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Absolutely positively!!! Winter sowing is the way to go with when germinating seeds that need a cold period followed by a period of warmth. Basically, you are replicating what Mother Nature does. The cold-warm cycle is necessary to make certain seeds come out of dormancy, to crack their hard seed coat, and to trigger the seed to put forth energy into growing a seedling.
Here is what you need to begin the process.
1. Plastic container which has been thoroughly washed & dried. (I use the small clear plastic containers that you can find at salad bars).
2. Make small slits in the container for drainage.
3. Also, slits should be made on the container's top so that water can keep the seeds/soil moist.
4. Add soil that has perlite and/or vermiculite into the container. Soil line should come about half way to the middle of the container. Don't fill it all the way! You need room for the seedlings to grow!! I also add a polymer helps to retain moisture in the soil. The soil MUST NOT DRY OUT, or your seeds will die.
5. Moisten the soil mixture until damp.
6. Sprinkle seeds on top of the mixture.
7. Push the seeds slightly into the soil to achieve good contact.
8. Some seeds may require a certain amount of soil to be added on top of them. Read the seed packet requirements.
9. Label the container with a water proof marker. Also, make sure that the marker will not fade in the light. I put the label on the bottom of my container and maintain a separate list of the seed name, date sown, and other pertinent information.
10. Put your container in bright light (not full sun).
11. Place the container in a location out of the way of kids playing, balls rolling, or animals running into them.
12. Make sure the soil stays moist, NOT wet.
13. Take pictures when germination occurs and at different stages of your seedlings growth!
14. Please post your successes (and failures). We all learn from both of them.
Look for perennials that need stratification and instead of alternating between fridge/freezer for several days/weeks, you can start them outdoors and let nature do several freeze/thaw cycles for you.
Here in 6b/7a I start my winter-sown seeds usually by mid- to late-January. I use the giant "oversized" cell packs - each cell is about 2x2 and 3" deep. I sprinkle seeds of one type in each six-pack, put a plastic tag with the plant name in each six-pack, then put the six-packs in a mesh-type plastic flat (so water can drain) and put another "mesh-type" tray over the top, and anchored with a brick or rock.
This allows plenty of sun, rain, and snow into the cells without worrying about birds or wind carrying off the seeds. (Keep in mind, we live in a fairly mild, non-windy area of the country; if constant wind is a problem, you'll probably need to anchor them down better AND be sure they get enough moisture.
One tip I learned the hard way: Write on your tags with a PENCIL (or some other non-fading substance) and DON'T use a "Sharpie" type permanent marker. The sun will fade a Sharpie's markings and when your seedlings are up and going, you won't have a clue what's what :o)
In my zone, I have to be careful Baa. Even though we are cooling off and seeing evening temps in the 30s, we also still see days in the 80s and rain off and on. Sometimes the little guys like to go ahead and sprout!
Golddog, I usually start them in November or December. Since I am very close to woods and have all sorts of wildlife (plus have kids and critters) I sow mine in a big rubbermade underbed storage box. I drilled holes in it and keep the lid on it until it warms up a bit. Then I don't have to worry about rain or snow. I can also sit in the nice warm house and sow and label them all. LOL
In my zone 5, I have started them in mid-January and continued to sow more containers right up through April. I sow every thing, even annuals, and have had so-so success. It's probably just me! But it's so much easier than having them in the basement under lights as I had always done before. And since I'm home full time now, I can keep a better eye on them when the weather begins to warm up. Absolutely NO problem with dampening off!
My favorite container, after two years of doing this, is a 2 liter soda bottle. I cut it apart about 1/3 of the way down from the top, make holes in the bottom part, make about 2 to 3 inch slits downward along the rim of the bottom part so that the top slides on more easily and then put the dirt and seeds in moist soil and slide the top on. I keep the cap on the top until it starts to warm up and then remove it. The one big problem I have had both years is that I don't put in enough soil. I think it compacts while it sits there. I plan to try it again this year (3rd time's the charm, right!) and I've been collecting and modifying the soda bottles all summer!
Beside the cold period, I think the different temperatures do help. By starting Cleome outside in March-April in flats, I can replicate the cool night time temperatures this seed needs. I used to have the Cleome under lights during the day, and in the cool fruit cellar at night. A lot of work. Although it was successful. Then I graduated on to tossing the seed where I wanted it to grow in the fall. Much easier.
mary 3 - what do i do after i type the words winter sowing in the search the forum box. i tried it but nothing happens. as you can guess, im not to swift when it comes to this type of things on the computer. thanks for your help. also, would this method be good for hot peppers?
