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Winter sowing!

Ladysmith, BC(Zone 8a)

In January 4 & 5, I decided to try an experiment of winter sowing. I winter sowed over 258 cells of different plants, all cells have at least 5 seeds per cell. I covered them over with a plastic cover, which I had punched holes in for air ventilation.

January 26 went to check, 6 types of seeds had germinated!
Februay 6 went to check again, 15 more types of seeds had germintated!
So total out of 258 I have 21 types of seeds germinated in a month.

What is totally amazing is the little plants have pushed their way through the frozen soil!! They also look so healthy and not 'leggy' as they would be indoors under artificial lights.

I am interested to find out exactly what seeds germinate and figure if it is a failure, I only sacrificed 5 seeds for an experiment (if the seeds were large enough to count - some so small that I just listed as 'many').

Has anyone else tried 'winter sowing'?

Huntington Beach, CA(Zone 10a)

In fact I started 6 newspaper pots today. I started with Jacobs ladder, feverfew, burgandy gallardia, pink and cream astilbe and a purple Clemitis. Tomorrow I am doing some more in cell packs. I hope I have good resutls like you.


Philadelphia, PA(Zone 6b)

Hi GD,
This is my first year wintersowing so I'm looking forward to little green things in the I've sown about 40 small flats/containers of seeds, holding back half of my seeds. Many of the seeds outside need stratification or are tree seeds. I didn't winter sow anything tender or seeds that I planned to start indoors, anyway. Winter sown are:
Thermopsis montana
Norway Spruce
Canadian Hemlock
Clematis..many varieties
Swamp Milkweed
Butterfly weed
Tufting Violets
Paulonia Tree
Poet Phlox
Blue Eyed Grass
Clump Birch Tree
Trumpet Vine
Blackberry Lily
New England Aster
Mini Lobata Love vine
Maltese Cross
Missouri Primrose
Hibiscus..several ypes
Sea Oats
Wisteria Vine
Rattlesnake Master
My containers include chinese takeout containers, plastic soda bottles, seed trays, juice containers and some other containers. I have them against a sunny East wall. I'm keeping my fingers crossed as I continue to winter sow other varieties with faith and hope :)

There's been a lot about this on GW, and it's making me madder than mad! This is not a new, experimental idea at all. It is standard practice over here in Europe to sow seeds of perennials/alpines/trees/shrubs in the autumn and wait for them to germinate in the spring, or whenever they will. Over here, it is unheard of for ordinary people to use growlights. Only big professional growers do.

I always sow hundreds of seeds outside in the autumn and winter, in pots of ordinary compost, uncovered but protected from being washed away by rain. I'd prefer it if they got covered in snow, and I want them to get frosted.

Please don't be worried about this 'new' method - it's been tried and tested for generations, and it works fine.

On the other hand, we over here would be terrified at the idea of the space we'd need and the cost of the shelving and lights you normally use.

While I do germinate seeds by other methods, outside, over the winter, is the one I prefer.

East Meadow, NY

Good to hear of your success Dragon. Winter Sowing seems like an easy way to start a garden. Mary is right, this has always been used in Europe, but without the protective vented lids recommended by the method. In the New World, it is a NEW practice, an experiment. Over here it's all buy buy buy, before you think think think, so everyone believes the HAVE to use a propagator.


Rapid City, SD(Zone 5b)

Mary - I only learned of the winter sowing method this year while reading through a garden book. I was eager to try it. As you have no doubt guessed, this method was not common knowledge to many of us. I can say that after trading for 100 new varieties of seed, I got my rear in gear and did some research! There is no way I could possibly grow 150 varieties of plants in my basement.

Your experience with this method is extremely valuable for all of us trying this out for the first time, especially if you share what varieties winter sowing works well for. BTW, all mine are covered under a foot of ice and snow. Mary - pat my hand and tell me not to fret! LOL!


Do not fret! Snow is good - it provides insulation (so I'm told) on the mountains, so all your seeds stay nice and snug over the winter and are bursting with energy come spring. It's frosty here, but sunny, so I'll wrap up and go and see what's grown and get back to you.

Schenevus, NY

would this work it i stick the pots in a covered but sunny cold frame.???? I will def try this next yr. easy is good.

