Winter sowing milk jugs

Milk Jug Winter Sowing: How To Start Seeds In A Milk Jug

For gardeners, spring can’t come soon enough and many of us have been guilty of jumping the gun and starting our seeds way too early inside. A terrific method for starting seeds that can be done earlier is milk jug winter sowing, which is basically sowing seeds in a milk jug that becomes a mini greenhouse. Keep reading to learn about milk jug seed pots.

About Sowing Seeds in a Milk Jug

Sure, you can recycle plastic milk jugs, but a better use for them is to repurpose them for milk jug winter sowing. This is a low maintenance way to start seeds earlier than you thought possible. The sealed jug acts as a greenhouse that allows the seeds to germinate several weeks ahead of direct sowing.

The plants are sown in their mini greenhouse outside, eliminating the need to harden seedlings off. The seeds also go through a period of stratification which is necessary for some types of seeds to germinate.

How to Make Milk Jug Seed Pots

Milk jugs are usually the preferred vehicle for this type of sowing, but you may also use any semi-transparent plastic container (apparently the semi-opaque milk containers work as well) that has room for at least 2 inches (5 cm.) of soil and at least 4 inches (10 cm.) for growth. Some other ideas are juice jugs, strawberry containers, and even rotisserie chicken containers.

Rinse out the milk jug and punch four drainage holes into the bottom. Cut the milk jug horizontally at the bottom of the handle working your way around the circumference; leave an inch (2.5 cm.) or so to act as a hinge at the handle.

How to Sow Seeds in a Milk Jug

Use either a soilless seed starting mix or an potting mix that has been sifted to remove any large chunks of bark, twigs or rocks and has been amended with perlite, vermiculite or, ideally, sphagnum moss. If using a potting mix, make sure it has no fertilizer which can burn the seedlings. The most ideal seed starting medium for milk jug winter sowing is 4 parts screened aged compost to 2 parts perlite or vermiculite, and 2 parts peat moss.

Fill the bottom of the jug with 2 inches (5 cm.) of slightly damp medium. Plant the seeds according to the package instructions. Replace the top of the milk jug and seal it as best you can with tape; packing tape works best. Place the containers in an area of sun outdoors.

Keep an eye on the containers. If temperatures dip, you may want to cover the jugs with a blanket at night. Water the seedlings lightly if they dry out. When temperatures hit 50-60 F. (10-16 C.), especially if it is sunny, remove the tops of the jugs so the seedlings won’t fry. Cover again in the evening.

When the seedlings have produced at least two sets of true leaves, it is time to transplant them into individual containers to allow the roots to grow and then transplant them into the garden.

What to Sow in Milk Jug Seed Pots

Seeds that require cold stratification, hardy perennials and hardy annuals and many native plants can be started in milk jug seed pots in early to mid-winter.

Cold crops like brassicas, native plants and wildflowers that require short periods of stratification, heirloom tomatoes and many herbs can be started using this method in late winter through early spring. Tender annuals and summer vegetable crops that require warmer temps to germinate and don’t reach maturity until late summer (tomatoes, peppers, basil) can also be started in milk jugs during this time or later.

Information on seed packets will also help you to figure out which seeds should be planted when. ‘Direct sow after all danger of frost has passed’ becomes code for plant in late winter/early spring, and ‘start indoors 3-4 weeks before average last frost” means sow in milk jugs in mid to later winter, while “sow 4-6 weeks before average last frost” indicates planting time in early to mid-winter.

Lastly, but most importantly, remember to clearly label your pots as you sow them with a waterproof ink or paint.

DIY Mini Milk Jug Greenhouses

Have you been dreaming of spring seedlings and summer gardens, looking through your seed catalogs? Spring can’t come too soon in my part of the woods! I saw a Pinterest post a few months ago about making mini milk jug greenhouses and I thought I would give it a try. I have found it is a way to bring a little bit of spring into my house this winter.

My milk jug greenhouse had been in an east facing windowsill in January. If you have a south facing window, that will work well too. At this time of year you should try to get as much sun on the seedlings as possible. This will cut down in the legginess that winter plants sometimes get. You can also give it additional light with grow lights, but I’m trying the frugal way here!

After two weeks, the seedlings look fantastic. I’m planning on using these for harvesting Microgreens but you can use the same idea to start your seeds indoors and get a jump on the growing season.

