Winter Sowing

Melissa(7)November 24, 2009

I'm thinking about trying wintersowing this year. Has anyone tried it here in OK? I'm afraid if that's the only thing I try and I don't start seeds indoors that it might not take and then I would be without any plants and have to go spend more $$ to buy plants.

Any suggestions or advice?

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I had few failures but if I were you I would start with perrenial flowers and flowers that normally reseed themselves until you get some experience with the method. You can start sowing them anytime after Dec 21 and they will be fine outdoors. My favorite container was a gallon milk jug. Throw the cap away first, then punch drainage holes in the bottom. I also punch a few on the sides about half an inch up from the bottom just in case the bottom ones get plugged. Then punch two holes in the middle of the jug, one an inch above the other on the side opposite the handle. Now cut around the jug between those two holes and stop without cutting the handle (and the jug in that area) leaving it to serve as a hinge to open and close the jug. Put in 3 or 4 inches of potting soil (not seed starter). Drop the seeds in and press them down slightly and water-in good. Close the jug and use a twist tie to close it by running it through the two holes you cut in the middle of the jug. Set it outside for the winter. After it germinates, open the lid, I closed the lids a few times if it was going to be really, really cold or really windy. In spring I took them out in chunks and planted them. Just cut them like brownies or tear them apart.

Except for poppy and hosta, I had really good luck. The poppies germinated but didn't survive the transplant. I will direct sow mine this year. I wasn't sure about my hosta seed and may have thrown things out too soon because I understand they take a long time.

The trick to the tender flowers and veggies is to start them at the right time. I started several things and had good luck with them. I even did my Sungold tomatoes that way, but the others I grew under lights. The Sungold plants were the strongest ones I had, but I did have to set them inside a few freezing nights AFTER they came up.

I found it to be extremely helpful in the summer when I was starting seeds that needed cool temps to germinate. I was successful by just starting mine in a shady place outside, but you could do it inside under the air conditioner and move them outside when they started germination.

I liked it for several reasons. It seems that I forget from year to year how long it takes to get everything planted. Last year I started in January with the perrenials and tough annuals. I would do 6 or 8 jugs a day. Next time I had free time, I would do a few more, soon I was done with that and waiting for the time to come to plant the others. No rush. I do think that a great deal of the success in the tender things though is timing, so study those really well first.

I am a pretty good veggie grower, but I was flower challenged before winter sowing. Good luck. Let me know if I can help. Carol

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 1:28PM
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I tried last year with some success. My problems were more "user error" & dumb novice mistakes than anything else. But I was successful enough that I'm going to try it in earnest this year. I saw a list somewhere, now to find it again, that listed when you wintersowed different plants for best results. I'd think if you're growing things native to this area, or tolerant of our weather, you'd have luck. I mean, wintersowing is just a fancy name for what Mother Nature's been doing for millions of years.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 1:35PM
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It works and as seedmama says, "It's easy peasy".

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 1:54PM
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Like I've stated all I've done up to this point has been direct winter sowing. I plan to do more "conventional" winter sowing this winter and spring in my cold frames. I had great results the first year direct winter sowing and mixed last year. The first year I had plants survive one night down to 18 briefly. The one thing to remember is on warm days you will need ventilation or they will roast. I roasted a few the fisrt year. The morning it got down to 18 I didn't remove the caps on the milk jugs. By the time I got home at noon temps were in the low 40's and it was bright sun and I had roasted a few. I think doing it is the cold frames will make it easier to avoid that but then will have to transplant them where you don't if you direct sow them. It is something I will continue to experiment with. Jay

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 6:02PM
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Jay, that is about the first thing I tell everyone is to throw the caps away because you don't need them again and that heat builds up fast. I have some large transparent square jugs that are about 5 gallon size and I think I may try using it as a protection over a tomato in the spring. I would cut the bottom out of it and put the young tomato in the ground probably instead of planting the seed there tho and just using it as a cold frame.