Well, I've checked what's growing from what I planted
outside from September till now. So far I have these:

Allium giganteum
Alyssum pulvinare
Alyssum saxatile compactum
Androsace sarmentosa
Aubrieta Rich Rose
Aubrieta sp
Campanula aucheri
Campanula betulifolia
Campanula eriocarpa
Campanula prenanthoides
Cephalaria radicata
Cheiranthus cheiri
Dianthus alpinus
Dianthus alwoodii
Dianthus Cottage Rose
Dianthus myrtinervius
Digitalis ferruginea
Draba sp ARGS 381
Draba sp 13cm
Exochorda macrantha
Heuchera Mixed
Hypericum humifusum
Hyssopus officinalis Pink
Hyssopus officinalis
Indigofera pendula
Lavandula angustifolia Dwarf
Lychnis yunnanensis
Muscari Valerie Finnis
Nepeta subsessilis
Origanum Showy
Papaver miyabeanum pacino
Phlomis italicum
Raoulia australis
Saponaria ocymoides
Satureja montana
Saxifraga canaliculatus
Saxifraga arendsii
Sedum brevifolium
Sedum acre
Silene zawadskii
Veronica longifolia
Veronica spicata White
Viscaria alpina

It is still frosty, so I don't expect the 'main crop' until it gets warmer, in April or May. Last year, these were amongst the ones that germinated outside:

Anemone pavonina
Antirrhinum sempervirens
Arenaria festucoides
Asphodelus fistulosus
Astrantia major Hadspen Blood
Calycanthus occidentalis
Calyptridium umbellatum
Campanula raineri
Catalpa bignonioides
Centaurea dealbata
Chelone glabra
Cistus symphytifolius
Clematis alpina
Clematis alpina Blue Dancer
Clematis flammula
Clematis macropetala
Clematis montana
Dianthus Brilliant Cascade
Dierama Snowbells
Edraianthus graminifolius
Edraianthus serbicus
Epilobium fleischeri
Erigeron aureus
Eritchium canum
Hoheria angustifolia
Iris decora
Iris pumila
Mimulus primuloides
Myosotidium hortensia
Myrica gale
Oxalis sp
Penstemon hirsutus minimus alba
Petroselinum crispum
Potentilla Etna
Primula sikkimensis
Pterocarya rehderiana
Pterocephalus perennis perennis
Rhodohypoxis baurii white
Sanguisorba canadensis
Trollius europaeus
Viola cornuta alba

You're right, eiroberts, easy is good. I sow them in seed compost in 2.75" pots in trays of 15 (reusable pots and trays), stick in a label, and put them outside.

I have them in three tiers of flimsy shelves covered in plastic back, sides and top but open at the front. Also on an old table and an old kitchen unit nearby. And under them. They get downgraded from the shelves to the table to underneath as I give up on them, but sometimes there's a nice surprise a couple of years later. Just got Helleborus and Eranthis sown in June, and Cyclamen sown in January 1999.

Rapid City, SD(Zone 5b)

Mary - thanks so much! I see you have obtained germination on many notoriously temperamental varieties. This is what I was hoping for :)

I think the kind of success you have had will certainly encourage others to try this out. I had my trollius scheduled for heavy pampering in August, but I will probably just go ahead and throw them out there.

I appreciate you taking the time to share this information with us and please keep us informed of your progress. Thanks!!

(Zone 7a)

It's good to know this is a tried and true method. I did my first this winter and it's working...whenever we have a warm spell, more of them keep popping up. Today I found my Clematis texensis showing its first sprout...this is going to be the most pampered baby in the kingdom. They are Texas natives, but just try to find one. If not endangered, they must be approaching threatened. I've got blue-eyed grass, asclepias tuberosa, rudbeckia hirta, physostegia, chinese forget-me-nots, centaurea, scabiosa, dianthus deltoids, achillea, agastache cana, catmint, foxglove, amaranthus, alyssum, ammi majus, carnations, centranthus ruber, hesperis matronalis, hollyhocks, agastache foeniculum, liatris, salvia and probably some others sprouting now. I've got lots of others planted and am very actively planting now. This method has certainly given me more time to plant rather than having to do it all in spring. I love it!

Schenevus, NY

ok..i am convinced..If t would stop blowing outside..i am going to yank those things out of the refrigerator and put them outside in the coldframe. (an old glass door, weighing a ton, which once i get it yanked up about 8 inches,tie it so it doesn't come down and kill me, i get down on my knees-belly and push things around. my soil thermometer says between 25-30 degrees..not bad. boy i hope those mums make it..I see them coming through the snow and ice...spring is on the way.

