During my recent interview with Michelle Mero Riedel about winter sowing—a budget-friendly way to start seeds outside in winter—she drew a distinction between winter sowing and spring sowing. Winter sowing is done between now and about March 31—and most of the seeds you are starting are for perennial flowers, those that will come back year after year. I used this method to start many wildflowers for my former garden.
Spring sowing, however, is what happens from April 1 on—it uses the winter sowing method but later in the season so you can start seeds of annual flowers, herbs and vegetables.
What is Winter Sowing?
As Michelle explained in the podcast, this seed starting method involves setting up mini-greenhouses using gallon milk or water jugs or similar recycled containers. You cut the containers apart so you can fill them with soil, plant seeds and water. Then you tape the containers back together and set them outside. Other than making sure the containers do not dry out—that is the kiss of death for your seeds, as I discovered on year—Mother Nature takes care of everything else.
As the weather warms up, you may remove the tops from the containers. When the seedlings are big enough to transplant, you take them out of the containers and then plant them in 4-inch pots for further growth or right into the garden.
This seed starting method is budget-friendly, great for beginners and fun to do. (If you happen to be teaching kids at home this spring, it would be a great science project for elementary or middle school students.)
Traditionally, winter sowing containers are put out in winter (duh!) and so the method does not work for vegetables, annual flowers or herbs. Their seeds don’t need (or like) the freeze-thaw cycles you get in winter. Using the same method, you can start the seeds in early spring and set them out in their minigreenhouses. On sunny days, the greenhouses will be warm enough to encourage germination and keep the plants snug as they grow.
Another advantage of the mini-greenhouses is they protect your seedlings from rabbits, squirrels, deer or whatever pests bother your plants.
I haven’t done spring sowing before, but this year I decided to start as many of my annual flowers as possible from seed. I have an abundance of seed packets for cosmos, marigolds, impatiens, nasturtiums and sunflowers to grow. Along with the vegetables I’ll be starting under lights, it would be a challenge to get as many plants as I need. So, I’ve started cleaning out and saving the empty milk jugs to use starting April 1. I’ll report back here and on my Instagram feed how the experiment goes.
If you are interested in winter sowing whether for perennial plants or spring-started vegetables, annual flowers and herbs, check out my interview with Michelle.