Materials needed for a Milk Jug Greenhouse

1 gallon or 1/2 gallon plastic milk jug
Sharp knife
Scissors
Packing tape (inside use) or duct tape (outside use)
Potting Soil
Seeds

Use this idea for starting your seed indoors or out

Instructions for making and using a Milk Jug Greenhouse indoors:

  • // Wash your milk jugs. Keep the lid.
  • // Cut around the jug about 3-4 inches from the bottom. leaving the back 1/4 attached (use it as a hinge). Be sure you leave the handle intact.
  • // Fill it with 2″ of potting soil. No need to cut holes in the bottom if you are growing these inside.
  • // Place your seeds inside. I soaked mine for 1 hour and placed them extra close together for Microgreens. You can also space them out for future transplanting. A half gallon jug can probably handle about 9 pea seeds.
  • // Tamp the seed down a bit.
  • // Cover your seeds with another shallow layer of potting soil. The bigger the seed the thicker the soil. Don’t fill it higher than your cut sides.
  • // Water in your seeds but don’t water them so much they are “swimming” in moisture. A good dampening will do.
  • // Close the top and put tape around the jug to keep the moisture in your milk jug greenhouse.
  • // Re-cap your mini greenhouse to keep in the moisture.
  • // Place your milk jug greenhouse in a south or east facing window and check it every few days. Spray water inside if needed. You are aiming for moist, but not soaking.
  • // After a few days you should see your seeds sprouting .
  • // Depending on the type of seed you are using, they should be ready for garden transplanting or Microgreens in 14 days.

I have had wonderful success with this method of seed starting and will continue to use it for microgreens and for getting an early jump on my garden starts. Next – outdoor seedling starts – I can’t wait!

For More Information:

If you are thinking about starting seeds outside in your milk jug greenhouse, . The only difference really, is drilling holes in the bottom of the jugs before planting and leaving the top off so it can receive rain water. They seem to be pretty self sufficient, but I haven’t personally tried it.

The Parsimonious Princess has also had success with outdoor milk jug greenhouses.

This post brought to you by Miracle-Gro. All opinions are 100% mine.

Summer vacation is here, and I have been trying to come up with some crafts that the kiddos and I can do together. Since I am never at a loss for milk jugs, I decided to keep a few, and turn them into some type of frugal upcycling project.

After some brainstorming and a look at the supplies I had on hand, my daughter and I would transform these jugs into flower pots. Check out How To Make A Milk Jug Flower Pot! An Easy And Fun Kids Garden Project!

To complete this project, all you need is the following:

– Milk Jug

– Utility Scissors

– Screwdriver or Ice pick

– Markers

– Garden Soil

– AND Creativity!

Tip: To remove the label from the milk jug, tear as much as you can off and then soak in water for a couple minutes. Then, rub dish soap on it, and scrap it off with your nails. It should come off pretty easy.

I made a template so my daughter would have an idea of what this would become, and I made up a little design. Of course she had her own ideas. I think they are beautiful ideas.


Once the artwork was finished, I cut off the top of the jug by removing the lid and just going along the side. I kept the handle in the back for easy transport.

In addition, I used the screwdriver to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. I put around 10 holes. FYI, I did all of the cutting and poking to keep my little one safe.

After this, we headed outside and I let my daughter add in all of the soil. If you are looking for a brand of garden soil, check out Miracle-Gro for your gardening needs. I then dug up shoots of plants I already had in my yard.

Check out our finished project!

I think these pots would also be great for herbs. And yes the holes do work for drainage! I guess now I’ll need to pick up some Shake’n Feed All Purpose Plant Food to keep these plants alive.

Looking for your own garden inspiration? Visit Miracle Gro’s Pinterest board for fun garden projects or check out Miracle-Gro on Facebook at The Gro Project.

You can also watch the following video to get motivated!

What special garden projects do you have planned with your family? If you try this one out, let me know what you think!

FFM

Start saving plastic jugs from milk, vinegar and tea to use this spring.

Heat mats are used to keep the soil around 20-degrees warmer than the surrounding air, and eager gardeners are using them to start tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tobacco, savory, sedum and other warm season plants this month.

