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Winter Sowing PNW Style

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

OK, I'm ready to take the plunge into this new (for me) endeavor. When do you guys get going? I'm thinking January, just to get past the holidays. Or ?? I've never had much luck with seed starting indoors and am hopeful this may work better for me. And, yes, I have been reading through the WS forum but find it a bit overwhelming and with info from all parts of the country it can just get confusing. Thanks.

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

Hey bonehead, it'll be a new endeavor for me as well. I was thinking of January or February to give me time to recover from the holidays and to buy seeds. The nursery told me they get their seeds in around then too.

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

Tikipod, great! We can muddle through together.

Mountlake Terrace, WA(Zone 8a)

I have some seeds from last year, planted in March under a cloche, we had radishes, Green Onion and Lettuce long before most we planting, maybe end of April. January might be early as the soil temp can hold back germination and growth.

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

I think I'm going to spend some time reading at the winter sowing forum to decide what seeds I'll use. Since it's my first year I only want to try a few things.

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

I will also take a sane approach - sounds like some folks end up with mini-nurseries. I also can't quite figure out why they are labeling both the top and bottom of their containers, seems the bottom would be sufficient. I have a label maker (P-Touch) that works well for my herbs, prints onto either a white or clear tape which adheres well to metal plant markers so I assume will stick on plastic OK.

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

I thought the reason for marking the top and bottom was just to know which went lid went with which bottom. I have no idea if that's right but that's why I'd do it.

I'll be using milk jugs and then a clear plastic container to set them in so they don't blow away.

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

I was diligently saving milk jugs in my shop, but have now discovered my husband was equally diligently squishing and recycling them... Still my plan, but now I've clued him in to just let them stack up. I like the idea of leaving a hinge on the carton and also punching two holes opposite the hinge for tying the top and bottom together. Haven't quite figured out where to put them yet. Or what to try to grow. Still just a project in my head I guess.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)


Jan and Feb are not too early to wintersow perennials. Annuals it is best to wait til March. Pretty much anything that grows from seed can be germinated this way. Tomatoes, whatever. I did it so you can. :)

The wintersown.org website, for a SASE, will send you a really nice selection of *surprise* seeds that have been saved from previous wintersowing. I started with that. They send flowers, herbs veggies, I got a very nice lettuce variety new to me, that way, called May Queen butter lettuce, oh YUM was that good!

If you corral your jugs in a container it must have drainage. I had to go out in the cold and drain mine, some of mine, that I had put in a laundry basket whose bottom held too much water. Good drainage is essential.

Don't trust tape as a marking surface, I can almost guarantee you it will come off before you are ready to find out what the heck those seedlings are and plant them out, and you will forget what is what, trust me on that.

Also don't be too overprotective of your seedlings. Put them close by the house maybe but once they've sprouted and gotten a few true leaves (not all will do that at once of course, in any one jug) then leave them open unless it is going to hard freeze or maybe a pounding rain or hail. This is one reason to plant annuals later as they are less able to survive this tough love thing.

When the jugs get covered with snow, it is a good thing! Hard to learn, that was for me, but true. Also, it is okay if the moist soil freezes and thaws a bunch of times. Main thing is don't let them dry out or become soggy.

Good to try to limit how much you plant because it is extremely easy to have too much. And if your seedlings are too thick to separate, never fear, at least not with ornamentals. The method called Hunk o Seedlings works great. Take a chunk about 2 inches square, and plant it. Repeat. The strong survive.

For veggies however you will want to be careful not to sow too tightly so you can separate out.

Don't worry about covering the seeds if they are small. Just lightly press them into the surface and pop that cap over them.

By the way, the top and bottom are supposed to be hinged by means of leaving a little section uncut.

I hope I can do this this year! The one year I did it was so fine, very very successful, I am a believer!

(Julie)South Prairie, WA(Zone 7a)

Mom and I tried wintersowing for the first time last year, with mixed results (but we also had mixed complications).

If you have dogs (especially crazy puppies) be aware that plastic containers in the yard are curious items and a big temptation to chew on.

Use big milk jugs or containers... we used 2 litre pop bottles for the majority of ours because we were going to experiment with several varieties of plants, and found them VERY difficult to water and to get the plants out of.

Like Kyla said, it is very easy to get too many plants.

Many of the seedlings do seem to turn out healthier than those that I started in my greenhouse.