Cleomes have a distinct fragrance, sbarr, perhaps a stink to some! Like Gardenias and Peonies, even Marigolds...
Herbie, I think hot peppers are a tropical and not the best suited to this technique. However, haven't we all seen tomato seedlings volunteering in the spring? Maybe something to try with some seeds you can spare.
Larkie, this is a very old technique long known to gardeners. That link seems to complicate what is such an easy method.
Great thread & discussion everyone! Keep it going!!!...
When to begin Winter Sowing? During the wintertime when temperatures at night are cold and you can see your breath in the night air. Usually, I begin in late December. Some gardeners begin their seeds on December 21st-Winter Soltice. You can keep winter sowing seeds as long as it is cold at night and you have allowed enough time for the seeds to germinate & grow. Also, it depends on the type of seed that you are trying to germinate. Some seeds have to go through several seasons of freezing/thawing. An excellent example of this would be Clematis seeds. On the other hand, annuals & certain perennials will germinate quickly and be ready to plant in your garden in Springtime.
Why should I Winter Sow? You are growing seeds in a protected environment instead of directly sowing them into the ground where they may be subjected to wind, rodents, animals, or rotting from too much rain. When you winter sow, you can expect a higher rate of germination because you have provided the seeds a "mini-greenhouse" in which to grow. Another big plus is that winter sown seeds do NOT die because of "damping-off"! The freezing action kills the microbes in the soil that cause seedlings to wilt & die. The second big plus is that winter sown seedlings do NOT have to be "hardened off"! They already are hardy because you have grown them that way! You simply take your winter sown seedlings & plant them directly into your garden!!! :~) The third & final reason to winter sow seeds outside is you won't run out of space, lack the proper light requirements, and/or end up with spindly looking seedlings!!!
Buddleia (they sprout too early and very weak)
Sophora secundiflora (nothing happens)
Blue-eyed daisy (Osteospermum: froze on Feb 3!)
Helleborus (although they volunteer!)
Iris aphylla (sorry, Alyssum)
I am not blaming the method, just trying to give an idea of what works well!
It would be interesting to hear what everyone has tried and what works well when winter-sown!
Oh, John. Did you do anything special to start the acer? I have some seeds that I collected this summer and I sure would like to start some, but so far nothing has germinated. I wanted to try them before winter sowing time came around. Maybe I'll just have to wait if they need cold. Thanks.
Thanks, john. I thought they might need some cold period. But sometime even those seeds that do need a cold period germinate, so I thought it was worth a try. We're hoping to get a Japanese garden started next summer and I thought these would be so great to put in there. Thanks for answering so quickly!
This will be my 3rd year for winter sowing, this year being the best. I had so many plants that I didn't know what to do with them. I gave hundreds away. I start some of mine in November, clematis, foxglove, monkshood, but most I start in Jan. & Feb. I grew over 400 daylily plants using the winter sowing method. I planted them in late Feb. and they germinated in April. I don't have enough room in my house to grow all the seeds that I wanted to so that's why I started winter sowing. When I'm done planting my containers I cover them with a frost cloth, the kind you use on veggies in the spring. It works very good, lets the sun and water in. I didn't have to water my containers at all this winter, mother nature took care of that. I also grew hundreds of hosta seedlings, they are still in the containers that I planted them in, hoping they will survive this winter. The only plant I had problems with was the morning glory, it keep germinating and then we would get a frost, this year I will wait until the first of April to plant them baby's. I did get a few of each seed to sprout, but they were slow in growing and didn't bloom until fall, didn't get any seeds from them. The picture is of the new daylily bed I made with all my winter sown daylily plants. Have fun, it makes the winter go faster!! Cathy
Congratulations, cbrandenburg! WOW!! You definitely excelled in Winter Sowing (W.S.)!!!
You mentioned that you had trouble with the M.G.'s germinating to early and then only getting a few blooms. Some W.S. seeds are similar to what you experienced with your M.G.'s. Sometimes they behave as biennials instead of annuals. Don't throw them out. They may surprise you next summer!
Just curious, how are your Clematis seeds doing? Have they shown any signs of germinating yet? I know that their germination can be staggered. They don't all germinate at once.
I totally agree with you that W.S. helps to make the dreary winter months go by much more quickly! Keep up the good work!!