To use plastic milk jugs as seed starting hot houses, first wash the bottles with soap. Cut them in half horizontally to make a planting pot on the bottom and a greenhouse on the top. Poke or cut a few holes in the bottom for drainage.

Fill the bottom with 3 inches of potting mix and moisten it. Plant the seeds according to the seed packet instructions and water gently to settle the seeds. Close the lid and tape the two halves together. Put your mini-greenhouses in a sunny location. The moisture inside will condense and water the seeds but check them once a week.

You can use a heat mat or make a warm-soil box with a little wood and a rope light. See https://bit.ly/2SY8R5z.

Make newspaper transplanting pots while you are waiting for the seedlings using the instructions at https://bit.ly/2RuFR8W.

When the seedlings have two or three sets of leaves, transplant them into individual pots.

Rabbits and other critters can damage young plants. To protect them, use a one-gallon bottle for each plant. Use a box cutter to cut a wide X in the bottom of each jug and then cut the X an inch up the sides.

Peel back all four wings of the X so the jug can stand on the wings. Remove the top 2-inches of the jug. See https://bit.ly/2MeLuSP.

When your plants and the weather are ready, plant as usual and place the plastic jugs over them. To secure the bottle, mound soil onto the wings and one-third of the way up. Leave the plant protectors on during the growing season, clean them in the fall and store for next year.

Molly Day has been gardening for 40 years and garden writing for 15 years. You can search 2,000 entries in her blog at www.allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com.

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When it comes to starting vegetable or flower seeds, I’ve tried just about every method out there–and most of them have ended in frustration or taken hours of hand holding just to get them to the garden. But when I learned how to start seeds in milk jug greenhouses, I grew the strongest, healthiest plants ever. You can do it too! Here’s how!

This post contains affiliate links

Milk jug greenhouses produce hearty, healthy plants that are ready to transplant long before any indoor grown plants. Because they have been exposed to temperature shifts for the duration of the growing season, these plants suffer almost zero transplant shock and often grow larger and produce more fruit than plants sown with other methods.

What you’ll need for your milk jug greenhouses

The supply list for these isn’t long, but you do need to pay very close attention to buying quality supplies. I accidentally bought enough supplies to last me through almost three gardening seasons last year so I’m all set.

Remember: if you want strong plants, you can’t skimp on quality. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Milk jugs: get the ones that are semi-transparent and not the solid white ones. You need some light to come through. 2 liter soda bottles also work pretty well with this method if you have those. Calculate up how many plants you want to sow, and plan (depending on the plant type) to put between 3 and 5 seeds per jug.
  • Awesome quality potting soil. Note: DO NOT USE SEED STARTING MIXES. Seed starting mixes are way too light and don’t have the nutrients necessary to sustain your plants in their greenhouses for an extended period of time. You will not be transplanting these plants until you put them in your garden, so they need high quality potting soil. I use Black Gold. It’s not cheap, but it pays off in the end when your plants are super strong and healthy.
  • A paint pen Some gardeners have had trouble with their labels wearing off their jugs while they sit outside. I used CraftSmart oil based pens and my labels never budged. You can also place labels inside your jugs if you’d like extra reassurance that you’ll know what’s what.
  • Duct tape to seal the jugs closed.
  • Vegetable or flower seeds of your choice. I’m a huge fan of Baker Creek Heirloom seeds, but I also buy them at Walmart and my garden center if I’m after something specific.

Black Gold Potting Mix Plus Fertilizer is my preferred brand for strong plants.The Craft Smart oil based paint pen will keep your labels on all spring!

How to start milk jug greenhouses step by step:

Step 1: Cut your jugs in half and toss out the lids. NEVER put the lids on your jugs once they are sown–so just toss those out right now. Using a serrated knife, cut your jugs in half, leaving the handle attached like a hinge. Poke 4 1-inch holes in the bottom for drainage. I like to cut my jugs a couple of days before I want to sow seeds so I don’t feel so overwhelmed with the process.

Step 2: Moisten the soil really well. I started by putting about half of a bag of potting mix in a wheelbarrow. I added water by the gallon until it was heavy with water, but not swimming in a pool of it. Keep stirring it in and leet it absorb. When it’s thoroughly wet, add about 6 inches of it to the container. Remember your plants will need plenty of room for their roots to grow and expand so this much soil is necessary.

