I really have no place left to put that many plants.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 10:15PM
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Thanks for all of your responses!
After hearing about all of your experiences, I'm thinking I'll give my indoor plants (tropicals) some focus this year.
Maybe next year, I'll experiment with some Winter sowing.


    Bookmark   November 26, 2013 at 8:23AM
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This will be my 9th winter to winter sow. Love it. But agree with others, you need to watch closely for watering needs come spring. The smaller the container the quicker they dry out. I use mostly milk jugs.

Can get pretty chaotic come spring trying to keep up with jug watering, so now I have two large tubs I can soak 6 jugs at a time in. I have discovered I have much more success with bottom watering them, sometimes too much success. A bit time consuming but as they soak for 5 minutes or so, I'm tending to other things in the garden too.

I've got over 150 varieties of perennials in my flower beds here at home and the lake due to winter sowing and the trading of seeds.....

    Bookmark   December 5, 2013 at 7:19AM
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i used larger landscaping pots covered with clear plastic- tied on with cut up t-shirt. i put them into cold frames just to hold them upright. i cut slits into the plastic bags and removed the bags in the spring. i did have a larger plastic sheet that i could cover the cold frames with at night. i know it sounds a little complicated but it really wasn't. i just payed attention to the weather and went by intuition. i have no interest in saving or cutting up any plastic containers so will probably do the same this year.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2013 at 10:35PM
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