Winter seed sowing is a trick that many gardeners use to start seeds well in advance of spring that turn into healthy and strong plants. Winter sowing will work for annual flowers and vegetables as well as perennials. It also works really well for seeds that are tiny and often get lost amongst the weeds. Winter seed sowing requires that you create miniature greenhouses out of recycled materials. You can then start hundreds or even thousands of plants for a mere fraction of the cost of buying them at a nursery or garden center.
How it works: Using recycled materials such as milk jugs or 2 liter soda bottles (see more suggestions below), miniature greenhouses are created which help jumpstart the germination process. Because these little greenhouses are kept out in the freezing winter weather, the freezing and thawing process will help loosen the seed coat which will lead to good germination. The plants that grow out of a cold winter are adapted to the chilly weather and thus are hardier and do not require the same tender care that greenhouse raised plants do. In other words they don’t need hardening off.
What you need:
Seeds. Especially ones that require cold stratification. These include most types of self sowing seeds that originate from a temperate type of climate. Winter sowing is a great way to start perennial vegetables, flowers, and herbs (usually fairly expensive to buy).
Containers: There are a lot of free options out there including, but not limited to, 2 liter soda bottles, milk jugs, big water jugs, those big weird containers that pretzels or cheese-puff come in, take away containers with a metal bottom and clear top, whatever else you can come up with. The main thing is that it has a clear top.
Clear Packing Tape
How to do it:
1. Take your container and cut it in half, leaving a little spot uncut to act as a hinge, if you are using soda or milk containers.
2. Poke 4 slits in the bottom of the container with your knife for drainage, and poke 4 slits in the top of the container for air. If it is a soda or milk container, take the lid off.
3. Put a couple of inches of potting soil in the bottom half of the container.
4. Water the soil well. Soak it, and let it drain for a bit.
5. Sow your seeds.
6. Place more soil on top of the seeds so that they are planted to the depth or specifications required.
7. Water well again.
8. Place the top on and tape it in place.
9. Label what you planted. You can either write directly on the container or on a piece of tape. You could also label a plant marker and stick it down in the soil inside of the container
10. Place the containers outside in a place that is out of the way. A north facing area would be the only place to avoid, though it will still work there, just might take a little while longer.
11. When days start getting a little warmer, but well before gardening time, the seeds will begin to germinate. When this happens they should be checked for moisture. If they need a drink, do it on a day when it’s above freezing, making sure to replace the lids when you are done.
12. As they start to grow, widen the slits in the top.
13. When they are filling the container up, it is time to plant them out. The great thing about this is that you will be able to plant these guys out well before others, because they are already adapted to the cold and don’t’ need hardening off!
What to plant when (from A Garden for the House):
January through February:
Flowering Perennials & Hardy Annuals:
Digitalis purpurea (Wild Foxglove)
Oenothera speciosa (Evening Primrose)
Consolida (Larkspur) ‘Galilee Blue Double’
Aquilegia (Columbine) ‘Alpina’ blue
Aconitum carmichaelii (Monkshood)
Delphinium grandiflorum ‘Blue Mirror’
Nepeta ‘Pink Dreams’ pink
Oenothera lamarkiana yellow
Alcea (Hollyhock) ‘Camois Rose’ rosy-pink
Alcea ‘Apple Blossom’ pale-pink
Berlandiera ‘Chocolate Flower’ yellow, fragrant
Campanula (Bellflower) ‘Champion Pink’
Campanula latifolia ‘Brantwood’ purple
Lathyrus odoratus (Sweet Pea) fragrant
Nicotiana ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and ‘Purple Perfume’ (I also sowed these indoors, under lights; both grew with equal exuberance)
Platycodon (Balloon Flower) ‘Sentimental Blue’
Lupinus (Lupine), ‘Russell Hybrids Mix’
Centaurea cyanus (Bachelor Buttons) common blue variety
Vegetables & Herbs:
Thymus serpyllum (Creeping Thyme)
Salvia (common sage)
Tender Annuals, Vegetables & Herbs (any warm season veggies)
To find locally grown plants, food, and local seed sources, visit Pick-A-Pepper.com!
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