Winter Sowing Tomatoes

Just waiting for spring.

I’ve used the winter-sowing method for starting perennials from seed ever since Northern Gardener ran Michelle Mero Riedel’s article about the success she has had with the method. Briefly, winter sowing involves planting seeds in damp potting soil in mini-greenhouses, mostly using clear gallon milk jugs. You set the containers outside any time in winter and in spring they sprout. This website has a detailed description of the process.

My results have never been as good as Michelle’s. But, the method does work, and this year I decided to try it with tomatoes. Like many gardeners, I often find tomato “volunteers” in spots where I grew tomatoes the previous year. So there’s no question the seeds can stand up to winter here. I’m starting more annuals from seed this year, so my light stand is getting full already. Last night, I collected my containers, dampened the seed starting/potting soil mix, and planted three kinds of cherry tomatoes: Austin’s Red pear, Sugar Sweetie, and a red and yellow mix. I also planted a container of a new morning glory mix that I’m trying.

The containers have joined those planted with lupines, coneflower and other perennials that I know respond well to winter sowing. With the warm weather coming this week, I’m hoping it won’t be too long before we have seedlings.

5 Replies to “Winter Sowing Tomatoes”

  1. So last year I started as many tomatoes as I could fit under my lights inside about 6 weeks before the last frost. They did fantastic.

    I had a bunch of leftover seeds though, and a bit of extra garden space, so I direct sowed those seeds when the I was confident the risk of frost had past.

    If the directly sown seeds weren’t just as productive it was too close to call. Any idea why this would be the case? It seems like a 6 week head start should give plant a clear advantage!

    Either way, I like the idea of outdoor sowing better. I’ll have to collect containers and try it next year.

  2. Interesting! Was it really cold or wet and cold after you planted the seedlings? Sometimes if you plant out tomatoes too early, they will just sit in the cold and actually be set back.

    Normally you get earlier, bigger yields with tomatoes started inside, and some varieties will not ripen because they have a long period to maturation compared to the length of our summers. What I like about winter sowing is it’s a bit more hands-off than seed starting indoors. You do have to open and close up the containers (depending on weather) once they start growing, but basically us just leave them along and they grow. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. How did the morning glories do with the winter sowing method? It looks as though you planted around mid-March. I’m in zone 5b, and have planted winter hardy perennials and biennials, but haven’t ventured into tender annuals. What was your experience?

  4. As I recall, the morning glory container got water-logged during a storm and did not do well with winter-sowing. However, I’ve had better luck with morning glories just sowing the seed in the garden. There’s an article on winter-sowing vegetables in the January/February issue of Northern Gardener, if you would like more information on later-season winter sowing.

  5. I planted about 20 pots in the basement. Waited about 4 days then went to put them out and found they looked like all sprouted and leggy. :>( I thought it would take at least a week for them to sprout so I was not worried. I was waiting for better weather that was prognosticated. Sure blew that one. Still took them out and the sprouted ones froze out so far it appears, but we’ll see what happens now. Sure hope it works as I had to spend a couple hundred bucks on plants last year. I have no room for interior starting, and no south windows. So I was really excited to learn about winter
    sowing.

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