I just had a thought about something I ought to warn you about. If you're used to sowing under lights indoors, you're probably used to having a large seedling ready to go out in April or May. These winter-sown seedlings aren't going to grow much for the next few weeks, so don't panic or give up. On the other hand, they're not leggy or pale, and you don't have to keep taking them out and bringing them back in, and they aren't going to be killed by frost. When they do get going in the warmer weather, they'll be strong and sturdy and will soon catch up. I've just posted a picture on the Photo Forum to prove it.

I've found winter sowing works great, but I wouldn't go a winter without also starting some seeds under lights. Our growing season here in Upstate New York is much shorter than in England where I grew up, and some annuals might never get to bloom if they weren't started inside. Another big difference with our frozen winters here is the long spell when it is impossible to get into the garden between Dec and early March. Back home we had pansies blooming in December, and various shrubs flowering and bulbs poking through in January. My tiny seedlings provide the much needed relief from the winter dolldrums. Are they worth the $100 invested in shelving and shop lights - definately! It what keeps my sanity during these dark months. Using both methods I must admit that starting seeds indoors requires greater skill with regards to light and humidity levels, and I probably loose a few things inside to damping off where as those outside rarely suffer. But the 20 minutes or so a day I spend tending the indoor seedlings and potting them on are the highlight of my day! Whichever route you choose I hope you enjoy both the procedure and the results. Happy gardening!

Schenevus, NY

Do i have to water the pots i have in the cold frame. I jsut put them in there. they were damp, but as the cold frame is protected they get no moisture from the sky. I sunk the pots in the dirt(its 35 degrees in there according to soil therm.)

(Zone 7a)

I water the flats in my coldframes. They dry out fairly rapidly when the weather warms a little. Check them by'll soon learn what dry is. I sometimes open my coldframes if we are having a gentle rain. But be sure and check drainage or they can drown.

Schenevus, NY

i've sunk my pots in the ground a bit(the thought of just letting them be unprotected with out a blanket) and the dirt is a bit moist...i'll keep touching them anyway. How exciting e

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

Mary, I could use your advice. You mentioned above that you started your hellebores in June. I have my packet of helleborus niger seeds, and am planning to start them this summer, and transplant them in the fall (or maybe next spring?) I live in the southern part of zone 6 (middle Tennessee), and I could use some specific advice on outdoor sowing - sunlight, shade requirements, temperatures (should I wait until later to start them since we'll hit our heat peak in August?) Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
Terry (Go_Vols)

Well, I sowed my Helleborus seeds in June because that's when I got them! I had previously sowed some in winter (when I got them) but they didn't do so well - they were commercial ones. The ones I sowed in June were all from a trade, and I have a pot full of seedlings in four different colours now. I just put them in the pot of compost and left them in what I call my frame until they germinated.

I think it just means they like a cold period before they germinate - in your zone you must still have some cold nights coming? We've had a bit of snow here today. So I'd be happy just to sow them now and see what happened. I don't think you'd need to be worried about sun and high temperatures just yet - unlike those people who keep telling us it's hit 80 today and their tomatoes will be done by June!

Legal, AB(Zone 3a)

I'm in zone 3 here and have 10 trays planted in the winter sow method just covered with a layer of plastic wrap and watered well. I have them in my unheated garage right now,,,I have no greenhouse but should I just put them right outside??? What if they decide to grow, what would stop them from freezing??? I'll end up with 20 trays in all and I don't want to lose any of my "babies" to Jack Frost so any help would be greatly appreciated!!

Hi Nece,

It's been cold here for the last week, and my trays have been covered in snow - it's just melted today. There are trays of pots of seeds, and new seedlings only 1" high, and seedlings from last year. They're uncovered - no plastic wrap. They're frozen right now - the snow on top has melted, but the compost is still solid. I'm just leaving them to come up when it gets warmer. They always do.

Spring Hill, FL(Zone 9a)

Hey MC welcome to upstate New York. Great description of the weather too. As a life long resident of the lower North Pole I appreciate the cabin fever syndrome and it is the main reason I started gardening. Now in my retirement situation I start my tender annuals in Spring Hill and transport them to NY but before that I used to have pots and flats in every window upstairs and down and tiers of flats with shop lights all over the basement and stained glass studio. Wouldn't trade the cool breezy summers and gorgeous brisk fall weather in NY for anywhere I've ever been though!

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