Step 3: Add seeds. How many seeds you add to your jugs will vary depending on what you’re raising. I tend to do 5 per jug usually. One on each “corner” and one in the center. NOTE: BE CAREFUL NOT TO PUT THE SEEDS TOO DEEP IN THE SOIL OR THEY WON’T SPROUT. I barely cover mine. 1/4″ of soil is plenty. If you shove them an inch deep, you’re never going to see them again and you’ll be mega disappointed. Add your inside labels now if you are using them.

Step 4: Close your container and seal all air gaps with duct tape. Make sure you get every spot of air sealed or your greenhouse effect won’t work.

Step 5: Label the jug. Use your paint pen to write on the jug. You can write just the plant name or the date you sowed them if you choose. Whatever keeps you organized. I like to use the seed starting guide inside my Farmer’s Friend Planner for this. It keeps me super organized and lets me track how well my seeds do from year to year.

Step 6: Set them outside in a full sun location. We’ll talk more about how to care for your jugs in a minute, but for now, carry them all out into the sun and admire your work. It’s a beautiful thing. If you have a lot of wind where you live, prop your jugs on both sides with something supportive like bricks or stones so they don’t blow over and mess your seeds up. Ask me how I know.

How to care for milk jug greenhouses

Once your greenhouses are sitting pretty, they won’t need much. If your jugs are tightly sealed they will make a greenhouse effect and you’ll see moisture collect on the inside of the jugs. This will drip back down on to your soil inside the container…BUT….if your soil begins to look dry, water.

If your seeds haven’t sprouted yet, you don’t want to just dump water down the hole of your jugs. You can dislodge them or force them deeper into the soil so they don’t emerge. Instead, I like using a spray bottle and just misting water inside. Just four or five squirts through the top is plenty. Some people like to set their jugs in a shallow tub of water as well so the moisture is absorbed from the bottom up. Either way is fine.

Just keep them moist (check them daily) and you’ll soon see sprouts of plants emerging. How long that will take depends on what you’re growing.

What to do if it gets cold

If you’ve sown your seeds and the temperature drops below freezing and they HAVE NOT sprouted, you’re fine! Don’t do anything to the jugs. In fact, there’s a whole method called winter sowing where you do just this. Put the seeds out in winter, leave them under snow and they will sprout naturally when spring arrives.

If your plants have sprouted, you’ll want to either move your jugs indoors or in to a garage for the night then take them back out the next day, or just cover them with a blanket until morning.

What to do if it gets too hot for your milk jug greenhouses

I never have this problem, but if temperatures spike and your sprouted plants seem to be struggling, you can move your jugs into the shade. Some people even have to undo some of the tape and let some air through.

When to sow your milk jug greenhouses

If you don’t want to do the winter sowing technique, it’s really important to know when to sow seeds for your growing area or zone. Here in Kentucky, temperatures can spike to 70 for two weeks in February then tank to below zero again in March–I don’t dare try the full winter sowing approach. Everything would sprout then die.

I start my plants 8 weeks before I want to plant them. That’s usually mid-May here so mid March is when I start my seeds. About a week before you’re ready to transplant, take the tape off your jugs and leave them gapped so the plants can further adjust to the outside temperatures. You can even hinge open the jugs after two or three days. Just remember to check their moisture level and water as necessary.

Tomato plants that were started from seed using the winter sowing method. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

This is actually an update of a tip from David Clark, the nationally known horticulture speaker who teaches at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.

Winter sowing is great because it gives us gardeners in Western New York something to do when it’s cold and snowy out. You plant hardy seeds in old milk jugs or other containers and set the containers outside now. The seeds will know when they should sprout in the spring.

This is also great if you want to start lots of seeds, but don’t have as much room inside on your window sills as you would like.

Note: It’s too early to start seeds inside now. The seeds will germinate, but the sprouts will get leggy and weak before you are able to transplant them outside.

Will opaque milk jugs work for winter sowing?

I had first tried winter sowing a few years ago with the translucent milk jugs that we used to get in stores around here. Find the directions for the milk jug greenhouse here.

I had good results, but wasn’t sure if it would work with the newer opaque milk jugs, so I tried it last winter.

This does work with opaque milk jugs!

I tried it last winter and by spring I had tomato seedlings. I worried that they were coming up later than they should, but our spring was cold, so they were probably on time.