I have also considered building some small portable tall coldframes so you could have one tomato under it then lift it off when the weather was warm enough. I have a couple of windows that are probably 16x24 that I have been hanging onto.

I hope your cold frames work well for you. I know you will be able to keep salad greens going, but the real test is going to be getting them to germinate and grow at this time of year. I started mine a long time ago and they grow slower in the cooler weather, but they have very few insects and are crisp and lovely this time of year. I just took a bag over to a friend a little while ago. She was a little shocked that I had fresh salad greens this late in the year.

It's nice to see you posting and I hope that means you have your sinus infection under control. Those are miserable.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 8:08PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


You've already received excellent advice. I only have one or two things to add.

First of all, if you are out in the country and have lots of little varmints running around at night, you'll need to put your WS containers in a place where the little varmints can't tear them up, knock them over and scatter your soil/seeds, or eat your seedlings and seeds.

Secondly, if you have dogs, cats, goats, etc., the same thing applies. You need a 'safe' place to keep your wintersown containers.

Third, it is fun and it works and it is extremely valuable for raising flowers that need cold scarification to germinate.

Fourth, for technical reasons, there are a few veggies that are not good candidates for wintersowing, with peppers being one that comes immediately to mind. Peppers are more cold-sensitive than most veggies and, if exposed to temperatures below a certail level when they are young, the pepper plants can remain stunted and unproductive throughout the entire growing season. I always start peppers inside because of that.

Try it, you'll like it. Will you make some newbie mistakes? Sure. We all make mistakes when we're trying something new, but we all learn from those mistakes.

The advice to keep an eye on your WS containers so newly sprouted seedlings don't roast is especially valuable advice. Our winter weather is highly erratic, and those occasional 70-90 degree days that hit in Jan., Feb. or Mar. accompanied by sunlight can roast tiny plants if their containers aren't well-vented or partially shaded.


    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 8:41PM
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Yep, I've done it with quite a bit of success. Instead of hinging my milk bottle lid, I cut an upside-down "U" into one side of the jug, just above the soil line, making a "flap". It was easier for me to open and close off the jug that way.

I also saved those plastic containers that I got strawberries and grapes in, from the grocery store. They already have a hinged lid, are transparent, and have lots of ventilation / drainage holes. So I'm gonna give those a try.

If you think about it, for most things, it's just nature's way to scatter seed in the winter and have it come up in the spring. So most seed will germinate just fine that way. I've done mine any time between December 1 and the end of January and almost everything germinated. I think the containers just protect the seed from getting eaten by birds, or dug into by cats or dogs or people who forget what they planted where and what it's supposed to look like when it comes up, like I do. The seed waits till conditions are right. It knows when that is. And then it comes up.

I use a china marker (some people call it a grease pencil) to mark on the jug what's planted there. I write up around where the lid was and I also write just below where I cut the flap. This is because, after it's warmed up so the plants don't need protection any more, I take my kitchen shears and then cut the whole top off. You can also use cut-up mini-blinds to write on with the china marker, and stick that inside when you plant. I buy old mini-blinds at garage sales and use them to mark lots of things in the garden.

Of course like Dawn said, some things aren't good winter sowing candidates. Peppers for one. And things with long roots like poppies, carrot and beets, although I'm told if you transplant them soon enough they will be ok. I haven't been successful at it though.

The first year I did wintersowing, I used 'way too much seed. That's just overkill, especially when you can trade your extra seed for something else somewhere. Or save some back for fall planting or in case something happens and the ones you wintersowed don't make it.

One problem I have with the milk jug is that when it rains, water runs in from the hole in the center and floods the jug before going out the holes in the bottom. When the plants come up, a lot of them are around the edges and very few, if any, are in the middle. Maybe extra holes, like was mentioned above, would be the remedy. But then again, you don't want the water just pouring in and right back out or the soil doesn't absorb it.

I had failures when I used a potting soil with peat moss in it. The peat moss percolated to the top and formed a crust. So I ended up bringing in some of the dirt out of my raised bed, baking it to kill insect eggs and weed seed, and filling my containers with that. I had good results but some people tend to think that's a real no-no, so you just have to try things and see how they do for you.

