Monday, March 2, 2009

Planting ahead

This winter has been the coldest, longest, snowiest, blowiest that I can remember. Oh, 2002-2003 winter had a lot of snow, especially in February but 2008-2009 has it beat hands down! (Heavily gloved hands, I might add! ) Sure, we had a little mild break a couple of days ago when it flirted with 50. But temps plummeted again and it's 8F right now and only going up to 18. And at this moment a bitter wind is driving from the North at 20-30 mph with higher gusts. So what' a garden gal to do?

Plot and plan. Dream and scheme. And, believe it or not, plant seeds outside - right now!

Remember how late last Fall I stumbled into the GardenWeb forums? My first foray landed me in a real pile of crap - figuratively speaking that is. The Soil Forum is all about compost and never have I met such a nice bunch of wackos (as they affectionately refer to themselves). Near the end of the year you may remember that I next found the Cottage Garden forum. Well, as winter deepened, both forums slowed a bit, so I did some stepping out, checking out other forums. One day I found the Winter Sowing forum. Whazzat?

Come to find out Winter Sowing is a planting method that got its start at the turn of the century. (Kinda weird that 2000 could be referred to like that...all my life 'turn of the century' had always meant the year 1900). But I digress.

I spent a little time reading the wonderfully informative FAQ page on the WS forum (written by Trudi Davidoff of WinterSown.Org) and I was off (even more so than usual *heh*). What IS Winter Sowing? To quote Trudi:

Winter Sowing is an easy germination method that starts many seedlings for just pennies. During Winter seeds are sown into mini-greenhouses that you make yourself from recyclables. After sowing, the mini-greenhouse is placed outside to wait for the end of Winter. The seeds will begin to germinate at their own right time when weather warms. "

Translation: You make a bunch of mini-greenhouses out of recycled material: milk jugs, water containers, 2-liter soda bottles, lasagna pans. If a container can hold at least 4" of potting mix and you can poke holes in the bottom and put a clear or opaque cover over the top, you're in business. (Be warned - some of us do not seem to have recyclable items at hand, so surprising forays into dumpsters are not unheard of.)

Well, what's not to like? It's got all the elements of a good time: easy, pennies, recyclables. And some real gardening to do in the dead of winter!! Woohoo. And you meet the nicest people - the WS forum gang! Thanks to these kind and generous people, through exchanges and outright gifting, I received a plethora of flower seeds (perennials and annuals), the familiar as well as the unknown to entice me into trying Winter Sowing. Ohboyhowdy!

The result is this nice collection (above) of WS containers now frozen solid on my deck. FROZEN SOLID. And yet, that's the way it's got to be. Lots of seeds need to be winter stratified (freeze, thaw, refreeze, etc.) So how is WS any different than just casting seeds right into the garden in Fall and walking away? By sowing seeds into containers the seeds are protected from critters/bugs that might eat the seed; preventing rain/snow melt from washing away the seeds, bypassing hostile garden conditions (winter traffic, etc), competition from other seeds, stuff like that.

But with bit of WS protection, a high percentage of seeds will sprout. A great bonus is that these seedlings develop into hardier plants than, say, those sprouted in a basement under grow lights then have to be 'hardened' off before going into gardens. WS babies are ready to hit the ground running!

Right now all these containers are sown with hardy perennials - tough stuff that can take winter. In a couple of weeks I'll be sowing tender perennials and hardy annuals. Then the 'regular' annuals...and..uh oh. I think I'm going to need more empty containers.

Dumpster diving - don't leave home if you can't make bail! ;-)

For more WS adventures, visit the "Plant Propagation" link on the sidebar. (Post dates are listed on the link.)


  1. Hi Kris,
    It is currently 20 degrees here, but the last few days have been in the single digits again, with snow on the ground from Friday night. Each day this week is supposed to be warmer, and by Thursday, it's supposed to get up to 64, but Friday, it's supposed to be in the 50s. That's better than today's expected high of 31, though!

    I'm excited to see how your winter sowing project turns out, and maybe I'll try it next year. I thought about doing it this year, but wasn't organized enough.

    Spring really is right around the corner, and I hope when it gets here, it doesn't let winter weather sneak back like it has the last few years.

    Hang in there!

  2. Hi Sue! Yeah, this winter sure has got "character building exercise" written all over it. Hey, it's not too late to start something in a jug! If I had more perennial seeds, I'd be sowing more. This WS thing is totally addicting now, but can you image how crazy I'll be NEXT year if any of this stuff actually sprouts! Ha!

  3. You have quite a bit going! What a bummer that it's so cold there. I just noticed that the larkspur I wintersowed looks as if it finally sprouted. It's been fun trying this year.

  4. I'm so very tired of being cold, and wearing most of my clothes all at once. ;-)

  5. I'm sorry you're so cold, Kris. Come, join me in the sunshine here. I've just posted some agapanthus blooms on my blog. Hope you enjoy them.

  6. Can't wait to see what you do with those containers on your deck. I hear you on the hard winter. I am south of NW Ohio..... Love your blog. I am going to stop by often.
    Happy Bloom Tuesday... we will make it to May!

  7. Ha Xuan - thanks for the invite. I could use some warm sunshine right about now.

    Bren - glad you visited! And while WE may make it to May, at this rate so will Old Man Winter! LOL Tune in and we'll see how things turn out! :-)

  8. Hi Kris - another Ohio gardener! I just found you and I hope you don't mind that I have added a link to your blog under my Ohio Blogs list.

    Good luck with your winter sowing. I did it for three years in a row, but chose not to do it this year. It can be fun to see those green shoots growing in the milk jugs, can't it? :-)

  9. Hi Kylee! Welcome, welcome! It's always good to meet another Ohioan, and that in spite of our state's traditional 'whiplash' weather, we Buckeye gardeners are always up for the challenge, aren't we?

    And, yes, I'm still looking for those first magic sprouts in my jugs! Right now I'm going on faith, but it'll only take a few sprouts to make me a true believer. ;-)

  10. You must be super busy getting ready to welcome spring.... I just can't wait to see what you post next! Your friend from the Ohio Garden.

  11. Hang in there, Bren. I really try to post on the main page at least once a week. LOL Right now my 'propagation page' is getting a nice workout what with the WS & seed starts in the basement. :-)

  12. I planned to do some winter sowing this year, but haven't done it yet. What a great idea!

  13. Hi Kate! Thanks for visiting my blog! Yes, winter sowing is a great way to do some 'real' gardening in the dead of winter. I'm still a newbie at it and can hardly wait until I see my first sprouts! Stay tuned... ;-D

  14. Such a great idea! I'm going to do that this winter when I can't possibly hold off on gardening any longer. I've got seed packets left over from this spring, and I'm already itching to put stuff in the ground! For now, I'll settle with planting my garlic and tulip bulbs, and planning out next year's garden!

  15. USMC - hope you try WS-ing. I can't believe how many new perennials I have now (not that I am already lusting for more!). I wasn't sure about the whole process at first, but now I'm a total convert! C'mon in - the water (uh, snow/rain/ice) is fine! LOL


Thank you for visiting. I appreciate your notes, comments and questions and will try to reply to each one! :-)