I’m not sure why it worked with the opaque milk jug, but it did. When the top and bottom halves of the opaque jug were closed, they didn’t fit together as neatly as they did on the translucent milk jug. Maybe that let in enough light for the sprouts.

Other containers for winter sowing

If you don’t trust the idea of using containers that are opaque, there are lots of other options.

From a neighbor, I got a transparent jug that had contained some kind of juice. That container that would work well for winter sowing. (You can see it here cut in a different way to form a mini greenhouse to protect a seedling in an early spring garden.)

Reader Phyllis Lobbins uses the containers that come with baby spinach leaves, spring mix or other lettuce mixes. She also uses the larger strawberry containers and some take-out containers. Other people use two-liter pop bottles, water jugs and the containers for leftovers with the colored translucent lids. As long as the container holds two to three inches of soil and has a transparent or semi-translucent top, it can be used, she said.

“After a while you start looking at all these bottles and storage containers and think, ‘Hmm, I can use that for winter sowing,’ Lobbins said. “Then you know you’re hooked! Some people online even talk about raiding their neighbor’s recycling bins!”

You might want to think about adding holes for air ventilation to some of these containers. With the milk jugs, I left the cap off, which provided plenty of air circulation. However, if you’re using a container with a tight-fitting lid, I would suggest poking holes in it to allow air to circulate.

Many people suggest poking holes in the bottom of your container for water drainage. I didn’t do that when I used milk jugs and it worked fine.

What kind of seeds can you use for winter sowing?

Anything that will sprout from your compost pile is a good contender. I’ve had tomato plants and cantaloupe plants show up in my garden where I didn’t plant them– The seeds had been tossed on the compost pile and the seeds germinated where I had spread the compost.

Another group of plants that are good for this technique are self sowers. If you have a plant that drops seeds onto your flower bed, and the next year you get more plants growing from those seeds, you should be able to use that kind of seed in winter sowing.

Some seeds that are good for winter sowing include:

Vegetables

  • Tomatoes
  • Squash, including zucchini
  • Cantaloupe

Flowers

  • Alyssum
  • Cosmos
  • Delphinium
  • Lupine
  • Marigold
  • Zinnia

That’s just a short list; there are many seeds that can be used in winter sowing. When you’re looking at your seed packet, there are certain words or phrases that indicate it would be a good candidate, according to WinterSown.org.

Some of these phrases are:

  • Hardy
  • Self-sown, reseeds
  • Wildflower
  • Will colonize
  • Can be direct sown early
  • Seedlings can withstand frost
  • Sow outdoors in late autumn, early winter or late winter
  • Sow outdoors in early spring while nights are still cold or cool
  • Needs pre-chilling, freeze seeds, refrigerate seeds, stratify for x number of days or needs stratification

Have you tried winter sowing? What was your experience like? Please leave a comment.

Winter sowing is fun and easy! In this quick-start guide, I cover everything from the benefits and when to begin, all the way through to maintenance and transplanting. Plus I’ll give you detailed step-by-step instructions to show you exactly how to winter sow your seeds.

If you enjoy growing seeds, then you definitely need to give winter sowing a try. It’s a really fun method to use, and has even been a game-changer for some gardeners.

With the winter sowing method, you put your seeds outside so they don’t take up any space in the house. Plus, you don’t have to buy any expensive equipment, or fuss over tender seedlings for months on end.

There are lots of other benefits too, which I will list out below (I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here). I will also tell you all the details you need to know in order to get started, and give you step-by-step instructions too.

Here’s what you’ll find in this quick-start winter sowing guide…

  • What Is Winter Sowing?
  • Benefits
  • When Can You Start?
  • How To Winter Sow
    • The Best Soil To Use
    • Choosing Containers
    • Types Of Seeds To Plant
    • Step-By-Step Instructions
  • How Long Do The Seeds Take To Grow?
  • Monitoring & Maintaining Your Containers
  • Planting The Seedlings Into The Garden

What Is Winter Sowing?

Winter sowing is a fun and easy way to start seeds outside during the winter. You plant your seeds in miniature greenhouses made from recycled plastic containers, and then put them outside in the snow and freezing cold.

