Take a break from winter by winter sowing

By late January gardeners are eagerly anticipating spring and are often planning out their new season of gardening. What may surprise you is that it is possible to plant seeds now with the seed planting method called ‘winter sowing’.

Winter sowing is a simple method of seed starting in late winter with the goal of transplanting these plants in the spring. Plants are started in a specially prepared milk jug in a straightforward and easy process. The milk jug works similar to a mini greenhouse.

Winter Sowing-photo Brigid Hall

Supplies you will need include:

  • Clean milk jug
  • Scissors
  • A Nail
  • Potting mix
  • Seeds
  • Duct tape
  • Pots or cell packs
  • Labels
  • Pencil or grease pencil
Winter Sowing-Photo Brigid Hall

There are many options for seeds that can be sown in the jug in late January.

Flowers — poppy, strawflower, bells of Ireland, sweet pea, calendula, dianthus, snapdragon, pansy, nasturtium, and more.

Native plants — milkweed, purple cone flower, black-eyed Susan, liatris, lobelia, penstemon and many more.

Cool season vegetables — broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, kale and spinach.

Warm season vegetables (start in late March/April)— tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers.

Herbs — oregano, marjoram, thyme, chives, basil, parsley.

A finished jug, photo: Brigid Hall

How to do it

  1. Begin with a cleaned out milk jug. Punch several drain holes in bottom with a nail, then discard the cap of the milk jug.
  2. Cut around the middle of the jug leaving just a small hinge.
  3. Use a well-draining potting mix to start seeds.
  4. Fill the bottom of the milk jug with potting mix 4 to 5 inches deep. Moisten the soil thoroughly (this is important) and then let it drain. Sow seeds according to the depth on the seed packet. Reattach top and bottom using duct tape. Lable the jug with the date and what seeds were planted. Place the jug outdoors in a protected area that can still receive sun, rain and snow through the hole at the top.
  5. Once seedlings emerge, monitor them often.
    • Even during the cold temperatures, the inside of the milk jug can heat up quickly and cause seedlings to wilt. the jug may need opened during the day but closed in the evening once more spring-like temperatures arrive. Once temperatures warm up enough in spring, the top can consistently be removed during the day and then put back on at night.
  6. Monitor soil moisture and water when needed. Transplant seedlings to the garden when they are 2 to 3 inches tall and have true leaves.