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Winter Sowing

Morristown, NJ(Zone 6a)

Has anyone in Zone 5-6 given this a try yet?
I was reading some interesting info online about this.
I am going to give it a try this winter.
Have you had any luck ?

Western, PA(Zone 6a)

Moda127, I want to give it a go myself. Waiting for someone that has done this, to give us a start.

Ellicott City, MD(Zone 7a)

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.


Morristown, NJ(Zone 6a)

Excellent! I am definitely going try this method this winter. Great Info!!!
When or what Month would be the time to begin this process?
Also - Any suggestions on seeds for the newbie Winter Sower?

This message was edited Oct 16, 2003 3:47 PM

Baker City, OR(Zone 5b)

You'll find a lot of discussion on this subject by typing winter sowing into the box under Search the Forums on the right of this page.

Westbrook, ME(Zone 5a)

I've done lots of winter sowing in my zone 5. It's great if you don't have musch space to start seedlings inside.

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

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)

Western, PA(Zone 6a)

I was just going to ask when to do this. Would February 1st in zone 6 be alright?

This method has the potential to start a lot of seed; and a lot of plants.

Thanks to all the above.:)

I can't remember if I've ever asked this (probably have) but I mean to each year. Does anyone in the US sow now? or doesn't the climate accomodate the seedlings?

Hillsboro, OH(Zone 6a)

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

Rain? What's that ;) Thanks Badseed, it's easy to forget the fluctuation in temperature that you get in some regions, it's rarely anything more than a 10 degree change here

Hillsboro, OH(Zone 6a)

Well thanks for rubbing that in! LOL Right now we are seeing 30/60+ each day. Some nights are only 40s, some days make it to the 70s. This part of the US is always like that though! LOL


It's not too bad here at the moment, it's when the days and the nights are cold and stormy that I worry about the garden, being close to the coast means we're subject to some drastic weather changes.

Did that make it any better? ;)

"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

Excellent directions, Shirley!

I usually wait until it is officially winter to start mine, as it can get warm and we don't want them sprouting early.

This is such an old and time proven way of starting seeds! It is so nice not to take up all the room indoors under lights and still have those leggy seedlings. These are already hardened off too.

I find Pardancanda seeds work best this way, so easy. Also have done daylilies with much success. Almost any perennial, in fact.

Jacksonville, IL(Zone 5a)

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!

I tried to document my winter sowing in my journal page at if you are interested.

But my favorite way of starting seeds so far is using the paper towel method and doing it the Deno Way. If you are interested in that method, do a search on Dave's for Deno.

Happy sowing

Western, PA(Zone 6a)

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.

"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

Cleomes are easy and beautiful, and what a wonderful scent, nothing lke it. But, they are so attractive to bees I had to give them up :-(

Albany (again), NY(Zone 5b)

John - aren't cleomes the ones that stink a little?

Rutland , MA(Zone 5b)

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?

Camilla, GA(Zone 8a)

This lady got me started in Winter sowing.


"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

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.

Ellicott City, MD(Zone 7a)

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!!!

"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

roshana and Shirley both mention one of the great benefits, no damping off! I have found that to be very true also.

Here is a list of plants I have successfully started by winter-sowing, on the 12th of January 2002:

Acer palmatum
Albizzia julibrissin
Iris tectorum
Pennisetum 'Hamlyn'
Lagurus ovatus
Trifolium repens
Iris foetidissima
Arilbreed Iris
Iris l.
Paw Paw
Hollyhock (black)

There were a few failures:

Buddleia (they sprout too early and very weak)
Sophora secundiflora (nothing happens)
Blue-eyed daisy (Osteospermum: froze on Feb 3!)
Helleborus (although they volunteer!)
Pampas Grass
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!



Jacksonville, IL(Zone 5a)

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.

"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

Roshana, I just planted them like the others. They do require cold treatment to germinate. Stick them outside and they will come up in the spring!

Jacksonville, IL(Zone 5a)

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!

Everson, WA(Zone 8a)

Herbie, after you type in the words you are looking for in the 'Search the forums' box, be sure and press the 'enter' key on your keyboard.

Princeton, IL(Zone 5a)


A Japanese Garden sounds really great. Hope you take pictures of the progress so we can watch!

LimeyLisa Kay

Westbrook, ME(Zone 5a)

John, did you do the daylilies in the dead of winter? I'd like to do mine that way. Think it will work in zone 5?

Ellicott City, MD(Zone 7a)


Daylily seeds will be fine for winter sowing. They may take an extra season to bloom because you are growing them from seed, but what have you got to loose....except for a few seeds.

"down the Shore", NJ(Zone 7a)

poppysue, yes I did! January. And they did great. I expect blooms the second summer (2004) as usual. They are YOUR crosses, by the way!

Ellicott City, MD(Zone 7a)

Here is my list of seeds I winter sowed last year.

Achillea (Yarrow)
Agapanthus africanus, "Peter Pan Blue"
Aster, "Liliput Blue"
Canterbury Bells
Carrots, "Little Finger"
Geranium Psilostemon
Ipomoea (Morning Glories)
Nicotiana (flowering tobacco)
Parsley, Flat leaf
Primula japonica
Rumex acetosa (Sorrel)
Salvia azurea
Salvia officinalis, "Tricolor"

Still Waiting:
Clematis hirsutissima

Dracocephalum speciosum
Nicandra (Black rod shoo-fly)
Periploca graeca (Grecian silk vine)

Freedom, PA(Zone 6a)

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

Thumbnail by cbrandenburg
Ellicott City, MD(Zone 7a)

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!!

Akron, OH(Zone 10b)

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!


Cathy,what kind of containers do you use?

Freedom, PA(Zone 6a)

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

Thumbnail by cbrandenburg
Freedom, PA(Zone 6a)

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.

Thumbnail by cbrandenburg
Brooklyn, NY(Zone 7b)

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!


Thumbnail by PVick
Princeton, IL(Zone 5a)

These are seeds that I have so far to be able to WS, that have not been mentioned above: Cone Flowers, Poppy, and Zinnia.

Anyone have any experience?

LimeyLisa Kay

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