Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winter Sowing: Grow Beautiful Flowers and Plants Cheaply

winter-sown zinnias
If you're suffering from a case of spring fever, or just want to enjoy some pretty flowers cheaply come summer, then I highly recommend trying winter sowing.

What is winter sowing? Well, it's a cheap and simple way to grow plants from seeds without needing any fancy equipment, like seed trays and grow lights. Nor do you have to dedicate precious space inside your home or spend time watering, turning, hardening off, or kitty proofing your precious seedlings. Winter sowing only requires some used containers (I prefer milk jugs), potting mix, seeds, and space outside. Not only is winter sowing an inexpensive way to grow new plants, it's also a way to grow things that may not be readily available at your garden center. Specifically, winter sowing works for seeds that need cold stratification, things like perennials, and self-sowing annuals.

Why bother winter sowing when you can just direct sow seeds in the garden? If direct sowing seeds works well for you, then by all means go ahead, but it was a giant flop in my garden. In contrast, when I create these little ghetto greenhouses, as I like to call them, I'm able to cheaply grow plants that are hard or expensive at the local greenhouse and my winter sown seedlings are father along, have higher germination rates and are ready to be planted earlier.

Sweet William
Now most of the yearly additions to my garden are winter-sown flowers. I've had success growing zinnias, rudbeckia, columbine, cerinthe, nasturiums, cleome, bachelor buttons, sweet alyssum, Sweet William, poppies of all kinds, cosmos, coneflowers, monarda and more using this method. It's still a little early to try any tender annuals yet this year, like cosmos and zinnias, but I've already sown poppies and Foxgloves so far before I ran out of containers.

So if your game, here's a step-by-step guide to winter sowing. First, the best resource for any and all winter sowing info is There you will find seed lists by gardening zone, FAQs and more.

Once you've studied up, you'll need to gather some supplies. You'll need translucent containers; recycling previously used containers is encourage. Gallon and half-gallon milk jugs are my favorite, but you can also use two-liter bottles, juice containers and whatever else you find handy.

You'll also need fertilizer-free potting mix (not potting soil). The only place I've found this is at a gardening center and I have good luck with Pro-Mix brand. And, of course, you'll need seeds. Once you have your supplies you're ready to get started.

First, punch holes in the bottom of your container to allow for adequate drainage. I use one of the boyfriends pics to do this, but I've also used a drill for heavier plastics. If you're container has a cap you can discard it at this point because you're not going to need it.

Next, if using a jug, cut the top most of the way off, leaving a hinge between the body and lid. At this point I label the inside of the lid with a number. If you label the outside it tends to fade away by planting time and you'll be left with a mystery plant. Next fill 2-3 inches with potting mix, moisten the mix and let it drain. Then add seeds, cover them lightly with mix, and tape the container back together.


Now all that's left is to put your container outside, in a place where it will receive rain and sun, and sit back and relax until spring. Snow on the way? No worries! Your seeds will know when to sprout.

my collection of ghetto greenhouses

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