Also a word of warning about getting carried away and ending up with lots more plants than you have places to plant them....

A lot of things, I just throw the seed on the ground as it is. Poppies come up fine that way. So do moonflowers. Nature's been doing it that way for years.

Wintersowing IS kind of fun, and gives you something to do when you're tired of looking through the seed catalogs. LOL Have fun!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 4:50PM
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I always plant my poppies in the snow - just scatter them over the snow in the bed where you want them to come up in the Spring - my grandma taught me to plant them this way and I always have a good stand every year. Blue flax is another flower that sows easily this way.
On another post we discussed planting clover - we are feeding clover seeds now with our cattle feed for it to germinate in the Spring.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 6:03PM
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Thank you all for all the advice. It's great to be able to get so much advice from so many people here.

Do you think that the small pop bottles would work for wintersowing? I was thinking about just planting 1-3 seeds per bottle; or is that too much?!

Carol- I have been on the website you posted. I have been reading up on wintersowing. I also have gotten free seeds from them. Have you? They send about 6 packets of different seeds. Their site has quite a bit of info that is really interesting for wintersowers.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 10:02PM
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Melissa, I got my seeds yesterday. Actually I got 10 packs because I made a small donation.

The site is very good and for many seeds I will probably never plant them any other way. I wouldn't want to use a small bottle, but you can use what ever you want. I tried flats with pots in them and placed in a plastic bag. I tried two liter bottles and even had some racks that held 8 bottles. I used a few food containers. All of them worked but I had much better germination with the milk jugs and they were easier to use because they set flat on a rather large footprint so aren't likely to turn over. They are easy to move because they have a handle. If you have to cover them up, you just flip the top of the bottle back over and secure it. They are readily available.

As I said earlier, watch those dates. What Dawn said is also important because in our climate we have warm days in winter and then cold days after we think it is spring. I didn't baby my plants, but I did take care of them. The perrenials stayed out all of the time, but as I said before, I had the tender ones on a wagon which I pushed inside an unheated building. Only a few nights did I have to bring them inside the house.

I think they work best in dappled shade so they don't get full hot sun all day. I also think the "frosted" milk jug gave them some protection by not getting 100% of the bright sun while they were still closed.

My husband has a milk allergy and I am not a milk drinker, but I found plenty of people who were willing to save jugs for me. I saved some from last year because I had more than I needed. I have lots of 2 litre bottles also, and they are nice if you just want to take out the entire thing and put it in one spot without breaking it up. Given a choice though, I still prefer milk jugs.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2009 at 10:47PM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Wow, I've missed this whole discussion. I guess I need to keep a better eye on the forum :)

I LOVE winter sowing. I've been doing it almost as long as Trudi has been talking about it. I had gotten so disgusted over how much money I had lost with seeds, that I vowed to only buy plants. My house is so teeny (and dark) that I can't start plants inside, plus I lost every one I ever started :) So, I was rather skeptical, but it didn't take long to be an avid believer.

Poppies were the thing that really drove me to wintersowing. I've been successful with them. I have never, ever, ever been successful with direct sowing poppies. Start them very, very early and transplant early. The tops will look so teeny, but the roots are amazingly long.

I use flats to start my seeds. There are pros and cons to them, but I like that I can reuse the containers every year and they have the clear lids. I shift and then remove the lids as the flat germinates. When you consider containers, consider how easy it is going to be to get plants out.

Wintersowing can easily be started in January. I always piddle around and wait until February, (cough, cough, late February) and then promise myself I will start earlier the next year..... Starting in January will give you time to space out your seeding. It doesn't truly affect when they pop up, just makes it easier on you!

The most important things I have found:

**containers need to be deep enough to have plenty of soil. The roots will be longer than you ever imagined and the more soil, the less often they will dry out.

