Starting perennials in milk jugs outside in winter

zaphod42February 3, 2013

I am interested in trying the linked method for starting some Butterfly weed this spring. Haven't done much starting by seed. The hard copy version of this article said that Northern gardeners could start theirs in February, but weren't specific. When in February should I start this? Seems too early now. Mid Feb? Late Feb?
Thanks!

Here is a link that might be useful: Milk jug method

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jaco42(z5NEOhio)

Zap, there is an entire forum dedicated to winter sowing. They will not only give you the answer to your question, they will enable you to plant enough seeds for a complete garden. I don't know how to add a link, but if you go to the main gweb page it is listed there

jaco

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 10:05AM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

There are also several folks who winter sow on this forum and may respond, but here's the link to the winter sowing forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: GW winter sowing forum

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 10:50AM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I've done WSing a few years. I'm sure some will disagree, but honestly I don't think timing is all that critical on most things. At first I did all my sowing at the more normal start time, Dec/Jan. Then the next year I played around and did a number in later fall. Turned out fine too. Some may even benefit from it, especially those that do better with a warm cycle before the cold, mimicking what they would normally go thru naturally.

Starting seeds indoors requires more specific timing than does WSing.

Just my 2 cents! Probably didn't help you much, but there you go, lol. Good luck with the seeds ;-)

Ps. I linked to the WSing FAQ page below, since it isn't the easiest thing to find on that forum. 14th question down is in regards to when to sow. Not that it backs up what I said above about sowing early, lol.
CMK

Here is a link that might be useful: WSing FAQ on GW

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 2:36PM
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sharoncl(z5 WI)

Not too early here in WI! I also usually do my winter sowing in late December or early January. Did some butterfly weed several years ago around that time and had lots of germination when the weather warmed up.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 5:24PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Just what Christinmk said.... timing shouldn't matter, too cold for sprouting is too cold for sprouting so the seeds will sit and wait. I actually ran into trouble last year when the mild winter wasn't enough to trigger the later seeds that I planted, so they've been sitting and waiting all summer and will hopefully come up this spring.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 8:33PM
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gardenweed_z6a

After just three years of winter sowing perennial seeds, my flowerbeds are so stuffed, there's very little room for anything more. Most of the seeds were obtained via trades thanks to the Seed Exchange forum here on GW. I didn't do butterfly weed since it's already established here but I did WS butterfly bush & planted several in various beds around the garden.

The "official" start of WS is the solstice in December but generally speaking, as long as the seeds that require cold stratification in order to germinate get several weeks of freezing temperatures, it's enough to result in success. Germination rates are normally very high with the WS method. There's an extensive list of seeds available, broken down by annuals, perennials & trees, that can be accessed to determine which require a cold, moist period in order to germinate. The name escapes me at the moment but just Google 'seed germination database' to access it.

Essentially winter sowing mirrors how plants survive in nature, with seeds falling on the ground, freezing through the cold season, then germinating when the temperature + hours of daylight trigger their genetic code. The milk jugs/containers simply provide them with protection from predators & other risks (i.e., wind/rain).

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 6:07AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

I'm excited about trying this for the first time this year and I'm happy to hear I still have time. My biggest problem is collecting the containers. I don't drink milk or soda and pretty much don't buy anything in plastic containers of any sort, so I had to put the word out to friends and family to save theirs. I'm still in the process of collecting them.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 7:54AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Kevin, I might have mentioned this before, but put an ad on freecycle. One year when I wasn't good about pre-season saving, lol, I put an ad on freecycle and had several people in the area offer to save milk jugs for me. Got what I needed in a couple of weeks.

You could also go on an early morning or late night recycling bin raid. And I've been known to pull the car over when I see a couple of milk jugs on the street, much to my kids' embarrassment, lol. One day after the recycling truck apparently had some kind of mishap, I hit the jackpot when I found about a dozen milk jugs scattered along the road. You just need to keep your eyes open!

zaphod, do check out the winter-sowing forum. You'll find all the help you could possibly want or need! And it's nowhere near too late. I am usually just starting about the beginning of February. Some perennials may need warm-cold-warm stratification, so those may pose a slight problem, but again, check over on the WSing forum with specific questions and you'll get lots of help.

Dee

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 8:45AM
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rusty_blackhaw(6a)

" The milk jugs/containers simply provide them with protection from predators & other risks (i.e., wind/rain)."

Unless you have determined rodents. Earlier this winter I lost a batch of young tree seedlings and juvenile perennials in a coldframe, when a mouse/mice decided the frame offered great protection from snow and severe cold, plus handy snacks. I have since installed mousetraps.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:07AM
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terrene(5b MA)

My experience with Asclepias tuberosa, and most of the milkweeds I've started from seed (about a dozen species), is that they don't require much if any cold stratification.

One year I sowed A. tuberosa in early April, not really on purpose because it was seed that I got from a trade and it was supposed to be A. curassavica, and got abundant germination. Was surprised when it didn't look much like the other batch of A. curassavica seedlings from commercial seed!

Also got better germination rates on A. variegata seed that was sowed in early spring, rather than mid-winter.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 12:50PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

I'm not sure I'd want all those milk jugs sitting around. If you're looking for an alternative or don't have as many jugs as you want you might want to try a clear plastic storage tub. Fill up regular seed pots, pack em in the tub and pop the lid on. If it's something that might not sprout for a year or two I like to top the pot with chicken grit to protect the seeds a little more.

btw the tubs also work great for pots of cuttings

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 8:20PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

Kato

Thank you for that. I was wondering if that would work and now that you said it does, I have more options.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 6, 2013 at 10:49PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Why wouldn't you want all those milk jugs sitting around?

