Winter Sowing Your Seedlings

Learn how to start your seedlings earlier and easier with winter sowing.


| January/February 2016



Tomato

With winter sowing, the question of when to start seeds is easily answered.

Photo by iStockphoto.com/sanddebeautheil

It’s a problem we all face: Seed catalogs and traders have the coolest and most irresistible varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers. You might even say your need for seeds borders on addiction. Sometimes you just can’t get all the varieties you want at the greenhouse, nursery or big-box store, and buying seedlings can get expensive fast, especially if you have a big garden to fill.

Some plants, like corn, peas and sunflowers, grow well enough from seed in the garden, but what about tomatoes, peppers, milkweed or hostas – plants needing a head start or special treatment to get growing? Sure, you can start them in your greenhouse or nursery – if you have the structure, room and money to do so. Starting seedlings in a sunny south-facing window sounds like a good idea, yet heartbreakingly pale, weak seedlings can sometimes prove otherwise.

Timing is crucial to transplant success. Tomatoes need eight weeks under lights, and peppers 12 – more if the air is cool. Petunias need even more time, but don’t start eggplants too soon, or they’ll become pot-bound and stunted. Then there’s the dreaded damping-off fungus, killing entire flats of seedlings. There seemingly has to be a better way – and there is.

Method to the madness

Courtesy of Trudi Greissle Davidoff, her “winter sowing” method makes successful midwinter seed starting easy, and she maintains a website devoted to it at Winter Sown. Her unique way of starting seeds eliminates the need for lights, heat sources and complicated planting calendars.

What exactly is winter sowing? The USDA defines winter sowing as “a propagation method used throughout the winter where temperate climate seeds are sown into protective vented containers and placed outdoors to foster a naturally timed, high percentage germination of climate tolerant seedlings.” Quite a mouthful.

Trudi’s approach is a bit easier to comprehend. Simply put, you start your plants outside – in winter. She describes a seed-starting method in sync with the seasons as well as economical, low tech and worry free. Using winter sowing, anyone can produce all the plants they need. All you need to get started is a bag of potting mix, some containers, labels, and of course seeds.

twirthless7
12/7/2016 11:49:10 AM

This is very interesting. Would it work in colder climates? I am in the cold, mountain west (Colorado), so have a short growing season. Starting plants indoors or buying starts is our only option. With this method, would plants like tomatoes and peppers stand a chance or should I stick with herbs and cold loving vegetables?


twirthless7
12/7/2016 10:22:19 AM

This is very interesting. Would it work in colder climates? I am in the cold, mountain west (Colorado), so have a short growing season. Starting plants indoors or buying starts is our only option. With this method, would plants like tomatoes and peppers stand a chance or should I stick with herbs and cold loving vegetables?


jlschandelmeier
12/2/2016 10:28:54 PM

One caveat I would add is to place your seeded containers where they will be shaded. Should a few sunny days show up in January, waking your seeds before their time, they will die when the cold returns. I also wait until after the coldest part of winter to winter sow, and very early spring for tender plants such as tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.






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