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

Thanks for the advice Kyla and Julie. I already know I'll end up with way too many plants but I can donate them to where we live (a condo.) I was thinking of using 6-7 milk jugs and about 10 seeds each. The only thing I don't know is if I use seedling potting mix or regular potting mix? I'll be getting my soil when I get my spring seeds.

My plan is to set a clear container on my deck, by the railing so they get sun, and then put the jugs in there. This will prevent cats and dogs from jumping in, not to mention neighbors complaining.

Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

So, Deb, most people up here get busy with their winter sowing dreams around the middle of December, just as they are going crazy from the lack of sunlight. This craziness leads them to contemplate growing zone 9 and 10 plants as these plants look so delicious and lush during the cold of winter. Lovely catalog photos call to us. How about tropical vines? Maybe try starting bananas from seed? Surely with just a little extra help these plants will flourish??? Then the seed catalogs have already begun and the wish lists are beginning to grow. Don't forget the seed websites such as www.jlhudson.com, specialseeds.net, hortusbotanicus, among many others.
It's such a slippery slope, I tell you! Very, very slippery! My advice? Be very, very careful! MMWWUHAHAHA!

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)


(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

Seems like I get the day to cuddle up with a my animals under a blanket and read seed magazines. No chores, no dishes, no laundry because of no power - oy.

Buckley, WA(Zone 7b)

For the past 2 years, I have had very successful results with ws in the milk jugs. The first year, I marked both the tops and bottoms, and put a lavel inside the jugs. Last year, I just taped over the used jugs, wrote on it, and also put a label inside. Don't forget to put a few holes in the bottoms for drainage. I did the perennials and HA in Feb, the rest in March. I am hooked on it. Don't buy your seeds, unless you want something special. I have a ton of seeds that I can mail to you, and there is the Hog Wild seed trading going on elsewhere. Call me 253-205-5861, and I will fill you in.

(Pony) Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

Another fan of the milk jug method here. I leave the handle uncut for a hinge. For soil I just use my Tagro potting soil, with the larger wood chunks picked out. I tried using tape as a label and regretted it. Not only did it stop sticking, but the ink faded to nothing. Next time, I'll use a paint marker right on the jug, and a mini-blind tag inside the jug as backup.

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

As I was trying very hard to clean some black crayon from the window sill I got to thinking ... would crayon work for marking tags? I can never seem to clean them off the blinds, walls, desk, etc so maybe it'd work for tags lol.

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

There are many seed trades and giveaway's here and on other various gardening websites as well as specials at seed companies.

It is true, we can save too many seeds. So people are more than willing to help you out. Don't spend too much money on seeds unless they are hard to find seeds. Most garden websites have seed exchanges...good luck!

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

I'm trying to plan out my buying better. I wound up with doubles, more seeds than I need, and plants I'll never plant. I'm going to keep a list of what seeds I have so I don't buy doubles. I'm not going to buy mixes when I want one specific color (did that with Yarrow and Lupine this year.) Buy exactly what I want rather than buy an alternative and THEN buy what I wanted in the first place. I'm also forcing myself to make a "go pile" of seeds that will be going away from here either via trade or SASE.

Sierra Foothills, CA(Zone 8a)

tikipod ~ Yes, I agree with you about keeping track of ones seeds. I found many that I had purchased each year, the same ones...LOL!

Others on W/S'ing ~ It has been my understanding that all hardy annuals and most perennials can be sown outside during fall or winter. They may even bloom sooner than the same ones that you sow in spring. Now, some people use that same method to sow later in spring, in containers or in milk jugs, instead of indoors under lights or in greenhouses. It is to an advantage to those of us who do not have greenhouses or much indoor space for starting seeds. And, I hear, that most are stockier since they have not been "coddled" in abnormal environmental temperatures needing to be "hardened off" first before planting out.

Edited for spelling....

This message was edited Jan 25, 2011 4:25 PM

Cedarhome, WA(Zone 8b)

OK, bumping this to the top again. Who's started, what have they planted, and does anyone have any indeterminate open pollinated tomato seeds hanging around? Trade for ?

I am hopeful to get some milk jugs potted and planted over this long weekend, we'll see how successful I am...

I wish I knew for sure if my back yard will get renovated before spring planting time - if so, I'd start a bunch of natives for that area. I suppose I can still start them and pot them up if need be.