**start with perennials and early spring flowers (poppies, larkspur, ect) work down towards warm season annuals (zinnias)

**be prepared to start transplanting in March. It sounds early, but you should already have plants that are growing at that point. The earlier you transplant (and then keep watered), the happier the plant will be.

**water is important in containers and after you transplant. The failures I have had, I can usually trace it to drying out. In the north this is not as big an issue, they get snow :)

I'll be happy to send you some flower seeds to get you started...that way you can try it out without spending a lot of money :)


    Bookmark   November 26, 2009 at 12:43AM
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Lots of great ideas, so only have a few to add.

I use everything recommended but my fave is 2 ltr soda bottles (the best for me) that I cut off about 1/3 down from top (toss the bottle caps as suggested). I then take the 1/3 of bottle and make a vertical cut from the bottom of it up about 3-4". This is so you can fold it just enough to fit it into the bottom part of the soda bottle. I make holes in the bottom. Since the bottom of the soda bottle has indentations in it, I don't make any holes in the sides of the bottle. I fill with about 4-5" of potting soil that has a fertilizer already mixed in, like Scott's, Miracle Gro, Schultz. If you don't get a fertilized potting soil. you will probably need to fertilize with a weak solution, in which case it is best to use an applicator that produces a fine spray so you don't hurt the tiny seedlings. I had too many to depend on a spray bottle, but they work in a pinch.

Get a good potting soil as suggested above. Don't buy cheap potting soil cuz it just isn't generally good enough for wintersowing. You need a light, porous mix that drains well. Like the one they sell at Walmart for instance in the potted indoor plant section. It gets hard as a rock which is not good for baby seedlings trying to send their tiny roots into the soil. It's like trying to make a hole in cement with a drinking straw! LOL!

Water your containers before sowing seeds so the soil settles and you don't toss the seeds all over after sowing them.

Another suggestion is to get the waxed produce boxes from your grocer and use styrofoam or other disposable cups with holes poked in bottom. Also put a few larger holes in box bottom. Set your cupes inside and cover the entire box with sheet of plastic. The wax on the box protects from getting too wet and deteriorating.

I put my containers into a partial shade exposure and up next to the fence where rain cannot get into them and drown everything. If our winter is dry, I may have to water but very, very little. If we have a few warm winter days, I check for condensation and give them a bit of airing out, too.

I wintersowed my tomatoes one year. Actually I late wintersowed or early springsowed them. Generally around late February to mid-March. I sowed them in small soda bottles, about 3 seeds to a bottle. They did great!

Most if all.....have fun! There is nothing like seeing the first sign of growth!


    Bookmark   November 28, 2009 at 8:22AM
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Was wondering if the styrofoam egg cartons would work or what about the cardboard egg cartons? Just looking for more ideas on containers for my seeds!

I want to definitely try tomatoes, but when should I start them? Didn't know if it is too early to start now or not. I also want to try cucumbers, cantalope, watermelon, zucchini squash, and okra. Will all of these be ok? How about corn? I got corn in a swap and wonder if it will work.

I would also like to try some flowers. What about four o'clocks? I also have some hibiscus seeds. Would those work?


    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 12:25PM
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Yes you can use egg carton. Make sure you put a hole for drainage in the bottom. That and garden soil is all my mother used in all her years of gardening starting in the dirty 30's. What is comes down too is what we learn to work with. Like me if I was to move where I had clay soil like Dawn's I would have to change some of my practices. I highly recommend either a good starting mix or a good potting soil. I use the plastic trays and inserts. But you can save money by using egg cartons ect. On some of my winter sown this year I plan to put them in my hot frame and use 16 oz. cups half filled with potting mix and cover them with plastic with saran wrap with a slit in it. And then as they grow i will fill the cup up. This in for tomatoes. When to start? That depends on the person. I usually say 6-8 weeks before I plan to put them out on inside started plants. On those winter sown I usually set them out in dry mix in late Jan. or Feb. Then wet it in late Feb or early March. If you have snow you can just put snow on top of the mix and let it melt. If not I know one person who uses ice they put in the blener. This way it melts slowly and soaks through the mix and doesn't cause the mix to float. Others wet the mix when they put it out. I only do this if it is in March. The trouble here is if the mix is moist we have enough warm days in Jan and Feb a lot of times to sprout them. And it is too early. The thing is too experiment. But remember every year is different. So what works well this year won't next. Hope you have a great 010 gardening year. But most of all enjoy it. Don't ever let the fun go out of it. Jay

