Winter Sowing.
Starting your plants outdoors in winter!

Winter Sowing Title



As a gardener there are very few things I won’t try as a way to extend my growing season.  I’ve tried cold frames (unsuccessfully this year, but that was entirely my fault combined with a particularly pissy Mother Nature this winter), succession planting and pretending I lived in California.  The pretending worked better than succession planting and only slightly worse than the cold frames.

I’ve also grown sprouts and baby greens throughout the winter in order to get my growing fix and I always, always try to start my seeds indoors too early, just because I want to get going.  I’m like the kid sitting at the front door holding my suitcase and wearing my swimming goggles 3 days before the actual vacation starts.

So last year when a reader mentioned winter sowing I made a mental note to remember to try it.  3.4 seconds and a butterfly flying past later I’d forgotten all about it.

Then earlier this winter another reader reminded me about winter sowing.  This time I remembered, I just didn’t have time to get around to it until technically it was too late.

Winter sowing you see, involves sowing your seeds in a translucent plastic container and throwing them outside in January.  JANUARY.  The seeds then fend for themselves, and when conditions are perfect they sprout. The translucent container acts as a mini hot house. No guess work, no grow lights, no need to water because Mother Nature (whose pissiness comes in handy sometimes) takes care of that for you.

Since winter has lasted approximately 17 months longer than it normally would this year, I’ve taken a stab at winter sowing just to get a feel for it. If it works out well, then next year I may switch over from starting my seedlings under grow lights to starting them outdoors.   If I remember.


1.  Find some PBA free containers.  I got these at the Dollar Store.  Which means they’re either actually PBA free, or they just have a sticker on them saying  so.

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2.  Drill holes into the bottom and lids of your containers.  The easiest way to do this is to stack everything up and drill through everything at the same time.  (all lids at the same time and all bottoms at the same time)

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3.  You want containers that allow you to have at least 3-4 inches of soil in them, and another 4″ or so of head space so the plant has somewhere to grow.  Fill the containers with soil then pick the seeds you want to grow.  I’ve chosen to go with plants that are tolerant of cold like lettuces, kale, and even beets.  Yes.  Beets can be started and then transplanted.  I have always had great success transplanting beets even though all seed packets and “authorities” say it can’t be done.  I’m going to try a tray of tomatoes as well, but will also grow another bunch of them under lights.  I’m a bit  nervous about using this technique with plants that prefer warm soil and warm weather like tomatoes and peppers.  But I’ll give it a shot. What the hell.

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4.  Scatter your seeds over your soil.  I’ve also made partitions out of popsicle sticks so I can plant different varieties of things in one container.

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5.  Instead of scattering (although I’ve done that here) you can also just plant a few seeds in each section and then thin them to the one strongest seedling later on.  Scattering works well for growing spring greens or other things you want to plant in a mass.

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6.  Winter Sowing and sectioning can also be used on a larger scale, like in this Tupperware bin.

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7. Once your seeds have been planted, make sure you label your container so you know what’s in it. I just used masking tape, then covered it with a layer of packing tape. Hopefully it’ll brave the elements.
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These elements to be precise.

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Like I said earlier Mother Nature has been less than kind this year. In a bit of a snit, if you will. With this being the coldest, longest winter in memory I can tell you I don’t think she’s going through menopause. Bad breakup maybe?

Once your seedlings have grown and the weather has warmed up, just remove the lid from your containers so they plants don’t cook inside. It’ll get pretty warm in there. If a cold snap threatens put the lid back on before the sun goes down.

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Regardless, her anger has allowed me a bit more leeway in my Winter Sowing experiment which is fine by me. And hopefully it’ll be fine by my lettuce. I have a feeling the tomatoes are gonna revolt.
Most people seem to use milk jugs, but milk comes in cartons or bags ’round these parts so I had to use something else.

Winter sowers claim the benefits include not having to water, (the snow lands on the top of the container, melts eventually and waters the seeds inside) not having to pay for electricity to run your grow lights, and healthier, sturdier plants that don’t need to be hardened off since they’re already outside braving the elements.

Here’s an update on how the winter sowing went.


  1. Robin says:

    I love ur suggestions, tips and stories very much. . Do u more recent posts?

