WS in Zone 10b (Sunset Zone 23)?

alexshrugged(10 (Sunset Zone 23))January 27, 2012

I'm totally new here (hi!) and was curious if people winter sow in zone 10? I know it says it's possible on the site, but I was looking through the forums and couldn't find much. I just moved from an apartment (without even a balcony) to a house with a large shady backyard with only a few (neglected) trees, so I have a lot of space to fill on a tight budget. Winter sowing seems like a pretty great way to get started, but I have a notorious brown thumb, and am scared that I'll just waste money on seeds and soil without success! I was looking at the zone wars, and it seemed like maybe people in warmer climates don't winter sow -- is there a reason?

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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I'm from a colder zone, so take what I say for what it's worth. Most warm zones don't really have a winter that prevents them from being outside, and they have plants growing year round. So, they don't really have a need to winter sow. You could certainly use the milk jug/potting mix set-up to germinate seeds for sprucing up your new yard. You would be more than welcome to join the container count, and even better, become a member of the kindest, most generous community you'll ever find.

Many of the plants that do best being winter sown are those that need a cold period before they will germinate. Some of those type plants might grow in your climate, but many wouldn't tolerate hot summers and blazing sunshine. But, there are also plants that do grow in your climate that would appreciate a bit of protection during their early stages of growth. Just be careful the containers don't over heat and fry your babies.

So, you can certainly use this method to get seeds started inexpensively, but there aren't many folks in your zone who have a great need for a winter gardening option. Does that make sense?


    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 6:41AM
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The soil and seeds are a lot cheaper than buying all those plants. Research research research each plant you think you want to grow. Find gardeners in your area and ask them questions.

Using this method you suffer less loss of seeds/plants to the critters & wash outs from heavy rain you get doing direct sowing.

Since you haven't been gardening, you don't already have a stash of nursery pots to use to start your seeds in, so use what you can get your hands on for free. :)

If it doesn't work you really aren't out a whole lot of money at all.

Think of it this way: For the price you'd pay for one nice perennial plant you can buy a whole lot of seeds and potting soil!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 9:39AM
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SusanC(9b/10a Sunset 17)

Hi Alex,

I live in USDA Zone 9b/Sunset Zone 17 and have been winter sowing for 8 years. Although your climate is a bit milder than mine, you still have a period of winter when temps dip down into the forties at night, and that is all you need for stratification.

That said, you are fortunate in that you live in what I call the 'Goldilocks' zone of California. Not too cold, not too hot, almost always just right! You can successfully grow a fantastic variety of plants and you can sow seed almost all year long. So, not only can you winter sow, you can spring, summer and fall sow using the same basic technique. (In spring/summer/fall, you just will need to pay more attention to water and keep the containers in a shady spot.) -In your climate, I would probably only avoid starting things during the usual brief hot spell in late August/early September.

What sorts of things were you thinking of starting? If you post a list, I can give you a better idea of what to start when in your lovely Zone 23.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 12:55PM
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SusanC(9b/10a Sunset 17)

P.S. Forgot to say that even in winter, I keep my containers in bright indirect light so they won't get steamed.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 1:03PM
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alexshrugged(10 (Sunset Zone 23))

Wow, you guys are all awesome! Thank you for the replies and explanations. It makes sense that without a proper winter, some of the seeds that need that cold period just won't work here, and of course it makes sense that some things are able to grow year round here in the mild climate.

That said, it's sort of sad to look through seed catalogs and see all sorts of lovely plants that don't apparently work in zone 10! I thought everything grew well in Southern California (see, I told you I was a beginner)!

I definitely know growing from seed will save a lot of money, as when we moved in, we went to the nursery and went a little crazy out of excitement (a yard! we finally have a yard!). We realized how expensive plants are, so then I started trying to figure out other ways of filling in the empty space. It doesn't help that much of the yard is partial to full shade...

We do have a patch that gets a good amount of sun, with some afternoon shade, so I'd like to try to grow veggies, although space is limited. I'd love to grow some tomatoes, hot peppers, herbs and lettuce. Then, if there's space, asparagus, zucchini, and maybe some peas or beans, but that may not be possible. I've searched these forums for sowing dates for veggies, especially tomatoes, but am not sure if those apply to me or if I can go ahead and put them out now?

Outside of that, I know hostas and ferns are good for shade but am worried that they're fairly slow growing. And I want flowers! I love hydrangeas but am not sure if I can grow those from seed, and if I have enough sun for them. I've been looking at lillies, impatiens, hellebores, and begonias.

Any suggestions would be welcome, as well as advice on which grow best (if at all) from seed. I'm a little overwhelmed, as you might be able to tell!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2012 at 8:32PM
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SusanC(9b/10a Sunset 17)

Hi Alex,

Re Zone 10 and hardiness: Unfortunately for us, the majority of seed catalogs are geared toward east coast gardeners, so Zone 10 refers to a hot, hot, steamy Florida Zone 10, not a nice, gentle California Zone 10.

If you want to know what will work best in your climate, your best resource is the Sunset Western Garden Book. If I could own only one gardening book, that would be it, as it is considered the bible of gardening books for California gardeners. The online Sunset Plant Finder will also help you find the best plants for your Sunset zone and individual yard conditions. In terms of what to start when, when to plant and when to do general gardening chores, "The Mulch" has a wonderful online Los Angeles Gardening Calendar.

