Start seeds outdoors with winter sowing

Start seeds outdoors with winter sowing

Save money and indoor space used to start seeds indoors with winter sowing. This easy technique allows you to start seedling transplants outdoors without a greenhouse or cold frame.

Growing your own seed transplants can save you money and is often the only option for new, unique and other hard to find plants. Not everyone has the time, equipment and dedication to watering needed to start plants indoors.

All you need are flower and vegetable seeds, milk jugs or two-liter soda bottles, duct tape and a quality pot mix. Check the seed packet for information on planting details and timing. Winter sowing dates vary with the growing climate, the individual gardener and seed variety you sow.

Try to start hardy perennials and self-seeding annuals sometime in the winter to early spring. Other flower and vegetable seeds are typically winter-sown at about the same time as you would plant them indoors or a month or two before the transplants are moved into the garden. Keep a record of your plant dates and results to help you fine-tune your plant plan and increase future success.

Drill four to 12 small holes in the bottom of the jug for drainage. A winter sower fills the container with water and puts it in the freezer or outside at temperatures below freezing. Once frozen, he drills the holes in the container. The ice prevents the plastic container from collapsing during the process.

Then partially cut the jug to create a hinged lid. Make your cut about three to four inches above the bottom, and leave the area by the handle attached so that it forms a hinge. The bottom of the milk jug handle is usually a good guide.

Fill the bottom with moist potting mix. Plant seeds according to package directions. Water gently until the excess runs out the bottom of the container.

Gardener colleague Patricia uses rolled newspaper or the paper tubes from toilet paper to help with space and eventually transplant her winter-sown seedlings. She makes newspaper pots by wrapping 22.5-inch by 5-inch newspaper strips around a 2.5-inch diameter by 4-inch tall jar. She folds the end to create the bottom for a 3 ½ ”high pot. Attached with staples, she puts the pots or toilet paper rolls in the milk jug, fills with pot mixture, tops them with about half an inch of seed starter mixture, and then plants her seeds.

Mark the inside and outside of the jug with a permanent marker. Close the lid and seal it with duct tape. Remove the cap before placing your milk jugs in a sunny place outdoors where rain and snow can reach it. Keep them handy to prevent waterlogged soil in extremely wet weather.

Water your outdoor seed start chambers in snow-free and dry weather. This will be much rarer than the seedlings that grow indoors under artificial light.

Your plants will be ready to move into the garden at the normal planting time. Just open the lids, harden the plants and move them out into the garden.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 garden books, including The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook and Small Space Gardening.

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