I can attest to Cbrandenburgh's success!! I have been to her nursery and she just loads up the the van and the truck!! I was the very lucky receipent of a gift of a thousand daylily fans she started from seed! My driveway is now lined with them. She knows so much about winter sowing- what soil to use, shortcuts etc... Her place is really quite amazing!
Last year I used flats that 6 pack plants came in, I lined them with black plastic and made some holes in the plastic to drain, then I sectioned them into 6 sections using cardboard. The only problem with this was we had so much snow that the soil compacted down to about 1 1/2"s, but the seeds still germinated and grew. This year I am going to use 4" pots in my flats, I did this with spring sowing and they worked much better. I have also discovered that it's better not to sow seeds so heavy handed, I had so many seeds germinate it looked like moss on top of the soil. So I am going to sow more 4" pots with few seeds in each. I use Promix to plant my seeds in. I planted several varieties of clematis seeds last year, but only had 4 varieties germinate. I believe the other seeds were not seeds at all, mostly fluff. Clematis seeds are large and most people sent fluff but I planted them anyway and no germination. The morning glories I think are to tender to winter sow early, they do germinate well, but to soon. But that's the wonderful thing about winter sowing, you learn so much. And the best part there is no dampening off. Seeds that germinate outside are so much hardier than the seeds started in the house. I was looking at the daylilies that I planted in September from winter sowing and some of them have started to send up another fan, I am hoping for some blooms for next year, but it might take a couple of years. No hurry, I will be winter sowing another batch of daylily seeds this winter. I have several pictures of my winter sown plants that bloomed this year, I'll post some for you guys to see. The picture is a hardy yellow hibiscus that I winter sown, I had 4 germinate. Cathy
Hey Golddog, I can show you how to winter sow, most of the plants that I gave you and Marge were all winter sown. Computer is up and running, my hard drive crashed 2 weeks ago, but Ross got a new one, fixed my puter for me, he's so wonderful. Winter sown Magenta 4 o'clocks.
I can attest to Cathy's success with winter sowing - I've got some of her daylilies and columbines to prove it!
I'm a WSer too - 3rd year coming up. For me, it has been a godsend. As an apartment dweller/terrace gardener, there is absolutely NO WAY I'd be able to start all those seeds inside. With winter sowing, I've managed to grow all kinds of plants that I'd never be able to find in the nurseries around here - at least not at affordable prices.
Here's a collage I put together of most of my WSed flowers; I also started tomatoes, bell peppers and yes, hot peppers too!
I've WSed all of those with great success. Last summer (2002), the winter-sown coneflowers actually bloomed - wasn't expecting that. Poppies work really well; this winter I plan to do a lot more varieties. And the zinnias work great too - the first year, I sowed them at the end of February; they came up fast and grew well (2002 winter was a mild one, though). This year, I WSed the zinnias at the end of March; much colder this past winter/spring, and they did just as well.
LL and PV, I am curious about the poppies. Did you winter sow them in containers? It has been my experience that poppies don't transplant well. How did you handle that? Or did you sow them directly in the ground?
Yardbird, yes you can winter sow both of those seeds, I did the larkspur, and it germinated well. I would think with a name like snow on the mountain, would work well to. Another one that I had great success with was the salvia's. I planted several varieties and they all did great.
What I did was sprinkle the seeds on top of the 4" pot, do not cover with soil, the seeds need light to germinate. Then when they came up I waited until they got there second set of leaves. Took them out of the 4" pot and planted them into the ground. Transplanting is best done when the plant is small.
Christmascactus, I received the salvia seeds in a trade and they were marked annual red salvia, they were beautiful. And the yellow is the million bells. I did not plant them, I bought them. I couldn't find any seeds on them either so I took some cuttings so I'll have some for next year.
The plant is this picture is Kiss Me Over The Garden Gate. This was the first plant that germinated for me this past winter sowing. Cathy
The pictures are wonderful! What a great testament to WS!! WS is the one and only reason I can look forward to winter.
