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A Winter Sowing Guide: Quick- Start Seeds
Winter is a great time to start seeds, but it can be daunting to get started if you aren’t sure what you need. For example, most seeds need a specific depth of soil, so you’ll want to create your seed starting mix with the right level of lightness or darkness.
If you’ve never tried winter sowing before, don’t worry! Winter sowing is a very easy way to get your seeds started. Our guide will walk you through each step of the process.
What is Winter Sowing?
Generally, winter sowing is an outdoor gardening technique in which you sow seeds directly into containers filled with soil (rather than starting them indoors), where the warmth of the season, combined with protection from bad weather and hungry animals, allows plants to sprout in colder temperatures. It actually works better in some climates than in others; most notably, it works really well in the Pacific Northwest.
Warmth is not the only thing you have to worry about when winter sowing. Cold weather can kill your seeds if it stays below freezing for several days at a time. To fight this, some winter-sowers use heaters or enclose their containers in greenhouses to keep the temperature above freezing, but I don’t have either of these things.
When Can You Start Winter Sowing?
Most gardeners usually start winter sowing in late winter, when the soil is still cold but above freezing. But I started my first batch mid-December, putting them outside in hopes that they would sprout after the holidays. However, it didn’t work out that way for me because there was too much snow on the ground, which made it impossible for the seedlings to break through.
However, even though my seeds didn’t germinate right away, the cold weather didn’t kill them off. So I kept them on a bench in our dining room and sprouted a bunch of radish seedlings indoors with a grow light before planting the rest outside once there was no more snow on the ground.
I’ve been told that it’s best to wait until March or April before starting seeds, so they get enough time to grow and the soil warms up enough for them to sprout. But I don’t think waiting that long is required; in fact, it might be better not to wait that long because then you can just plant your seedlings into your garden beds without having to worry about the soil being too cold.
How to Winter Sow
You will need:
- A drill with a 1/4-inch bit(to make drainage holes)
- Soil – good, cheap garden soil works best
- Perlite is optional – not necessary but it makes the soil lighter.
- Planting containers
- A tray or flat surface to put them on
- A place outdoors where they won’t be disturbed for the rest of winter.
1. Drill 1/4-inch holes in the bottom of your containers to let water drain out. If you’re using Perlite, fill your planting containers with it first, then top them off with soil.
2. Plant your seeds according to package directions, spacing them so they have room to grow.
3. Put your containers on a tray or something flat so they don’t tip over and pour water into the planting containers until it drains out of the holes you drilled in the bottom, then wait for it to drain completely before putting them outside.
4. Put your containers outside where they won’t be disturbed. Some people wrap them in plastic or enclose them inside greenhouses to keep the weather out, but I just leave mine on my cold porch because it doesn’t get really cold around here, especially not for very long.
5. Once your plants are big enough to survive through the winter, you can plant them into your garden beds or transplant them into containers or large pots if you don’t have room outdoors. Just be extra careful if you’re moving them indoors because they might be more fragile than they would be if you planted them directly into the ground.
Which Containers can I Use?
You can use just about any container to winter sow. However, I’ve found that the best ones are things like milk bottles and soda bottles because they don’t have holes in the bottom for water to drain out of (which means you will need to drill some or let them sit for a while so excess water drains out before putting them outside). Also, they are usually clear so you can easily see your seedlings growing.
I’ve also used glass jars, yogurt cups, and even homemade paper tubes made from newspaper because I had them around the house already. However, none of these have lasted very long because birds love to peck holes in them. So if you’re getting started in winter sowing, I recommend using plastic containers over glass ones.
Types of Seeds to Plant
I tried winter sowing with zinnias and amaranth, but neither of them made it. But they were both very small seedlings when I planted them so I think the birds got to them before they had a chance to get established.
You can use just about any type of seeds for winter sowing. Some people even winter sow veggies, but I would recommend sticking to annual flowers and plants that you just want to see if they will grow because not all of them will. Some of the seeds I would recommend for winter sowing include :
I’m sure you can winter sow more than this, but these are the seeds I’ve tried and can vouch for.
