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Winter sowing vs spring vacation. zone 5a Ontario

Aurora, ON(Zone 5a)

Hello there.

I'm planning to do some winter sowing this year for the first time. I'm in 5a, Aurora, ON Canada. The trouble is I need to go away for about 3+ weeks. I originally thought I would go sometime between Apr/May but then I remembered if I have the seeds out they will all be sprouting while I'm away. No one will be here to care for them. So I know nobody can be sure with weather but how late would you think I could plan to be away? Mid-March, Late March, first week of April maybe? I don't want to book my flight until I have some input from an experienced gardener.

Thanks for any suggestions.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

I have no idea what type of seeds you want to get started / germinated, but I can tell you all my Gardening friends and myself included would never dream of being away at seed planting time, they need constant misting or every few days watering, depending on where your trying to germinate (windowsill, seeds need turned every few days to give more even light, if away, they could be scorched from heat / sun through window.
Other problems could be, some seeds germinate faster than other types of seeds therefore they would require pricking out or potting on and then care really begins.
Taking all that into consideration, you would need to satisfy yourself the seedlings would survive.
IF your growing annuals, for flowering in summer, then sewing outdoors in April should be fine as the soil will have began to warm up. Veg could be sewn outside mid March IF the soil has thawed or is of condition to be worked and add a cover with a pane of glass or some horticultural fleece held higher by horizontal canes propped up by lower canes like a tent.
There are many tricks of the trade that gardeners use depending on temp, light, water and soil BUT an absent gardener away for several weeks is too big an ask iof you want the truth. later and outside sewing MIGHT offer a safer bet, as there could be more moisture in the soil, make sure the seeds are in an area where there is some sun but not baking hot all day, and keep in mind 10- 14 days from planting is the normal germination period BUT there are always exceptions.
Maybe someone from your area can come in and be more precise than me, I hope so.
Best of luck. WeeNel.

Aurora, ON(Zone 5a)

Thank you for your reply WeeNel. But I'm talking about winter sowing outdoors which is possibly not done so much where you are. Winter sown seeds are left outdoors in the winter with holes in the tops of containers for transpiration. Through the winter people allow the snow to cover the containers just as it would cover self-seeding plants in the wild. So, yes, I would need to be back when all the containers begin to sprout, which is what I'm asking.

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Thanks Maria, never done that type of sewing here NOR know anybody who does that method here either.
The winter winds would kill off the seedlings, the heavy rain would drown them and IF it got colder, the freeze in the soil would either Crack the pots or kill the germinated seedlings.

As a gardener of many years, I love hearing new ways and ideas, even IF people don't or cant use the methods, knowledge is a wonderful thing and I thank you for your kindness with explanation.
Best of luck and kindest Regards.

Saugerties, NY(Zone 5a)

check out this forum

Aurora, ON(Zone 5a)

Hi Jasmine's Mom,

Thanks for replying. I've had an account on here for awhile but I'm not a frequent user of the forums so I've never been a subscriber. That's why I posted my question here. That forum is not available to me. :( I need to book flights soon (Australia) and I wanted to go as late as possible in their summer to fall window. I still keep checking here everyday hoping for an idea.


Tobyhanna, PA(Zone 5a)

Hi oloughma,

I live in northeastern PA and my zone is zone 5a also. I've done some winter sowing the past few years, and for the most part, most germination seems to start anytime between mid- March through mid-April for me. I think that the colder your spring season is the later the WS seeds will start to sprout. I keep blogs and journals here on DG. Last spring was very rainy and very cool here for me. Things started to sprout for me in mid-April. The year before that (very mild winter and warm spring) germination started in mid-March. There's really no exact answer to your question.

You can try and chance it anyway and maybe keep your containers in a shady spot til you come back. Or, another suggestion might be would be to try spring sowing. Same process as WS, but you can start seeds later (between March & April). That might work for you if you plan to be back from your trip by the beginning of April.

Good luck,

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

Quote from WeeNel :
Thanks Maria, never done that type of sewing here NOR know anybody who does that method here either.
The winter winds would kill off the seedlings, the heavy rain would drown them and IF it got colder, the freeze in the soil would either Crack the pots or kill the germinated seedlings...

Hi, WeeNel,
From participating in various gardening forums with UK gardeners, and from reading various specialist plant books written by UK plantsmen, it seems that the practice of germinating seeds outdoors in pots (so that the weather conditions provide stratification, if needed) is actually very commonly done in your neck of the woods. (And that's all that "winter sowing" is... I've never understood why anyone thought it needed a specific name! It does cause confusion.)
By contrast, starting seeds indoors and growing the seedlings under lights through the winter (very common in cold climates here) seems to be the thing that the UK gardeners in these forums find strange and unfamiliar!

