Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Winter Sowing Project: Part 1

   Saturday morning was absolutely gorgeous, mid 30's, clear blue sky. I just had to be outside. I'd been thinking about the Chasmanthium latifolium (River Oats) that I'd seen along the river (of course) over at Green Hill Park a few months ago. If there were any seeds left on the plants, I really wanted to get some and give them a try. I love River Oats and know of several places in my gardens where they'd fit in nicely. Well, as luck would have it, I didn't just find the chasmanthium, but some goldenrod, frost aster, wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia), and Virginia Wild Rye (Elymus virginicus), too. I couldn't resist! These are hardy common staples here in the valley, and should do wonderfully in our gardens, in fact some already exist there, just in small quantities. 
   I didn't really need any more seeds, I'd already received my order from Prairie Moon for my must haves for next year, plants that I want alot of. It is, of course, cheaper to grow 50 Sweet Joe Pye plants from seed than to buy them already as mature plants. And there's no such thing as too much Joe Pye. I wanted to try my hand at winter sowing, but what started out as an experiment has quickly gotten out of control. I am a plant addict, after all. I ordered six kinds of seeds from Prairie Moon, then collected five more kinds in the wild. All those black plastic plant pots I saved from over the summer now isn't enough. I've run out and need to buy some, I haven't even planted my Green Hill Park seeds yet.
   I've been dreaming of starting native plants from seed all summer long, planning what I wanted and what I thought would do well here. Before I was really into habitat gardening and I was just a casual gardener, winter was dull and boring, with nothing to do in or for the garden. When I started reading about winter sowing, I just knew I had to try. Worst case scenario = no plants, best case scenario = lots of plants!
   The only problem is, I've never done this before. I have visions of either zero success, or so many plants that I have to start giving them away (to the native flower friends I don't have) just so they can get planted. 
   If any of you out there reading this have any tips for me, please share. I've only read what's available out there on the internet, which all seems to be anecdotal with no "After" shots of pots of plants in the spring to show how successful they were. No one I know has ever done this before. For example, I've read that since I don't have continuous snowpack, I should keep the pots covered, like with clear plastic sheeting. Why? To retain moisture? Won't that create heat build-up, negating the cold part of the cold stratification process? I do notice they tend do dry out a bit and I'm supposed to keep them moist. So I'm going to be watering pots all winter? I've also noticed some folks use empty milk jugs, but I don't have a few hundred lying around. I originally had my pots on the southeast side of my house, but they were drying out in a day. I have since moved them to the colder, north side and they are staying moister longer. Am I foolish, or what? Tell me the truth, I can take it...usually. 

The green hill of Green Hill Park, a popular place to ride a horse, if you have one.
An old farm field full of goldenrod, aster, and birds...
Wingstem seeds, I think they're attractive still on the stem
Virginia Wild Rye
My haul from Green Hill Park
My first batch, likely soon to double...


  1. My tip: CHILL! This is your first attempt at winter sowing. You have lotsa seeds, lotsa variety and lotsa winter ahead. Plant 'em. Water a little if we keep having warm snaps. Otherwise, let Ma Nature do her work.Next year you will be an expert!

  2. Those wingstem seeds are very interesting looking!

    I don't have much advice in the way of winter sowing. I rely on Mother Nature to handle it for the most part, letting the seeds fall to the ground and grow there and I move them if necessary. I've heard that the Winter Sowing forum at this link is really good, and has a really good FAQ:

    However, I am familiar with having dozens and dozens of black nursery pots scattered about the yard ... squirrels can be a problem as they love to investigate.

  3. Ellen, thanks for that link, somehow I missed that in my google searches.

  4. "Moooo". I love it:-)

  5. I have a big 20g pot full of soil and just tossed a dozen different kinds of seeds in it--we'll see if anything comes up. That's my first attempt--someday, a greenhouse. Ummmmmmm, greenhouse..........

  6. Julie, don't you have room to create an in-ground seed bed?
    Growing in pots is hard, and the smaller ones are especially difficult.
    I sometimes start seeds in a pot, and as soon as I can, I decant the seedlings and plant in the bed... I just set out a pot of seedling stokesia.
    They're as thick as thieves, and I need to separate them...

  7. Gardens in the sand, I don't know if you'll see this, but thanks! I'm trying several different methods, including the moist bags of dirt and seeds in the refrigerator. I assumed starting them in a flower bed was the lowest success rate. I'll have to give it a try...

  8. Hi Julie... I see your response, thanks...
    It's always a good idea to leave a comment on visitor's blogs so they can find their way back... (fyi)

    I've tried the refrigerator method, and for me, it was worst of all.

    I get my best results by planting in the ground as soon as the seeds are ripe.

    (Little warning here) You MUST stay off the planted beds.

    Echinacea is one of the easiest plants to grow from seed, and I never could figure out why sowing the seeds for other people never got babies...

    I figured it out last year... They obsessed over the weeds so bad that the flowers never stood a chance...

    It doesn't matter how many times I tell people to stay off the tilled soil, they keep walking on it and destroying the tilth, and kill the babies.