Start Spring Seedlings Outdoors with Winter Sowing

Michael Nolan
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Difficulty: Beginner


Want to start your own seedlings at home but lack the indoor real estate you need? Don’t worry! You can start your spring garden seeds outdoors, even if you don’t have a lot of space. Winter Sowing is the process of starting your seeds outdoors in containers that act as mini greenhouses. You won’t need any expensive equipment or a lot of time, either. If you have an old plastic bottle, some seed and a sunny spot outdoors, you can begin winter sowing now, even if the temps are still freezing!

Step 1

To get started, you will need a container. You can use old milk jugs, plastic juice bottles, even 2-liter soda bottles.

Thoroughly clean the bottle(s) you plan to use, and remove the cap. You will no longer need the cap for winter sowing, so it can be discarded.

Step 2

Using a utility knife or other cutting blade, carefully cut the base of each bottle about 2-1/2″ from the bottom to create a planting container.

Step 3

Using a drill, nail, or the tip of a sharp knife, put holes in the base of the planting container you just created. This is critical to allow for adequate drainage and additional ventilation in your winter sowing container. Four to five small holes should be enough.

Step 4

Fill your new planting containers with a good quality garden soil up to about 1″ from the top.

Make a shallow impression in the soil with a pencil or your fingertip and drop one or two seeds into each impression. Lightly cover the seeds with additional soil.

For best results, give each seed at least 1″ of space on all sides. This will make it easier to transplant the seedlings into the spring garden when the time comes.

Step 5

Thoroughly water each container and allow the excess water to drain off.

NOTE: You may find it easier and less messy to do this in the kitchen sink.

Step 6

Insert the top portion of each bottle into the lower container portion to create a miniature greenhouse.

It may be easier to do this if you cut a small slit into the base of the top portion and fold it inward slightly.

Alternatively, you can affix the top and bottom portions together with duct tape.

Step 7

Your winter sowing container is now complete. Just find a good place outdoors to put your container and let nature do its job. The ideal spot will get as much sun as possible and offer protection from excessive wind, so the lightweight containers won’t blow over.

In a day or so, you may see condensation building on the inside of the container. This is a good sign that your winter sowing container is working, and as soon as the weather thinks it is time, your seeds will germinate. As an added benefit, your seeds will be ready for transplanting into the garden without the need for hardening off, as is necessary for seeds are sown indoors.

(Photo credit: Michael Nolan)


empty plastic bottles

garden soil


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