  2. Kat says:

    We do not get snow here ( Georgia), will this still work?
    Or will I need to water them?
    (& @ what point?)
    Thanx. Luv your stuff. 🙂

  3. Carol McDonald says:

    Thanks!I love to experiment in the garden. I have been growing in hay bales this year. Very interesting. Think I will try this this year. Will it work with cabbage and broccoli?

  4. joani says:

    thanks Karen will let you know IF I’VE COOKED THEM ALREADY HAHA

  5. joani says:

    Karen I meant northern californiaLOL also would I have to water during these warm spells

    • Karen says:

      Oh! LOL!! Big difference there. :) It should work fine for you too, but you have to worry more about cooking the seedlings than other people. (make sure they have lots of holes for ventilation and as soon as the temps are regularly over 50 degrees take the lids off. :) ~ karen!

  6. joani says:

    would like to know about doing winter sowing in northern ca. one minute its snowing then its up to 60/65 degrees this is so crazy. Will it work

    • Karen says:

      You have 60/65 degrees in Northern Canada?! I’m in Southern Ontario and we haven’t seen anything above freezer for 2 months, lol. 28 of the past 30 days have had extreme cold warnings. The method should still work no matter the fluctuating weather. Have fun! It’s a great way to get started early on seeds. I’ll also be giving a seed starting live video course in a few weeks if you’re interested. ~ karen!

  7. Stefanie says:

    I am fairly new to gardening in general, but I am itching to get going (even though the ground is blanketed with snow – or maybe especially so!). I want to try winter sowing some of my vegetables. When transplanting the winter sown seedlings, how do you separate them without damaging the roots? Do you need to plant them, then thin them, as one would for indoor plantings?

  8. Luanne says:

    I’m going kookoo loco bananapuffs for spring. I think I’m going to start some Shasta daisies and moon flowers using this method. And I think I’ll do it this weekend, just so that I can feel like I’m being spring-y.

  9. Nicole says:

    I have been reading this post about winter sowing. I am so interested in trying this!! I have been gardening for over 20yrs and have a large veggie/fruit garden that produces enough to can/freeze or dehydrate to last the winter months. But, I have never tried this! However, I was wondering when do I plant and place outside? I live in your area. I noticed you posted it in April but was not sure if that is when you actually put the containers outside. Thanks!!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nicole! You can actually put the containers outside whenever you want. The freezing won’t harm the seeds and as soon as the temperature / sun level gets to the point that the seeds can germinate, they will. Keeping the lid on the container ensures the seedlings stay warm inside by creating a microclimate. I think most people who do winter sowing put their seeds out around February. It’s a weird little trick isn’t it?! ~ karen

  10. Michiel says:

    I was just wondering how this turned out… Since I don’t think I really saw a follow up post, or I might have overlooked it. Any tips after trying it? What failed and what worked? :)

    • Karen says:

      Hi Michiel – It worked out great. I thought I did a follow up post, but maybe not! All the seeds started outdoors did well. The beets and lettuces were all ready to pick much earlier than the ones I sowed directly outside later. ~ karen!

  11. Susan Croteau says:

    I was very excited to find your site.. I was wondering about just using a tote and planting directly into it.. You wouldn’t believe how many sites I went to before finding yours. Can you tell me how well they did in the tote? I am super excited about this winter sowing. Thanks!

  12. caarin says:

    I’d be inconsolable without winter sowing. This year has been stupidly cold here in MN, so I’ve had everything inside until now. Babies sprouting everywhere! I raid and stockpile the recycling and use every clear plastic jug I can find, and milk jugs. Works great! Greens will get leggy without enough light though so I pop the lids off when it’s warm enough and keep them watered. Good luck!

  13. Robin says:

    Sounds like a great idea, but living on the “wet coast” I think my seeds would drown! So I’ll stick to buying small tomato plants or getting them gifted to me by my green-thumb of a mom!!!
    The only thing I have good luck with sowing inside is cat grass for my two beautiful Siberian Forest Cats! Lucky for them I can grow that inside….or more to the point, lucky me, as they are indoor cats and it usually means less hairball shaped presents left for me on the stairs when I have bare feet!

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