Once the weather starts to warm up in the spring, the seeds will germinate at their own pace, just as in nature. Sounds cool, right? It gets better…

Benefits Of Winter Seed Sowing

For me, the biggest benefit of winter sowing is space. Since they go outside, they don’t take up any space in the house. That is HUGE!

But there are lots of other BIG benefits of winter sowing too…

  • You don’t need to buy any special equipment or grow lights
  • There’s no need to sterilize seedling trays
  • There’s no risk of the seedlings damping off
  • Winter sown seedlings don’t need to be hardened off, they are already growing outside
  • The seedlings are hardier, and more robust, which means they have a much higher survival rate
  • You can start planting your seeds much earlier

When Can You Start?

One of the things I love the best about winter sowing is that there is no set schedule you need to worry about. You don’t have to think about your last frost dates, or time your plantings to avoid leggy seedlings.

You can winter sow seeds outdoors at your own convenience, and whenever you have time. The only rule you need to follow is to wait until freezing temperatures are here to stay. Learn exactly when to begin here.

How To Winter Sow Seeds

Winter sowing is easy. There’s no fancy technique, or any complicated equipment setup required. You only need a few supplies to get started.

But, there are are couple of things you need to understand before you begin. So, first let’s talk about the three main things you’ll need… soil, containers, and seeds.

The Best Soil To Use

The best type of soil to use is an all-purpose potting soil. I’ve also used a seed starting potting mix, which works just fine. But those can be a little bit more expensive.

Just make sure you buy a quality potting mix. Cheap dirt is too heavy, and could be full of weed seeds. Also, always use fresh, sterile potting soil, and never, use garden soil in any of your containers. Read about the best soil to use (and which ones to avoid) here.

Filling a milk jug with soil

Choosing Containers

There are tons of different types of containers you can use to make your mini greenhouses for winter sowing. They can be made out of items you throw out every day. Things like milk jugs, 2 liter bottles, restaurant/deli/bakery food storage, ice cream buckets…etc.

The shape and size doesn’t matter, but it must be made of transparent plastic. It should also be deep enough to hold 3-4 inches of soil in the bottom, and tall enough to allow a few inches of headspace for the seedlings to grow. Read all about how to choose the best containers here.

Types Of Seeds To Plant

It’s important to use the correct types of seeds, because you can’t just use anything. The best ones to use for winter sowing are cold hardy annuals, herbs and cold crop vegetables, or plants that are perennial in your zone.

If you’re unsure, check the seed packets. Look for terms like “self-sowing”, “direct sow outside in the fall”, “direct sow outside in early spring” or “cold stratification”.

Keywords like these are good indicators of seeds that will work well for winter sowing. Learn all about how to choose the best seeds to use here.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before getting started, be sure to clean your containers. You can simply rinse them out if there’s no residue in them. Otherwise, if they’re dirty, then be sure to wash them first. Here’s how to clean your containers.

Supplies Needed:

  1. Containers
  2. Scissors
  3. Drill or old metal knife
  4. Potting soil
  5. Seeds
  6. Heavy duty tape or duct tape
  7. Plant tags (optional)
  8. Pencil, permanent marker or paint pen

Step 1: Choose your containers – Raid your recycling bin to find the perfect mini greenhouses, or ask your family and friends to save them for you. It may take some time to build up a good selection, so be sure to start hunting for them a few weeks before you plan to begin winter sowing.

Different types of containers to use for winter sowing

Step 2: Prepare the mini greenhouses – If you’re using a tall, narrow container, like a 2 liter bottle or milk jug, first cut it in half using a pair of scissors. Then poke holes in the bottom for drainage, and also in the top for ventilation. Use a drill to make the holes, or a hot knife to melt them into the plastic. Learn exactly how to prepare winter sowing containers here.

Making drainage holes in milk jug greenhouse

Step 3: Add the soil – Fill the bottom of your mini greenhouse with 3-4 inches of potting soil or a seedling mix. If the soil is really dry, you may want to wet it down a bit before planting the seeds.

Step 4: Plant the seeds – The number of seeds you add to each container is up to you. But I prefer to space them out a bit to make it easier to transplant the seedlings later on. If they’re sown too thick, it will be difficult to separate the seedlings.