Best Soil for Winter Sowing
Soil type is probably the most important thing to winter sowing. If you have crappy soil, it’s not going to be able to hold moisture for very long and your seeds will dry out. This will cause them to die before they even get a chance to sprout.
It is best to use garden soil or something similar in your containers when winter sowing your seeds. If you don’t have garden soil and need to use something else, it is best to mix in a little bit of peat moss or vermiculite to keep the moisture locked in.
Starting Seeds Hydroponically
Hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. I haven’t tried this method for winter sowing myself, but it is a great option if you have limited outdoor space or live in an area where the ground gets too cold to plant seeds in the winter.
With hydroponics, you do everything by hand rather than letting nature take its course. You start by making a water and nutrient mixture to feed the plants. Then you fill your containers with this mixture and plant your seeds, letting them sit until they sprout.
Once the plants are big enough, you need to switch them over to a grow nutrient mixture that will feed them until they’re ready for harvest.
Step by Step Winter Sowing Instructions
1. Find a container to winter sow in and take it outside when the ground isn’t frozen or snow covered. You can use plastic bottles, cups, yogurt containers, etc. The only requirements are that they must be transparent (so you can see what’s going on inside) and they need to have holes drilled into the bottom if necessary.
2. Fill up your container with garden or potting soil and add water to moisten it. If you don’t have enough soil, you can mix in some peat moss or vermiculite to help keep the moisture locked in. Make sure that the soil is damp but not too wet because if it’s too wet, it will be hard for the seeds to grow.
3. Plant your seeds! It’s best to plant them in clusters or groups rather than trying to put one in each container because you’ll have better luck keeping track of them when they’re not spread out all over your yard. Also, make sure that you keep the soil moist while the seeds are sprouting because they will need it for growth.
You can also plant your seeds directly into the ground if there are no frozen spots where you live, but I would only recommend this during early spring when it is warmer outside.
4. Place your seeds in the garden or outdoor area. Once the seeds sprout and the plants get big enough, you’re going to need to bring them inside if you don’t have a cold frame.
5. Move your seedlings into a cold frame and wait for them to start flowering before bringing them back outside permanently. You can also plant them directly in the ground or in a container if you live in an area where it doesn’t get too cold outside.
Benefits of Winter Sowing
Winter sowing has a few benefits that other forms of seed starting don’t have. These benefits include:
You can start your seeds earlier in the year and get a head start on the growing season.
It’s simple to do and doesn’t require a lot of work once you’ve started sowing your seeds.
You don’t need a large outdoor space or any other equipment besides some containers, garden soil, and a drill.
You can winter sow seeds in your own backyard or in the ground outside your house so you don’t have to worry about bringing them in when it gets colder outside.
How to Monitor Your Containers
You’ll want to monitor your containers and make sure that they aren’t too wet or too dry. This will help you keep your seeds alive and prevent them from dying.
1. Look at the top of the soil in your container after you’ve watered it and add water if it looks like there’s not enough moisture in the dirt.
2. Check the top of the dirt after a day or two to make sure that there’s still enough moisture in it and add water if needed. If you keep an eye on this, you shouldn’t have any problems with seedling survival.
3. Take your container inside when spring comes so the seeds don’t get washed away by rain or blown out by the wind.
4. Create an outdoor space for your seedlings to grow in when they get big enough so you can monitor them and make sure that they have the right amount of sunlight and water.
5. Use a fertilizer solution with a plant nutrient guide to feed your plants until it’s time for them to move back outside.
6. Make sure that your plants have enough space to grow before you take them out of the cold frame so they don’t get crowded and start growing into each other.
How Long Do these Seeds Need to Grow?
It depends on what kind of seed you’re growing and how long it takes to grow into a mature plant. For example, tomato seeds can take up to 2-3 months before they’re ready for planting outside. On the other hand, radish seeds take only about 3-4 weeks until they’re ready to be planted in your garden or in a container.