This message was edited Jan 15, 2014 12:30 PM

Aurora, ON(Zone 5a)

Thank you Jane. That's just the sort of first hand experience I was hoping someone could offer. I will have lots to do if I'm going to Australia mid-Feb to mid-March! I don't even have a current passport. I will try planning for that and I intend to leave them out at the east side of my house which is quite sheltered. I have a small cedar hedge on that side and then my neighbours house. They will get the morning to early afternoon sun. I plan to try some lavender and sunflowers ... and who knows what else.

Yes, Altagardener. I would have thought more gardeners in the UK would do some seed starting outdoors in winter.

Thanks for your replies!

Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

As I've been gardening here in UK for almost 50 years, did so as a kids with my Dad too, believe me, there aint many gardeners here in UK who would be able to start seeds outdoors in winter.
Our climate is far too unpredictable for that, we can have brilliant sunshine for 2 hours in morning and sleet / hail rest of the day.

As for digging seed beds in winter, forget that too, we put the gardens to bed here October till Feb / March IF the soil is not too wet and sticking to your boots.

Our summer seasons are way shorter than your's are and for Annuals, these get scattered in situ around April Some Veg that need a long season can be sewn around March or April, things like Tomato's, Peppers, Cucumbers here in my part of UK (Scotland) have to be started in greenhouse early around Feb (with heat) or April if weather is warm, last few years my Tomatoes never really ripened as the summer began late April / May and the colder weather came earlier around end August, too short for red tomato and the Cucumbers got mould because of fluctuating temp, cold nights and hot sun in late daytime.

Here IN my many circles of gardening friends and family, I know of no one who grows there seeds outdoors or in pots until maybe late April as the soil has NOT warmed, pots take too much care from watering, pricking out and because of wet weather, slugs / snails are public enemy to seedlings, I would LOVE to be able to start my seeds off outdoors as they make for much tougher plants and veg taste better as they acclimatise better from start.

The best equipment I was ever given was my greenhouse, it gives me a great deal of pleasure working with compost in the colder months when I can use my heated propagator to give me a head start in end of Feb / March BUT it is a lot of work as the heat brings the plants on earlier than they can be put outside, I have a cold frame that helps me transfer hardier things like Cabbage, Sprouts, Broccoli but as you will know, there is a limit to how much Greens you want to fill your garden with.

Who said gardening was fun, must have a warped sense of humour LOL.
Hope you have a great gardening season and lots of happy days with grubby hands Ha, ha, ha.
Kindest Regards. WeeNel.

Brooklyn, NY

Hello Maria,

I say Go For It! I'm planning on doing the same type of winter sowing in milk jugs outside. Certain seeds I am just gonna throw on the snow. For instance, last year I threw poppy seeds on the snow and it was beautiful. I will be doing the same this winter with shasta daisy,
Rudebeckia Hirta, Hopi Red Dye Amaranth, Phlox, and a few others. I've already threw Cleome seeds on the snow, I'll post pictures in the spring. Check out this site They have all the information you need on this topic and the bonus…….They will send you FREE SEEDS with a self-addressed envelope.

Thumbnail by LovelyAbby
Ayrshire Scotland, United Kingdom

Thanks everyone for educating me, I love hearing new ideas and methods even IF I cant use them, always think good info is better than NONE, look forward to all the progress reports and ofcource Pictures.
Best regards, WeeNel.

(Pam) Warren, CT(Zone 5b)

I'm in zone 5 too. We close our house over the winter, returning at the end of March. I start my Spring Sowing the first week or two after that. We're only there weekends, so the boxes have to be self-sufficient. I use 4" pots, mostly filled with potting mix and a layer of germinating mix on top, and put them in plastic boot boxes with drainage and air holes made with a soldering iron. I leave the boxes in filtered sun, more shade than not. This works very well for many things that are stubborn indoors- Thalictrum, Lavender, Larkspur, Poppies among others, and for half-hardy annuals. The heat lovers I usually start indoors to get bigger plants sooner.

Good luck and happy travels!


Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

I WS iris seeds that are from my own crosses. They need stratification and flunctuating temps.
I plant them in plastic shoe boxes in moist potting soil, cover and place them on the north side of my house all winte. Since they are covered they never dry out. They won't sprout until warm weather of spring.

Below are boxes placed in a bin to keep them safe.

Thumbnail by blomma

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