Planting seeds in winter sowing containers

Step 5: Label your winter sowing – When you plant seeds in the dead of winter, you will forget what’s in the containers by spring – trust me on this one! So you’ll definitely want to label them. There are a few ways you could do that. Some people write on masking or duct tape, and others write directly on the top of the container.

However, if you use a permanent marker on top, the writing will fade in the sun, and could be unreadable by spring. I recommend using a paint pen to write on the top. If you use tape, put it on the bottom of the container so the writing won’t fade.

My preferred method for labeling my winter sown seed containers is to use plastic plant markers, and writing on them with a pencil. Then I push the marker into the soil, and I have never had one of them fade.

Step 6: Water the soil – After you’re done planting the seeds, water the soil thoroughly, and allow it to drain before moving them outside.

I give mine a light shower with the sprayer in my kitchen sink because it won’t disrupt the soil or displace the seeds. If the soil is really dry, then water it a few times to make sure it’s evenly moist.

Watering seeds after winter sowing in milk jugs

Step 7: Put the lids on – The details for this step depend on what type of container you used. If the lid snaps on and fits tight, then you’re done.

If you used something tall that you had to cut in half (i.e.: milk jug, 2 liter bottle… etc), then you can use duct tape (or other heavy duty tape) to attach the lid back on (but leave the caps off).

You can tape any of the lids on if they don’t fit tightly. Just make sure you don’t completely cover the transparent parts of the container, or the holes you made back in step 2.

Step 8: Move them outside – Move your winter sown containers outside to a spot where they are protected from heavy wind, but will get moisture and full sun. If you have pets or children, put your containers on a table, or other spot where they will be out of reach.

Step 9: Forget about them until spring – Once they’re moved outside, you can pretty much forget about them until spring. Don’t worry, it’s OK if they’re completely covered by snow for a few months. Just leave them be.

Winter sown seeds outside in the snow

How Long Do Winter Sown Seeds Take To Grow?

The seeds will start growing at their own pace, and the timing can be different for each one. Some may start germinating before the snow even melts off the containers. While others won’t start growing until the weather gets warmer in the spring.

On average, my winter sown seeds start germinating in early March… but I’m in Minneapolis zone 4b. Warmer zones will start to see sprouts much earlier. Oh, and it can also vary year to year, depending on the weather.

The best thing to do is to make sure you check regularly for any signs of sprouts. Start checking them as the weather begins to warm up in the late winter/early spring. The hardiest seeds will germinate first.

Winter sown seeds growing in the spring

Monitoring & Maintaining Your Containers

The only maintenance you have to do in the spring is to make sure your seedlings don’t overheat, and that the soil doesn’t dry out.

Those mini greenhouses can get pretty hot inside in the sun, so you may need to vent them more. You can vent them by cracking the lids open, or making the holes in the top larger.

Once the seedlings get tall enough that they are touching the top of the inside of the container, it’s time to remove the lids.

The soil can dry out pretty quickly once you take the lids off, so check them at least once a day, and water if necessary. Once the lids are off, keep an eye on the weather report. If there is a chance for freezing temperatures, cover your seedlings with a sheet or blanket overnight.

Planting The Seedlings Into The Garden

Once the seedlings are tall enough, and have grown their first few sets of true leaves, it’s time to plant them into the garden. Hardy winter sown seedlings can be transplanted as soon as the soil is workable in early spring.

There’s no need to harden them off either, since they’re already growing outside! You can simply plant them directly into the garden.

Winter sown seedlings ready to transplant into the garden

Winter sowing is a great way to grow the seeds for your garden every year. You can do it at your own pace, and there’s minimal care involved. And, since you don’t have to harden winter sown seedlings, it makes transplanting them a breeze too!

Next Steps: If you want more help learning how to winter sow, pick up a copy of my Winter Sowing eBook. It’ll be your essential guide that will walk you through every step of the process in detail.

If you want learn how to easily grow all of your plants from seeds, then the Online Seed Starting Course would be perfect for you! It is an in-depth online training that will walk you through everything you need to know about growing all types of seeds, step-by-step.

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More Posts About Winter Sowing

  • Winter Sowing Questions & Answers (FAQs)
  • Tips For Winter Sowing During A Mild Winter

Other Winter Sowing Resources

  • wintersown.org
  • Garden Web WS Forum

Have you tried winter sowing yet? Share your tips or experiences in the comments section below.

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