After totaling up the successful winter sown seeds and the failures, I had about 50% success. That, of course, could be due to lots of variables other that the WS method. But for the record, these are my successes with plants that haven't been mentioned yet:
(The * means they were among the first to sprout)
hardy sweet pea vine
*alyssum, pink and white
briza maxim grass
*california blue bell
tomato Gergori's Altai
tomato Dr. Wyches
peppers: purple beauty, golden summer, pimento, California Wonder, yellow Wisconsin, bananna
Cucumber: burpless, long slim, improved long green standing,
*love lies bleeding
groninger brussels sprouts
* rose campion
*sweet autumn clematis
*hens and chicks
Kentucky wonder beans
early golden batamn corn
snap dragon mix
Wild Alaskan Goatsbeard
Gourds: dipper, luffa, birdhouse, powderhorn, mini birdhouse, mini bottle, apple
...and the failures:
cleome Rose Queen
angelica, purple (liatris?)
coreopsis, early sunrise
morning Glory, dwarf pink and white
threadleaf blue star
Pansy, Seward mix
blackeyed Susan vine
moss rose mix
Rudbeckia Cherokee Sunset
Columbine, Granny's bonnet
zinna orange profrushion
pensetmon purple haze
Columbine, woodside variegated
Veronica Spicata blue
Columbine, Chrysanthia yellow
Paeony Festiva Sun
Scotch broom, pink
morning glories, milky way
silver Queen corn
Columbine, McKana's Giant
Columbine, Nora Barlow
Columbine, blue fan
cameo Dwarf Columbine
koren licorace mint
bronze mingrenette lettuce
early jersey wakefield cabbage
salad bar cucumber
boothby's blonde cucumber
peppers; chervena chujski, cherry, golfball, cubanelle, mushroom, Santafe, passilla, marconi red
rose of sharon, blue bird
amsonia, blue star
snow in summer
amaranth pigmy torch
obedient plant, white
powder puff asters
white pampas grass
bells of Ireland
chocolate Drop penstemon
Chocolate soldier comumbine
chocolate sweet pepper
Morning glories: Mt. fugi mix, morning glory mix, pres. Tyler
dark opal basil
cup and saucer vine
scarlet emperor bean
malva windsor castle
golden rain tree
malva noschata white
hosta: shade fanfare. venusta, big daddy
This will be my third year at winter sowing, It is the best thing that ever came along, and all it's doing is working with Mother Nature instead of against her!!
My favorite container is a milk jug. Cut almost in half, and leave a hinge by the handle. When you are all done, tape it back together with a clear tape, and you have created a tiny greenhouse tall enough for some growth if you don't get to them soon enough. I find it important to keep them on the soil so they feel the same temps and moisture as the natural soil. I sowed several hundred last year, mostly perennials, trees and shrubs. I had very good luck, and the ones that failed, I would chalk up to about 50% my fault, I did not keep them watered good enough, as I kept them under a roof, and they did not get natural rain.( Will change that this year. I am so excited about this I am going to be giving a seminar on the method at the Master Gardener's Spring conference this year!!
One of my biggest surprises was a Bonica Rose, when I have decent sized plants, I move them to my greenhouse right in their jugs to grow on. This is what I discovered one day late this summer: Bonica Rose from traded seed!! (And I think a Japanese Maple next to it)
Well, winter sowing gives you something "gardening" to do in the winter, that doesn't fill up the house. Although I will have to admit, I still fill the house with the special babies I want to keep a close eye on. And the sowing process is a little messy. I spread a plastic tablecloth over my whole sink area and have my bag of soil on a chair at the end of the counter. When it's meal time, I just wrap up the soil in the tablecloth, and set it onto the bag of soil and the mess is pretty well contained. But it all still stresses my DH, he deals with it as long as I don't feed him soil or seeds for dinner. LOL!!
You could have knocked me over with a feather the day I saw the bloom on the Bonica. I hope it managed to keep enough strengh to overwinter. It made it fine until frost. Time will tell...The Japanese maples are the same thing, I have quite a few, and they too are from trades so I really don't know if they will be hardy here. I am so busy during the winter too, I hate to keep things in the house, so they make it or they don't. Spring is a time of great anticipation to see what makes it back from my many "experiments"!
Like I said, I got the seeds from trades, but I have a gorgeous old fashioned pink shrub rose with wonderful scent that is ripening the most beautiful red hips, I'd be glad to share those in about a month if anyone wants to email me!
Last weekend I harvested seeds from my Clematis seratifolia, (and I could be off in spelling there)and Radar Love, which I grew both from seed. Now that was satisfaction!!! Legit
lhughes, I do most of my winter-sowing on my unheated (cold)porch, and that works great. Just need to move them outside into more sun when they start to sprout in the spring. I use flats with those plastic lids, with some slits in them. I take a peek every week or so, to see if they are moist enough (always are) and to see if any sprout; this has the added benefit of keeping the air from getting stagnant in those flats.
