Winter Sowing in Minnesota!

By Theresa Rooney, Hennepin County Master Gardener

Well it’s winter, the snow is falling and it is time to start planting those vegetable and flower seeds outside in Minnesota.  Wait! What??  Yes I did say you can plant outside now, but in a very special way.  It is called Winter Sowing.  Here’s how to do it.

  1. Cut a plastic milk jug nearly in half.  You should have a base container and a flip top.  Remove the cap; you will not need it again.
    1. Other plastic containers work, too.  Remember they must have covers with openings in them and be able to have drainage holes.  Be creative!

2.  Now add the potting soil or seed starting soil to the jug (depth 2-4”).

3.  Add water to the soil so that it is quite muddy.

4.  Now plant your seeds.  One variety per container is best.  You decide how many seeds to plant; most will sprout so consider that when planting.

5.  Make sure to label the container well.  I label the container and add a label inside the container.

6.  Using duct tape, tape the container closed (remember the cap is NOT ON).

7.  Now take the container outside and with a knife or sharp object poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage.

8.  Set the container down. It can sit in the snow, on the patio, or anywhere else that is not in direct sunlight.  A north or east exposure is best.

You can start almost any seed using this method except those seeds that are sensitive to frost.  Root crops may not be the best as you must transplant them and they don’t like that.  However, this year I am trying radishes as I always wait too long to plant them outside and then it’s too warm.  I plan on harvesting the radishes from the container, not transplanting them.

You can start doing this anytime in January forward.  March is a great time to set out your winter sowing of tomatoes and peppers.

Once the plants start to sprout, you have to care for them.  Make sure to open the containers on warm days and if the nights will be frosty close the containers again in the evening.

Make sure to keep the plants watered.  When the soil is ready in your garden or containers and the weather is right, go ahead and transplant your winter-sown plants.  They will have been fairly well hardened off.

So what’s great about winter sowing?  No grow lights, no heating pads, no damping off, no spilled trays and yet lots of plants.  If you want more information you can go to http://www.wintersown.org/

Happy Winter Sowing!

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