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 4:05PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

...they look pretty cool in the snow....

;)
Dee

    Bookmark   February 7, 2013 at 4:07PM
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naturemitch(3/4 WI)

I too didn't like the milkjug look and always found it difficult to store and find them. So, I now use 4" nursery pots, fill them with soilless mix, and put a layer of grit on the tops. The pots go into my 'germination bed'(4 2x6's nailed together) and are exposed to all the elements. That is the important part....the snow, sleet, and rain that stratify the seeds:)

    Bookmark   February 8, 2013 at 8:44PM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Dee you know you have a problem right? Just wondering. The thought of transplanting all those seedlings makes my head ache! Actually having them all neatly lined up and having so many makes your whole setup look kinda cool, and I'm a little jealous of your organization and ambition.... makes me feel guilty for not having planted my half dozen or so seeds.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 8:20PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

LOL, kato, if you go to the wintersowing forum, you'd see that I am perhaps one of the saner people doing this! After all, the most I've ever done in one winter is ONLY 250 containers. Many people there have me beat!

Yeah, I will admit that transplanting is a pain in the butt, but the end result is well worth it. I sold bouquets at the farmer's market for several years, so I did have a reason for my madness, and did need all those plants for my cut flowers.

I keep telling myself I won't do so much this year, but we'll see how it goes. This is just such a fun, awesome, easy and cheap way to start seeds that it's hard NOT to do it!

:)
Dee

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 12:42PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

And I thought I was a bit out-of-control with doing maybe 10 containers.....

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 1:10PM
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gardenweed_z6a

Did 500 my first year, 300 the following year and 200 last year. My own flowerbeds as well as the ND neighbor's are crammed, jammed full & now I have plants to give away. I kept track of which seeds sprouted and which didn't so I wouldn't waste time, effort & resources in subsequent years. It's definitely a fun way to chase away the winter blues.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 3:38PM
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ryseryse_2004

Go for it!!!!! The timing isn't important as long as you get them out while you are still having freezing temps. I started WS about 6 years ago and it sure is a great way to get lots of perennials without having to start them inside.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 3:53PM
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molie(z6 CT)

Boy, did I miss the boat on this technique. We've had plenty of snow and cold, cold temps this year. I'm filing this who post away for next year. Thanks!
Molie

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 9:46PM
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mnwsgal 4 MN(4)

Hey, molie. You can use the same technique to spring, summer, and fall sow as well. Since most seeds do not need cold stratification you can still winter sow now. Just be more attentive to rising temps and adjust the opening to allow more air in so the seedlings don't cook or move containers to a more shaded area.
They alsol may need more frequent watering unless you have a rainy spring. Many of us do not start annuals and tender perennials until weather is less frigid. Check out the winter sowing forum. There are many z:5 and z:6 wintersowers.

The first few years I did hundreds of containers as wanted to get started on perennials that take three years to mature. Now I have less space needing new plants and less time to garden so am sowing only a few dozen containers.

The plants from these containers have filled my gardens and those of family and friends. Some also have gone to swaps and some have been sold or given away.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 3:39AM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

mnwsgal

Thanks for posting the photos of what the seedlings look like once germinated. I'm pretty excited about this now.

I got mine done last weekend, or the majority of them. I still have a couple more, but they can wait since they are warm growing annuals and don't need any cold period for germination. We're still having night temps in the teens and 20's, so the perennials I sowed should experience the freeze and thaw cycles for quite a while yet.

I didn't go crazy with this - only 6 jugs so far. I should top out at about 10, but that's enough for this year. There's nothing worse than that panicky feeling come spring when you realize all those tiny plants have to be planted out somewhere. I've done that. Been there and I don't want to go through that again. If my Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit (30 seeds) and my Delphiniums (2 varieties) make it, I'll be more than pleased.

Kevin

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 10:01AM
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ryseryse_2004

Don't get worried. Having too many is usually the case. What I do when they are ready to be transplanted into a garden space is that I remove the whole thing from the container. Usually, I just cut the bottom off of the milk carton and have a huge handful of babies. Then I take a knife and cut like cutting brownies. I plant the squares. Simple except you don't eat them.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 3:00PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Yeah, Molie, plenty of time left! I haven't even really started yet this year - getting a late start! - but even in "normal" years I don't usually start til mid-February, unless there are a few perennials that need starting earlier. You can use this method well into April.

I plan on digging out my potting mix from under the snow this weekend and making some serious headway into my WSing next week!

Dee

    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 9:22AM
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molie(z6 CT)

With all the encouragement and tips here, I'm definitely starting this weekend after a trip out for equipment --- maybe even pick up some more packs of seeds!

Because there are just 2 of us and we're not big milk/soda drinkers, we don't have many containers. So I think this year I'll try the clear plastic storage tub technique and whatever I can find to put the mix into --- peat pots, containers, etc.

Thanks all!
Molie

    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 7:22AM
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illinoisdoglover(z5IL)

Hi Folks: Just jumped in to many forums to break up the winter boring days. Storm here today. I have not tried winter sowing, but was wondering how successful is this technique as to the fact that do the plants started from seeds bloom true to the plants they were collected from. I was told before that in order to have a success in getting more plants that will bloom true you really need to take plant divisions form the original plant. Does anyone know which plants will come back true from seed?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2013 at 6:07PM
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ryseryse_2004

Some will, some will be close but most won't. But it sure is lots of fun and just think, you could get something much better than the mother plant! Well, you could! So it sure can't hurt to try this method. Or, you could buy hybrid seeds and start them with this method if you want to be sure of getting something that looks just like the package.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 8:30AM
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