I take the caps off the milk jugs so they get a little moisture in them. I also make sure my holes in the bottom are large enough to allow a little moisture to seep in from the soil below. I attribute most of my failures on lack of water. I had them under a roofed in area off the back of my potting shed. This year I am going to try to move them out, and maybe I won't need to water much at all.
This is the glory of this method, they stratify themselves while in the "frozen" state, and when mother nature says go, they're ready, with no further intervention from us! My rule of thumb for winter sowing is anything that could feasably appear as a seedling under the parent plant in my climate. Would I winter sow a tropical, no. Annuals, yes, but the hardier ones. HHA Hope this all helps! Legit
But I'm in a much warmer zone. Last night was 40s and today's high will be 80. Winter is the same way. In Jan/Feb we can have 15-20 one week and 65-70 the next. I'm still going to try it. Do you think hostas would be a good candidate?
Wow! I can't imagine, or answer that one, maybe some southern folks will have the answer! Here, hostas winter sown grew like "hair on a dog"!! Although I don't understand why I've never seen a self-sown hosta seedling---anyone???? Legit
lhughes, part of the natural stratifying of seeds involves the cycles of freezing and thawing. I think it would work well for you, but try it with seeds you can afford to experiment with! Hosta should be a goods candidate.
Legit, the only hosta I have which regularly self-sows is 'Ginko Craig', emerald green with a thin white edge; but every single seedling is almost identical to 'Ginko Craig' but without the edging. It sets a lot of seeds too, almost every flower must get fertilized.
Not an expert here, but they are like kids, all different! Part of the fun! You need to practice simple division to get a clone. I have never gotten a variegated seedling to make it, only the green ones, anyone with more experience??? Legit
I have started alot of poppy seed here in zone 7b and I hardly have any make it thru the winter-- When would be a good time to winter sow poppies for zone 7b- Since they are cool weather plants do you think I could transplant them from the container directly into my beds? Tracy
Let's see, I'll be starting my perennials around the 21st of Dec. and keep sowing them throughout the winter, then around march I'll work on the annuals. Supposedly, you can put your plants in the ground once spring has come and they have at least two true leaves.
bloomlover: I've read that the best time to ws annuals is in feb and march, never having done it myself, I can't tell you for sure.
bloomluver2003 - I'm in zone 6b (think it's now 7 according to the new zone maps); I started poppies in February and March and transplanted them to their permanent pots when they had about 3 sets of true leaves. They did just fine...
Sue - Don't know if they are "Lauren's Grape or not. I originally got the seeds in trade about two years ago, and they were labeled as "blue poppy - papaver somniferum". Definitely NOT blue! They were my first poppies ever; since then, I've collected seed from them. The picture shows them just tad bit darker than they really are, but that's pretty much their true color.
LOL! I have a poppy weakness. I'm going to experiment with some other somniferum seeds this winter. I'm going to winter sow right into the garden and see if they come up this spring. Did you find the Lauren's Grape. They are to die for. So beautiful.
Started my winter sowing (6a) for the first time, so far I have sowed in gallon water container:
Lychnis - 2 different kinds - 3/12/04 sprouted
Hollyhock seeds - 3/12/04 sprouted
Perennial pea seeds
Babys Breath - 3/12/04 sprouted
Loves lies bleeding - 3/12/04 sprouted
Malva - 3/12/04 sprouted
Blanket Flower - 3/12/04 sprouted
Congratulations! Can't wait till you post pictures of your winter sown seedlings! NO damping off! Plus, they are hardy enough to go from your gallon water containers to your garden!!! Couldn't be easier!!!
These seeds were sown in mid-January and I discovered them on March 10. Yippee! It has begun!
The seeds are (L to R, top to bottom): Chinese broccoli, scarlet flax, raddicho, scarlet flax (same pic...ooops!), purple kohlrabi and "freckles" lettuce. The kohlrabi was first to sprout last year too! This is about 2 weeks earlier than last year.
I have 50 pots winter sowing right now. Nothing to report as of yet. We had a warm spell that I thought might break dormancy too soon, but it didn't. Now we are back to cold nights. Just what the 'plant doctor' ordered. At least for the seed that require CMS.
Wow! That's great success, PV! A few more of mine have sprouted but progress seems slow.
lhughes, I use the Irfan View photo program that garden wife suggested. Search for Irfan here on Daves. It's a free download. I use the "panoramic image" link under the "image" section at the top of the program. You can do images horizontally or vertically or horizonatally and put them together vertically too. Neat feature!