Did you know that you could sow your annual seeds in winter? I didn't, but now I'm hooked on winter sowing not only perennials and shrubs, but also many of my annuals. The following ideas can help to keep your garden chock-full of blooms all season long, too, and it's so easy to do!
Don't wait until spring to begin your garden, not even if you live where winter's deep cold and heavy snow cover seem to last forever. Many seeds of annual plants can be winter sown, and this process will give you a quick leap forward in your gardening endeavors well before the last frost leaves its mark. Starting seeds during the winter will also chase away those winter blahs, so it's a win-win situation for both you and your plants.
The pastel shades of springtime can be extended by a few weeks if seeds are winter sown. The seeds know better than we do as to when it's safe for them to sprout; why wait until that time has passed to get them going? In the past I'd always waited too late to start seeds of my spring bloomers, and those plants invariably frizzled out prematurely. Here in the Midwest (zone 5b/6), we go from freezing cold to blazing hot seemingly overnight, so an early start is critical for those annuals that can't handle the heat. Some of the first annuals to bloom here are the clarkias, annual poppies, and violas, all of which do well when winter sown. As an added bonus, the violas, especially, seem to be much stronger plants than those started in a greenhouse and later shipped to a garden center. They bloom much further into the warm season than those pampered transplants, and most will bloom again in the cooler days of autumn.
Moldavian Dragon's Head, lavatera, and phacelia are also quick to bloom from winter sown seeds, and will soon follow the first of the spring bloomers to race out of the starting gate.
Winter sowing petunias
was a shocking revelation for me! I'd always thought they were fussy and prissy plants that needed pampering in an indoor setting, but they absolutely love to grow in the cool winds and pounding rains of early spring.
Blue Pimpernel is one of my newest favorites for winter sowing. Blooms here appear in early June and continue throughout the baking heat of summer; right up until the first killing freeze. Poor Man's Orchid (or Balfour's Touch Me Not) thrives when winter sown, and blooms in shade all summer long. Another long-blooming plant that acts as an annual here is Blackfoot Daisy, and another wonderful melampodium to winter sow is Star Daisy (Melampodium paludosum)
Now that you've got a visual of what can be, let's move right along into the breakdown of how it's done. It's really a very simple concept: You keep the seeds moist and safe from the worst of nature's elements and the mouths of hungry creatures until they've sprouted. That's it.
While there's likely to be as many ways to accomplish this as there are days in the week, today we'll highlight two methods that are tried and proven by many of our ATP members.
The first I tried is the repurposed jug method
. This method works wonderfully for those folks who won't be up-potting their seedlings before planting out. You can up-pot them if you wish, of course, but if you run short on time they'll still have plenty of headroom to continue growing. Planting the entire mass of slightly older seedlings in one or two clumps is one of the favored methods of disbursement with this style of winter sowing. The drawbacks of this method are that it takes more prep time and it can be a bit difficult to prick out individual seedlings due to the interference of the jug itself.
The second method, one that I'm using now, is to sow seeds in vermiculite
; utilizing lidded, reusable containers. Re-usability is important to me, and since I generally up-pot all of my seedlings anyway, I'm opting for the space and time saving possibilities of this method this winter. I think it will allow me to get more seeds started this year than last. The one possible drawback that I can see is that there isn't as much vertical growing space available, so I'll have to check my containers for germination each day, once I see the first sprouts appear.
The joy of appreciating winter sown annuals continues into late summer with the bold and bright colors of Salvia coccinea, rudbeckia and Blanket Flower, to name a few.
As autumn and the end of gardening season approach, annual plants such as cosmos, cleome, snapdragon and a host of others carry the garden through until the first hard frosts appear.
Save a few of those most-precious springtime planting minutes by winter sowing a few of your hardy annuals this winter!
It's fast and efficient and the results can be fantastic!