Whenever possible, keep the soil moist and monitor the moisture levels to make sure that your seeds stay alive and don’t die before they’ve had a chance to germinate. If you do this, your chances of success go up and the whole process will be easier for you.
1. Since the seedlings are still small, keep them protected from wind and rain by bringing them inside or making a cold frame to put over top of them. This will help you protect your hard work while your seeds grow into strong, healthy adult plants.
2. Make sure that your seedlings get enough sunlight once they start growing and that they don’t get too much sunlight because this can kill them.
3. Fertilizing your seedlings is important and should be done with a fertilizer solution with a plant nutrient guide to ensure that they survive and continue to develop into strong, healthy adult plants.
4. Watering your seedlings is also essential and should be done with care so you don’t drown them or dehydrate them. You should also make sure that the pots are draining properly to prevent your plant from developing root rot.
Planting the Seedlings Into Your Garden
1. If you’re planting the seedlings into a container, make sure that it has drainage holes and enough room for your plant to grow.
2. Make sure that the garden space where you want to plant your seeds is suitable and prepare it like you would if you were going to plant any other type of seedling outside. This includes amending the soil, removing weeds, and clearing off rocks and debris.
3. Take your seedlings out of their containers a few at a time or you risk damaging the roots of the other seeds that haven’t been planted yet.
4. Place your seedlings into the garden space so they don’t get blown away by wind or washed away by rain and keep them protected from harsh weather like strong winds and heavy rain.
5. Take care of your seedlings until they’re big enough to survive on their own and monitor the amount of water, sunlight, and plant nutrients that they get to make sure they’re healthy.
Winter Sowing Seeds vs Indoor Sowing Seeds
Winter sowing seeds is a great strategy for starting your seeds without having to pay for expensive indoor grow lights or buy new garden equipment. All you need is some simple supplies, some patience, and some time to let the process work its magic on your seeds. It’s also an environmentally friendly way of saving money while getting into gardening at the same time.
On the other hand, winter sowing isn’t always the best strategy for every type of plant that you want to grow and it can take up a lot of space if you’re doing large quantities. However, it’s great at turning cold, wet weather into an advantage while giving your seeds a head start before they have to deal with the harsh conditions of winter.
Will My Seeds Germinate in Cold Weather?
Some seeds germinate in cold weather, but not all of them do. You should check the specific requirements for each type of seed you’re planting because some seeds need a certain temperature range to germinate and other seeds can’t germinate until it warms up outside. Check with your local nursery or online sources to find out what types of seeds they recommend for your area.
What To Do With My Containers if It Snows?
If you’re winter sowing seeds in containers, make sure that your planters are clear of snowfall and the plants aren’t buried under too much snow. The process should be uninterrupted for optimal results because burying or covering up your plants can kill them off. It’s best to use something like a cold frame to help protect your plants from snowfall and shield them from the harsh elements of winter.
Will I have Issues with Rodents and Vermin?
Rodents and vermin can become a problem during the winter because they’re always looking for food, but you shouldn’t have any issues if you think about it before you start your seeds. For example, make sure that there are no holes or gaps that are big enough for mice to enter your planters or container garden after they’ve been buried by the snow.
Do I Have to Water the Containers?
You will need to maintain the required amount of moisture for your seeds, but you don’t want to water the containers when it’s cold outside. This is because too much moisture can freeze and damage your plants when it’s wintertime, which will ruin all of your hard work. It would be best to use a wick or capillary mat that takes moisture in from the soil in order to avoid the risk of damaging the seeds.
What to Do if Its Going to Freeze?
You should cover your seeds with something to protect them from the cold, but make sure that you don’t put anything over them if it’s going to freeze because this can damage or kill off your new seedlings. It would be best to use a cold frame for this purpose and build a protective shield out of an old window or some other type of material that you can easily find around the house.
Remember, winter sowing does not have to be difficult, but you need to do your research and monitor the conditions of your seeds for optimal results. Good luck!