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  • Hueysville, KY

How to Winter Sow Vegetable and Flower Seeds for a Successful Garden

3 Materials
4 Months

Winter sowing is a quick and easy seed starting technique used to get an early start to both vegetable and flower gardens! All you need are seeds and a recycled container - let's get started!
Gardening is hands-down one of my favorite ways to spend my spare time in the summer. However, there are some challenges when the time comes to start seeds. While many seeds can be directly sown into the soil, some need to be started indoors in order to have a successful crop. This can be a HUGE issue for those of us who don't have the time, money, and/or space for such a task!

Winter sowing is using containers (usually empty milk jugs) to make little “mini greenhouses” that you plant seeds in and put outside during the winter. The best candidates for winter sowing are plants that don’t mind a little bit of a chill. For example, I wouldn’t winter sow my zinnias in January. However, something like bachelor’s buttons would be a very good candidate for sowing since they can handle the cold and are often one of the first flowers to germinate in the spring. By winter sowing, I’m able to get a jump-start on the season, without taking up precious space in my house. In addition to more hardy annuals, any perennial that is hardy in your climate zone may be a good candidate for the process. One reason this method works well for perennials is that many need a period of vernalization (cold exposure) before they sprout. Instead of sticking random packages of flower seeds in the fridge, why not let mother nature do all the work?
how to winter sow vegetable and flower seeds for a successful garden
First, we'll need a container. Things like milk jugs and two litre bottles are perfect for our project. Ideally, we want containers that are either clear or lightly opaque. Solid colored containers will not work. An opening in the top is also important, as we'll want rain and snow to be able to enter the bottle. Don't worry, we can still recycle the containers after we're done using them!
how to winter sow vegetable and flower seeds for a successful garden
Using a sharp pair of scissors, or shop snips, we'll begin to cut the container. The snips that I use are Fiskar's Titanium Shop Snips. They're very strong, but work great when it comes to cutting the tough plastic. BE CAREFUL! Cutting through hard plastics can be a little tricky, so please make sure you're being safe!

On each container, we'll make roughly 4 cuts: three drainage holes, and one large cut around the center of the container. Do not completely cut the container in half. By leaving a "hinge", the container will be easier to open and close later in the season.
After preparing the container, add soil. In my milk jugs, I use an organic potting soil. Some people prefer to make their own "mix" of seed starting medium, but things like "Miracle Grow" also work very well.

That’s it, folks! Leave your seedy jugs outside with the (with the top cap off) and wait for them to germinate. Make sure you place them somewhere that rain and snow can fall into them and animals won’t try to get into them. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below. Sometimes when I write these posts, I start taking things for granted and forget to mention important keys. Make sure you label your jugs all over the place, since they are outside, the elements almost always wash away the markers.

Lavender is very easy to germinate with WSing
Lavender is very easy to germinate with WSing
Even though there are a lot of positives about winter sowing, there are a few things to watch out for which may cause you to fail. More specifically; making sure that containers remain moist at all times, that they don't get too hot, and that plants don't become root-bound in the containers. Though these can be an issue, the problems are generally very easy to avoid. Be sure not to sow too many seeds into one container, as well. This will ensure that transplanting will be super easy!
Beautiful lettuce transplants
Beautiful lettuce transplants
My first year winter sowing, it was definitely hard to believe that this would work. To say I was "skeptical" is definitely an understatement. Imagine my surprise and delight when the first sprouts began to emerge from their containers in early March! So happy!
Brussels sprout transplants ready for garden
Brussels sprout transplants ready for garden
Thank goodness! No more starting seeds in my living room, and no more potting soil in the carpet! (LOL!)
how to winter sow vegetable and flower seeds for a successful garden
Thanks so much for checking out this post!

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I WS ~90% of my entire garden!
I WS ~90% of my entire garden!
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how to winter sow vegetable and flower seeds for a successful garden
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Resources for this project:

Fiskars Titanium Nitride No. 8 Shop Snip (12-79266984)
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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 9 questions
  • Nancy Turner
    on Feb 11, 2018

    How do you know when to start this, I know in my Zone (4 A) it is way to early, it is still below zero at night and maybe teens during the day if we are lucky. What type of temps would a person start them at where they will not freeze. We don't always have much sun either.

    • Gail
      on Jan 31, 2019

      I tried this last year and had good results. In Utah we can't plant until Mother's Day and the local weatherman usually gives us the ok, at the time (I'm in zone 6). But I started my seeds probably in April/May and it worked great! However, I'm going to start even earlier (March) this year, so my plants are more mature. I'm going to make newspaper seed cups (youtube) because it was tricky when the soil fell away as I transferred my plants from jug to garden. Each jug creates a greenhouse affect so the jugs can have snow on them, but inside they are fine, as long as they don't dry out as it gets warmer (they should have condensation in the jugs). I hope you can kinda gauge your weather from my description. I did have algae growing in the jugs, so I threw my jugs away after replanting. Good luck!

  • Robin Connick
    on Feb 13, 2018

    When would I start this? I live in zone 3.

      on Feb 22, 2018

      You can start zone 3 perennial seeds now. When the time is right, the will begin to germinate. I would definitely wait before thinking about starting seeds which are less cold tolerant. Hope that helps!

  • Swe10614343
    on Feb 21, 2018

    I'm in Michigan and it's in the 30's right now and winter isn't over, it could go back in the teens and more snow wouldn't that kill the plants?

Join the conversation

2 of 11 comments
  • Jayne
    on Feb 14, 2018

    i have tried to cut these and they are very hard to do and frustrating any ideas

  • Pat
    on Feb 22, 2018

    Put the name on paper cover with clear tape keeps longer

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