Time to Winter Sow Your Seeds

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Posted by @valleylynn on
Have you tried winter sowing vegetable and ornamental plant seeds? If not, give it a try this winter. Many seeds, including tomato seeds and your favorite perennial seeds, do unbelievably well using this method.

Two years ago I learned about winter sowing.  I was amazed at how easy it was to grow new plants from seed and save a lot of money in the process. When I was told it was a carefree method, I was really skeptical; with the encouragement of several people I decided to give it a try. I still find it hard to believe just how easy it is.

This will work for anyone who lives in an area that has weather cold enough to cause dormancy in plants. This also works for those who live in very cold growing zones, such as zones 3 or 4. They will freeze, but nature will wake/thaw them up slowly as winter ends. No need to worry.

I started gathering gallon plastic milk jugs from friends and family. I even found some at our local recycling center. When I got them home I washed them thoroughly and left them upside down to drain completely. Just throw the caps away, or maybe you have another use for them?  I knew I wouldn’t be planting them until sometime in January (that is when our real winter begins in zone 8b), but I did all the prep work in December so they would be ready when planting time arrived. Here's what I do:

  1. After the jugs are dry I cut slits on the shoulders of the jugs, a box cutter knife works well for this. 
  2. At the bottom end of the handle, start cutting around the jug, leaving the handle attached to the bottom of jug.
  3. Next I punched/drilled four or five holes in the bottom for drainage. I do this from the inside pushing out. It makes the soft plastic point outward instead of into the jug. This lets more of the excess water drain out.
  4. Make plant markers to place inside the jugs. I use pencil because it won’t fade. I started using pencil when I noticed that even the marking pens that claimed not to fade, were fading away with the harsh winter cold, rain and then sun. I always put plant markers inside the jugs, this gives me double insurance of knowing what is growing.
  5. You can label the outside of your jugs at this time, if you know which seeds you will be planting.


Tools and areas marked for cutting/punching.


First cut around jug, leaving handle attached. Drain holes.


Soil, tag and seeds added. Taped closed. Don't worry about the cut seam.

You need to think about where you will place your jugs outside, once they have been planted.  I have a small cement slab that sits in full sun; I find that site works very well for me.

Have you prepared a list of seeds you want to winter sow, maybe your favorite heirloom tomato seeds; or maybe a new perennial seed you want to try?

Here are a few of the seeds I have grown using the winter sow method: snapdragon, columbine, Hostas, Roscoea purpurea, hardy geranium, nasturtiums, tomatoes, hardy and tender succulents, collards and many more.





You can plant the more tender type plant seeds in early spring (when signs of warming weather appear), like peppers, zinnias, etc. You will still have some cold weather and frost, but the jugs act like miniature greenhouses and provide warmth for the little seedlings.

Time to plant those seeds:

  1. Gather your favorite potting mix (I use Miracle Grow Potting Mix).
  2. Place about 3 inches of potting mix into your milk jug and water it. I like to add the water now, so I don’t disturb the seeds once they are planted.
  3. Plant seeds according to directions for that type of seed. Some need to be covered, some need light to germinate.
  4. Place a plant maker (with name of seed and date planted) inside the jug.
  5. Close jug and tape closed using a piece of Duct Tape.
  6. On the outside of the jug write the name of seeds planted and the date you planted them.

Now comes the hard part. Place them outdoors in an exposed area, making sure wind and animals can’t knock them over. There are many ways to accomplish this. Some of mine are placed in heavy cardboard boxes, or you can make a wooden frame around them.  Once you have set them outside, walk away. Yes, walk away; leave them there until warm weather arrives. You can occasionally peek through the open spout hole to see if anything is germinating, but don’t open them. When the plants germinate and start growing, you can open the top half of the jug on warm days so the plants don’t get too hot. At this time you might have to give them some added water if the soil is drying out. Once the seedlings have grown large enough to transplant, you can either move them to larger containers or plant them in their permanent location. If you were careful about planting only a few seeds per jug, you can cut the top portion of the jug off and finish growing the seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted. At this time, depending on the growing conditions needed by the plants, you can move the jug to shade or partial shade as needed. Once the top half of the jug is removed you will have to make sure the seedlings are watered when they need it.

You can also use the top half of the jug as a miniature greenhouse to protect the new seedlings from late frosts, once you have placed them in their permanent home. Just remember to remove the covers once the sun comes out or it will get too hot for the plants. This can also protect them from damage from pests, both insects and animals, until they become mature enough to survive on their own.

The real bonus I found in winter sowing is that the plants started with this method outgrew all of the larger/more mature looking nursery plants, all planted at the same time. The WS plants also did not go through any transplant shock and handled changes in weather with no adverse affects.

Out of curiosity, I wonder how using the jugs would work for those of you who don't have a cold/winter dormant season? Maybe it would be a great way to start new seeds even in tropical areas?

I would love to hear if any of you have tried it and what your results were in warm, tropical winters.


SOURCE for milk jugs:



Local recycling center

Your favorite place for coffee


You can use all kinds of opaque or clear plastic containers for winter sowing. Just be sure they have a lid of some kind and holes for drainage.

Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
winter sowing by orbaughb Jan 25, 2022 10:55 AM 8
Love Winter Sowing! by dnrevel Jan 25, 2022 10:50 AM 3
Thank You! by texasgreenthumb Feb 16, 2020 9:11 AM 4
Winter sowing by Troy1977 Apr 15, 2017 8:33 AM 1
Winter sowing. by chelle Feb 7, 2016 8:57 AM 29
Milk Jug Top by riceke Apr 15, 2015 7:55 PM 3
Poppies by Shannon Jan 31, 2015 11:05 AM 8
Winter sowing by lorishell Jan 27, 2015 5:49 AM 8
Nice article Lynn by kqcrna Dec 29, 2013 5:20 PM 58

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