Guys, I lied to you (already!). I promised the next post would be a tour of my winter-gray yard, but we got a good bit of snow after I posted that. While it does make things look a lot prettier, it also totally buries all of the areas I was going to talk about, so there’s not a lot of point to it. “That white lump there is a spirea, and that white flat area is where the side garden is going in!” So I’m putting that on the back burner until I can take some decent (hideous) photos.
Like a lot of gardeners, I’m pretty protective of the plants I start from seed. My years of experience as an aunt come out: “I knew you when you were this big!” I’ve built a seed-starting setup in our basement for the purpose of keeping baby plants warm, cozy, and happy until it’s warm enough for them to go outside. (We’ll talk about it more in another post.)
So it seems reckless and counterintuitive (if not downright mean) to fill up containers with soil and seeds, and then dump them on the back porch to hang out in the snow. What kind of monster would leave her foxgloves and sweet peas to fend for themselves in an Iowa winter? And yet, last Sunday, that’s exactly what I did. Winter sowing is the practice of planting your seeds in miniature greenhouses in the depths of winter—even in Iowa!—and then plunking them outside. The cycles of freezing, thawing, snowing, raining, etc., will mimic the conditions the seed would get growing in the wild—with a little protection and climate control from the container’s lid. As the weather warms up, you increase the size and number of ventilation holes in the lid, until you’ve removed enough that you can just take it off completely. Assuming all goes well, you should be left with strong, hardy, healthy seedlings you didn’t have to baby! So you’re not supposed to freak out when this happens:
The success of this method is well-documented, and it’s a common way to start a lot of plants without a lot of indoor space. It’s also a really cost-effective way to start perennials, since individual plants can cost upwards of $20 but seed packets generally run you around $2.50 or so. That doesn’t change the fact that it feels bonkers to put all my exotic and carefully-collected seeds into dollar store roasting pans and leave them in the snow. This is my first year trying winter sowing, and I’m super excited to see how it goes (which is kind of unfortunate, because if it works correctly I shouldn’t actually see any growth for weeks). Almost all of these plants are for the area we call the “side garden” (which we’ll talk plans for soon!). Here’s what’s hanging out in my little seed igloos:
1. Hollyhock ‘Peaches n’ Dreams’ • 2. Dusty Miller ‘Silverado’ • 3. Shasta daisy ‘Snow Lady’
4. Foxglove ‘Dalmatian Peach’ • 5. Sweet pea ‘Blue Shift’ • 6. Danish lavender ‘Ellagance Pink’
7. Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ • 8. Creeping thyme • 9. Feverfew
If you want to give it a try yourself, it’s very simple. Just collect some containers with lids—milk jugs cut in half are popular for this, as are yogurt and butter tubs, ice cream buckets, etc. We don’t go through a lot of plastic containers, so I bought these foil roasting pans with clear plastic lids from the dollar store. Cut slits or holes in the bottom of your container so water can drain out, and then add some holes in the lid to allow air and rain to circulate. Fill the bottom with well-draining soil (I used Miracle-Gro organic raised bed soil, you could use anything as long as it’s relatively fluffy), add your seeds, label everything, and seal it up! Then set it outside in sun, and (relatively) forget it. As temperatures start to rise and you see seedlings emerge, you’ll need to make your ventilation holes larger so your baby plants don’t cook. If you get a sudden heat wave, you can just remove the lid during the day and replace it at night. Bonus? You won’t have to go through the agonizing week of hardening off when you just want to get these in the ground already, because winter-sown plants are already used to the great outdoors. They’re scrappy little guys.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my wee little plants. Have you ever tried winter sowing? Do you think you will this year? If so, let me know what you’re growing!