Any tips or tricks are much appreciated - first shot for me and I suck at starting things inside.

Portland, OR(Zone 8b)

This time of year - so much to do...but what I really want is to get my hands into some dirt.
I take inventory of what I have and order some replacements for things that didn't make it. (I forgot to clean off begonia tubers this year and they all rotted). So I ordered replacements.
I spend a lot of time looking at what's new and some old favorites. I have learned from experience not to have a few beers and sit down at the puter and peruse the plant websites. Very costly.
I set up the starter pots and lights for my delphinium seedlings that are in the refer right now.
Sketch out what I am going to put where on my garden map, do research to get information on a few plants I have just identifies. Continue to add information to my plant database as I learn.
Usually my fuchsia starts are starting look pretty good about this time (this year they don't look very good at all.)
I just determined what veggies I am going to plant and I am off to get some seeds this weekend.
I have a good feeling about this summer!

Sara - helping me decide what color of impatients to plant in the courtyard this year.

This message was edited Jan 15, 2011 2:32 AM

Thumbnail by mstish
Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

bonehead I thought I would have my ws started by now! but still have not. Too many distractions and interruptions. But it is next on my list. This is the month to start perennials and any real early spring veggies, like kale and other greens. I mention kale because I seem to have gone on a kick with it, both eating it and also wanting to grow various ones..... I think I have three varieties to try.

but for me just getting my process set up and getting a FEW jugs going will be great.

I am just going to have to wait and see about slugs and how to deal with that....... but don't want to let that discourage me from even making a start, so making a start is my intention.

Vancouver, WA(Zone 8a)

I haven't started anything yet, but do think WS is a great idea. I'm playing catch up after a difficult 2010, so it may be next year before I'm prepared to WS again. I'll be working on getting my inside seed starting area set up in the next few weeks to catch me up quickly. I have beds to build before I can plant some stuff out....

And I just discovered that I reordered things I bought last year and never used...sigh...

(Sharon)SouthPrairie, WA(Zone 7a)

I have had delphinium seeds in the freezer for a while now and am ready to try AGAIN to get some started. Love them so much and wish they did better in our climate. Steve's show of them was very impressive.
I know the timing is not exactly right but I am going to put them in the spare refrigerator for a while-a few weeks?- and see what happens.

Made the mistake last year of using 2 liter bottles, thinking that I didn't need a huge amount of any plants, but found that the bottles dried out too fast and were nearly impossible to get plants out of when they were ready. Haven't decided what to do overall yet, but am leaning toward plastic cups with holes in the bottom in a larger clear plastic container. Even watering was an issue for me too last year as I can't just leave the starts out in my world as the "pups" love to haul and chew anything plastic. Shelving didn't work because of the uneven watering and uneven light.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Okay, next week if not sooner, I start. I have new beds that will be ready to plant in come planting time, and a good spot for my jugs (to the left of those pallets, by the corner of the house) that is outside yet protected some, facing East but on the South corner.... by the water spigot.....

I've only assembled nine jugs so far but probably tomorrow will look through my seeds and see which ones to start with. Some I am also going to direct seed in large containers, like some of the salad greens, so I'll post which things I do in the WS method...... once I figure that out. :)

It's a generally good way to start seeds, even in other seasons, I have found...... and I reuse the jugs til the fall apart. But having to start with new jugs this year after moving, didn't bring em with.

Thumbnail by Kylaluaz
(Julie)South Prairie, WA(Zone 7a)

I'm going to bite the bullet and organize my seeds (or at least start organizing) tonight and find out what I still have left that I want to start and what I need to order more of. Seems like I am more behind than usual this year. I plan on at least starting some lettuce this coming weekend and will be making a list of other things that I plan on wintersowing. Gotta make sure that the drainage is especially good this year I am thinking! Boy is it WET out there!!!

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Good. Your do it and it will lend me some momentum! I am committing to doing that this week, just not sure when it will plug in. Today had work in it, more than I expected. Thursday I have signed up for a free Organic Apple Growing webinar! I am sure I will learn a lot listening in on that...... (sorry, totally OT here!)

Lakewood, WA(Zone 8a)

I haven't planted any seeds yet. I haven't even cleaned out the greenhouse from last year. I may try my hand at more direct sowing this year. I do have a seed bed that was very successful last year in terms of using it to winter sow.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I have begun.

