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How to Winter Sow: A Step-By-Step Guide

Alrighty, let's get down and dirty shall we?! There's nothing better than bringing your potting soil inside to get some winter sowing started. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out my previous post that describes what winter sowing is. Without further ado, let's dig in!

My Winter Sowing laboratory aka my dining room table.

FYI: The bold rule still applies here. Skim the good stuff, wow your friends, life is good.

First, pick the right seed. You want to plant seeds that are HARDY to your area. This means that they can take a light frost. Tropical plants and any plant that dies at the first frost are not hardy. Plants that reseed themselves happily season to season in your area are hardy. Anything that is a PERENNIAL (meaning it comes back year after year) is good to sow. They are programmed to survive your area through winter. You can always look up a list of plants that are hardy to your area by doing a quick online search.

Next, clean out your containers. I use a little bit of bleach and about a cup of water. Even if you are an organic grower, it is permissible for you to use bleach to clean your pots and utensils. It is vital to your plants to start with a clean environment!

Prep your container for sowing. If you need to, cut your container in half. Try to have the bottom half be about 3-4” high to hold the potting soil and seeds. If you are using a jug, you can also take off and discard the lid. This will allow air and extra moisture to vent out of your little greenhouse. Poke some extra holes for venting and draining. Some people like to poke a few holes in the top of their containers, I find that I don’t need to add any more than taking the lid off of our OJ jugs. You’ll want to add holes to the bottom of your containers. How many depends on the size of the holes you make. I usually do about 8 evenly spaced pokes through the bottom. You can always make a few and add some if you have extra moisture. If you need a visual for your container prep, check out this video that I made for you!

Add some potting soil. Fill the bottom half of your container with potting soil. You’ll want enough soil to plant your seeds and to encourage healthy roots. The general rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them three times their size. If your seed is 1 cm big, you would plant it 3 cm deep. Having 2-3” of potting soil in your container is plenty enough. Add a little water to moisten the potting soil.

Plant those seeds! This is the part where you plant your seeds… I usually poke a few holes with a pencil or my finger and drop them in. I can fit about 12-16 large seeds in one jug. The smaller seeds I just sprinkle on top of the soil.

Tape up and label your container. Use your duct tape to close your containers. Write on the tape what you sowed and when so that when everything sprouts you’ll know what it is. Or if you like a surprise, skip the labeling ;)

Some of our first winter sown containers waiting for the snow

Put those babies outside. Pick a sunny spot to put your little experiments out and watch them grow. Don’t worry if they get snowed on, that’s part of the process.

Check on your containers every once in a while to make sure they didn’t tip over. You can also check to make sure the soil is still moist. If you feel like you need to add water, you can soak the containers in a tub of water and they will soak the water up from the bottom. This is really helpful for those teeny tiny seeds like poppies.

Once your seeds sprout, you can vent them further by undoing their tape and opening their lids. If I have to vent them a lot, I usually just transplant them to the garden at this point. Sometimes this isn’t feasible. If you are just experiencing a heat wave and there are still frosts to come, you would want to vent your sprouts and not transplant yet.

That’s it. You are on your way to having an awesome garden full of strong, winter sown plants.

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