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 12:47PM
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Melissa, I would suggest that you read the instructions at and follow the instructions there. If you are going to follow those guidelines and put your containers out in the weather, I wouldn't want to use less that 4 inches of soil.

There is a list on the website that tells you what plants are hardy, half-hardy, and tender. You can begin sowing hardy plants after the 21st of December, but the tender veggies can't go out anywhere near that early.

In Jay's dry climate he is less likely to have the heavy rains that we have. If I had seeds in an egg carton, soon I would just have a clean egg carton. I think you will be much happier in our climate if you use a milk jug or a 2 litre bottle. Just my 2 cents.

This is the time of year to dream, plan, order seeds, and maybe work on your plot a little. For the seeds you start inside use soilless seed starting mix, but for wintersowing outside use a good container potting soil.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 1:23PM
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If setting outsde in the elements yes you would probably need to use something else besides a cardboard egg carton. I don't feel the styrofoam would decompose. Setting out directly in the elements don't work here in my climate and elements. I either need to use a cold frame, a porch or a plastic bucket with plastic on top and anchored or wall o water for added protection from the fierce winds and storms we receive along with the roaming pets. I have read all of the methods on the winter sown site. And many of them won't work for me. I tried several of them and was about to give up on witner sowing till I started talking to other gardeners like Martin who suggested I experiment with other methods. That is why I had to change them to what will work for me in my conditions. I don't think Trudi has the extreme weather we do here. I know a several who put out most of their seeds in a dry mix in Dec and Jan and then just add moisture when needed with great results. So feel there is several ways to do it and the best way is too experiment and find what works for that person. Here our wind has blown 5 gallon buckets full of soil over so would be hard to keep milk containers ect in place without a lot of protection. The one thing I feel is important is getting the seeds out early enough to go through a few freezes and thaws. This helps to eliminate the weaker seeds and allows for better seedling vigor in my opinion. To do that here you need them out by early Feb at the latest. No seed will rot or sprout as long as it is in a dry mix. Like I've said before two years ago I had great luck sowing tomatoes directly in the garden. I used the manure pots that decompose. I put either plastic buckets with plastic on top or Wall O Waters around them. Used dry mix and then in late Feb. watered them and they did well. Last year I didn't get things in the ground early enough. The main reason I built the cold framse were for protection from the elements so I could winter sow and also harden off transplants. This is all just my opinion and hope I don't come across wrong. Like most things in gardening there is several ways to skin a cat. But what is best for one won't work for another. I really like the concept of winter sowing. But there is no one way that will cover the whole USA let alone the whole world. So we each have to tinker and adjust to our location. Either that or we will have failures and quit. Jay

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 3:27PM
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Jay, I would think that the cold frame like you built would be wonderful in your location.

One of the horrow stories of my life was one night in the OK panhandle when my sister-in-laws suitcase blew off of the top of the car and we had to pick up clothes and try to get things tied back on. It was just horrible. It was extremely cold and the wind was terrible. We would work a few minutes, then get in the car to warm up, then try again. I hate wind. There are so many different climates in Oklahoma.

I did veggies in the spring using the wintersowing method and kept them on a wagon that I could wheel inside a shed if I expected frost. Even at that I had to bring them inside the bunkhouse for about 3 nights when the temps dipped really cold.

We don't get nearly as much wind as you do, but we get much more rain. Because of your altitude I would think you would get a lot more snow as well. I like the weather here except for the ice storms...seems I can't stand up.

    Bookmark   December 5, 2009 at 4:03PM
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