Container Gardening · Garden · Gardening

Winter Sowing

Garden seed starting with no seed trays, lights or heat. This method will also work for starting seeds for a fall garden. How cool is that!

Gardening has been a passion of mine for more years than I care to admit. I love planting seed trays and watching for the seeds to germinate, then planting the little seedlings in the garden. Unfortunately, without the space to have seed trays in the house, nor a greenhouse, I have been buying transplants every spring. However, buying transplants can get a little pricey.

What is Winter Sowing

A few years ago, I wrote a post with detailed instructions about how to easily start your garden seeds in the winter with just a little effort to get set up. After that, very little work is needed until it’s time to plant the seedlings. No need to monitor and maintain a constant temperature or water daily. Let the containers sit out in the weather, including rain and snow and let nature take its course. Each container is basically a mini greenhouse that will allow the seeds to germinate when it’s time for them to germinate.

I haven’t done any Winter Sowing for several years, but decided it was time to do it again. I used mostly 3 and 4 year old seeds of annual flowers, packages of flower mixes and seeds I saved from vegetables last year. My containers were a mix of one gallon, half gallon milk jugs and 2-liter soda bottles. Because we live on a windy hilltop, the containers were all set into old milk crates.

Any recycled container with a top that you can see through will work, as long as it is deep enough to hold 3-4″ of potting mix and a few inches of growing space above the soil, plus drain holes and holes on top to allow rainwater and melting snow in.

With Winter Sowing, the containers can be prepped, planted and set outside pretty much anytime starting in December. Seeds that need cold stratification definitely need be started in December or January. Annuals can be planted anytime.

The great thing about this method is that you do this when you have time, not according to the calendar.

I prepped and planted all of the containers on February 19th and had the first signs of new growth on March 12th. The first ones to really take off were the Cut Flower and Butterfly Garden mixes and Bachelor Buttons. The tomatoes and peppers weren’t too far behind.

Winter Sowing Maintenace

The only maintenance required is to occasionally water them if there hasn’t been any rain or snow for a while, and once the seedlings get a few inches tall, with higher temperatures and lots of sunshine, they will need to be moved to a shady area to prevent killing off the little plants. I have mine sitting where they get morning sun, so I only have to move them to shade when temperatures get over 50° with direct sunshine. In the afternoon, I move them back to their regular spot ready for rain, snow or morning sunshine. I could just open each container with seedlings, but decided that was too much work, especially when I’d have to seal them back up each day.

According to the Winter Sowing method, once the seedlings reached 2+ inches and have the second set of true leaves, they can be planted out in the garden. However, we have had some wild temperature ranges this spring, such as mid to upper 80s with 50 -60 ° nights last week to windy and cold 50s this week with frost warnings for 3 nights in a row. I moved the containers of the larger flower and herb seedlings onto a wire shelf unit on the porch that I’ll wrap with a frost protection blanket on these cold nights. There are still containers of small seedlings and some containers that haven’t even germinated yet still in the milk crates sitting out in the open on the ground.

Trust the Process

Although the mantra for Winter Sowers is “trust the process”, I just couldn’t bring myself to risk losing my main garden producing plants, so I’m carrying all of the peppers, tomatoes, summer squashes, melons and cucumbers in the house at night. Not as bad as it sounds when they are contained in baskets.

Based on current transplant prices (if the plants were a little larger), I figure these transplants would be worth about $60. That doesn’t include all of the herbs and flowers that are outside.

It won’t take long for the tomatoes, cucumbers and melons above to get as large as the squashes below.

Our last average frost date for my location is May 5th. I’ll plant the flowers and herbs in the garden next week, and then plant the tomatoes, peppers, summer squashes, melons and cucumbers the following week.

There are some containers that are showing no signs of germination, including a couple of flowers, some of the herbs and surprisingly the cabbage, broccoli, Swiss chard and lettuces. Not sure why, but with about an 80% success rate, I am pretty happy!


When it’s time to plant, containers that had a just a few seeds (tomatoes, peppers, etc) the seedlings are just gently pulled apart and planted individually.

Containers that had a lot of seeds broadcast across the potting mix (flowers, herbs, etc), use a fork or spoon to remove a hunk of seeds (HOS) from the container and then plant the little clump.


3 thoughts on “Winter Sowing

  1. You are going to have a great garden, with all of those robust plants. I haven’t planted anything yet, and your post has inspired me. We had those wild warm temperatures in April too, which made me want to start planting outdoors. I had to keep reminding myself that we always get a freeze in late April, and sure enough, it came this weekend. I missed the chance to do Winter sowing, so maybe I can try that next year.

    Liked by 1 person

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