Thumbnail by Kylaluaz
Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I planted nine jugs. How's this for a good estimate of amount of planting mix? (brag warning) I mixed it up in hopes I would have enough for nine jugs but not much over...... These are the last three jugs and the dregs of the potting mix. :)

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Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

I really think some people do this way more neat and tidy than I manage to! What a mess I make.

And my jugs are cut in wavy lines too.

Sure does work though.

Thumbnail by Kylaluaz
Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Here they are all lined up for inspection. I sowed winter thyme, salvia officinalis, sprouting broccoli, green russian kale, tree spinach, PNW wildflower mix, calendula, German chamomile, and the rest of the seeds of Mesclun mix that did not get in the containers yesterday (mostly lettuce seeds).

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(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

My update ... I sowed seeds and Microsoft ate them. Microsoft is the annoying little field mouse who has moved into the storage on the deck. I know he's been nibbling seeds from two containers but no nibbling that I can tell in the hibiscus jug. I can't tell if he ate any of my anise hyssop agastache though. I do know he's been eating from my bulb pots.

I am in need of more jugs and soil right now so no more for now :(

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Bummer! Did it get in through drainage hole, or where, can you tell? Last year I had ground squirrels who ate every single seedling I planted out, so I know how frustrating that is.

This year I used a single hole punch in top and bottom edges opposite handle hinge, and a twist tie to close the lid on my seeded jugs. Hope that will keep out any local field mice. I have never done this before, have always just let the top sit loose on the jug, attached only by handle hinge. That way it's easier to do things for the seedlings once they are in need of more sun, or water, or whatnot, but reading your story I'm glad I did this extra step this year. (I never had a hole punch before...... bought this one for a craft project I didn't do (yet) )

I also have to get more jugs and materials for another mix of potting medium......

(Ang) Bremerton, WA(Zone 8b)

No, they slipped in through the side of the milk jug. I didn't think they could since I have it zip tied to keep it on.

My next plan is to take a large saucer with some smaller pots inside, then top it with the top of a 5 gallon water jug. Of course I'd reuse a cookie or roasting rack and drill holes in the saucer first. Maybe use a large clear plastic one.

I need to find more milk jugs.

This message was edited Jan 27, 2011 12:38 PM

Thumbnail by tikipod
Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


You sowed 9 jugs in two minutes? it takes me longer than two minutes to find anything, let alone make germination mix or label anything!

I had many bulbs sprout ... and something like mice or squirles mowedthem off flush with the chicken wire I had laid down over them! I thought I was paranoid for building Stalag Hyacinth and The Fortress of Daffodils, but apparantely I should have backed up the barbed wire with minefields.

I gave up on the red chili pepper flakes when i saw that rain washed it away,

My next move will be to arch the chicken wire up so that SOMETHING survives. But then sealing the edges will be a challenge.

So many pests, so little time.


Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

well that is bad news, about those mouses, getting in that way. shoot. Someone on the WS forum was talking one year about doing it all in plastic bags with holes for drainage, and lining the plastic bags up inside a clear plastic bin with tight fitting lid, into which more drainage and air holes had been punched.

That seemed like way too much work and way too much new plastic for my taste, but it might deter mice..... Anyway, wow, good luck! I am waiting to see what kind of critter eater finds my jugs. That first year I was so successful the jugs were on a deck and so safe from everything but the weather and my mistakes.

Corey, no, I did not sow nine jugs in two minutes. Instead, once I had sowed (sown? sewn?) seeded -- the nine jugs, they were so grateful, they gave me back an entire 24 hour day!

So I came out well ahead, in terms of time spent. *snork*

Lake Stevens, WA

I was out weeding today. Boy, weeds never take a rest. Found some slugs in the leaves, hope picking up the leaves early removes some of those pests.

Gave the Hellebores a haircut so I can see the lovely flowers.

Bonehead, I gave my mint a haircut too and wondered if you are still interested.

Will be potting up some peach and lavender English primeroses on the next nice day. Any of you are welcome to some. When I have them in pots can post if there is an interest.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)


>> they were so grateful, they gave me back an entire 24 hour day!

That makes complete sense to me. "Pacific Seed Saving Time".

Kind of like the Interational Dateline, but it only happens when you drink LOTS of coffee.

("PSST! Want some seeds? Goooood stuff!")


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