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Proctor's Garden: Winter seed starting

Winter sowing is a fun, economical way to garden in the winter.

DENVER — Naturally in your garden, seeds that have been dormant spend the winter in the ground where their hard outer coat is softened by frost and moisture called “cold stratification." This process triggers the seed to grow and eventually break through the soil to search for sun and nutrients come spring.

You can create this process on your own and start many seeds now. Winter sowing is a fun, economical way to garden in the winter. It won’t take up space indoors, you don’t have to set up artificial lighting and the plants don’t have to be hardened of. Mother Nature will do all the work. 

For the most part, native plants, perennials, cold weather vegetables and many hardy annual flowers and herbs will work great for winter sowing. Check the seed packets for help in identifying which seeds will work best in an outdoor “greenhouse”. 

Look for words like: 

  • self sowing
  • direct sow outside in the fall or early spring
  • cold stratification
  • cold hardy
  • perennial

Supplies needed:

  • Plastic container to act as a little “greenhouse” (milk or water jugs work great)
  • Seeds
  • Scissors or knife
  • Potting soil, seed starting mix
  • Plant markers


  1. Wash out plastic containers.
  2. Cut in half (I left about 1” in the milk jugs as a “hinge”), poke holes for drainage at the bottom.
  3. Label containers or plant tags.
  4. Add 3-4” of PREMOISTENED soil.
  5. Plant/spread seeds according to seed packet directions. Space with transplanting in mind.
  6. Replace top ½ of jug and tape to secure.
  7. Remove cap so moisture can get in.
  8. Place outside, NOT in full sun, where snow/rain can get into the container.
  9. Watering will only be necessary if out winter continues to be mild.
  10. Once your garden soil is workable, the worry of frost has passed, and your plants have a few sets of strong leaves then it will be time to transplant!

As always, research and plan what will work best for your garden space and garden plan. As I talked about last week, your local garden center is a great place to get more information. 

I’m concentrating on a few hardy annuals like California Poppy, and Johnny Jump Ups, a few perennials and adding native plants to my garden.

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