If you like tomatoes, will give you six packs of seed for free! Check out the offer at Your Choice Tomato Seeds from will also tell you everything you ever wanted to know about winter sowing.

An inexpensive way to try seeds is the Seed Exchange forum. You can trade for seeds or sign up for one of the freebie offers members frequently make. In fact, there is an Adopt a Newbie effort going on right now that would be perfect for you. I'll bet if you signed up, someone might adopt you right away. (-: Free seeds are also all around you and easy to collect. Visit the Seed Saving forum to learn how, and also read these hilarious Seed Snatcher posts.

Finally, I start almost as many plants from cuttings as I do from seeds, and it is another super easy way to get more plants for free. I use my winter sowing containers and start them outside, so really no muss, no fuss. If you would like to know more about that method, I highly recommend the book, Making More Plants, by Ken Druse. The Plant Propagation forum also is a great resource.

Just get started, don't worry and have fun. Remember, a seed not planted definitely won't sprout!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 11:35AM
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SusanC(9b/10a Sunset 17)

P.S. Another great resource is our very own California forum.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 11:43AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Bakemom, a long-time member on this forum, also provides free packs of seeds to newcomers. Many of us donate seeds to her cause and she distributes packs of seeds (of her choice, to make it easier on her) to anyone who sends her an envelope and postage. She has pure vegetable offerings at times, also.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 11:57AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Alex, some other thoughts if you are new to gardening or your gardening site, visit some of your nurseries (not box stores), especially those that have display gardens. Also botanical gardens nearby, or watch your paper for garden tours. Go with notepad and pencil, jot down ideas, names of plants, conditions under which they are growing (shade, supplemental water etc). Then see if those plants could be grown by you from seed when you have a better idea which plants you may ultimately want...if we have names, we can help.

As for the hydrangeas, they can grown from seed and most types germinate without a winter chill (there are exceptions) but they are easy, peasy from cuttings, cuttings will bring you faster results by far. Most people will be willing to share the cutting material (are your neighbors growing hydrangeas), or you could purchase one or two plants and at the appropriate time, take cuttings from those to increase your plants. I do know the hydrangea macrophylla would need protection from afternoon sun in Z10, supplemental water too.

And I ditto the suggestion for Making More Plants by Druse, you might even check it out from your library to give it a good browse, but my own copy is used often, out and on my desk always.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2012 at 3:00PM
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alexshrugged(10 (Sunset Zone 23))

I'm totally grateful and overwhelmed by all the great suggestions and will definitely be checking out the books mentioned. The Sunset Zone thing makes much more sense, as it does seem rather silly to compare our climate to other Zone 10s in Florida, as you'd mentioned. So different! For whatever reason, starting plants from cuttings *seems* more intimidating, although I'm sure that's just in my head.

I had a good laugh going through the seed snatcher posts, and have a feeling that if I can turn my brown thumb green, I'm not too far off from adopting stealth seed stealing habits myself!

I love my local small nursery, but they have very few shade plants and haven't been super helpful with suggestions, but there are a few well-known gardens in the area that I will have to make "research" trips to. Sounds like a nice way to spend an afternoon!

Anyway, some of the flowers I was looking to sow:
Coral Bells
and Alstromeria for a sunnier spot in the front

Are these appropriate for winter sowing and can I start as soon as I get seeds?

Also, I LOVE hydrangeas and will look into propagating from cuttings. I haven't seen any in my neighbor's yards, which may mean I'm destined for failure. Is there a difference between nursery grown hydrangeas and the foil wrapped plants you get at grocery stores?

Thanks everyone!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 12:01AM
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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

Alex, there is an extremely talented gardener here in my area who has done some gardening similar to your zone - although I haven't seen her posting in the last few months. I attached a thread she responded to a while back about growing hydrangea in the Laguna area. 'Macs' - hydrangea macrophylla. But, be warned, if you are not seeing them at all in your own neighborhood, there may be a reason.

The florist type hydrangeas you mention are varieties of hydrangea macrophylla. Sometimes they are perfectly acceptable planted in the garden in mild zones like my own 8b....after being acclimated to being outdoors, these are greenhouse grown plants. The problem with them is they have been bred and raised for the flower trade, and grown under a strict regime of fertilizers, hormones, lighting and temps so that they will bloom to coincide with particular dates, like Valentines Day, Mothers Day etc....often grown with no regard to long term plant health. Sometimes they recover from the treatment and do well, other times they do not. If you were to receive one as a gift, I'd say go for it and plant, but if you have a choice, choose regular nursery stock, not florists stock for your garden.

Your seed choices look good with a couple of exceptions. Hellebores sown in Feb may take 15 - 18 months to germinate. They need to experience a period of warm moist, followed by a somewhat lengthy moist chill, then will germinate while conditions are still cool. If I sow them fresh by Aug/Sept, I will have germination approx March into April. If you were to ask around June, someone could probably send you fresh seed (like me) that you could sow - much more reliable than dried commercial seed.

Alstroemeria can be similar, they self sow like crazy in my garden, can be stubborn or at least very slow (many months) from dried commercial seed. And do you know they go dormant around August, leaving a blank space in your garden? The hummingbirds love them while present, but they spread, become a little messy, disappear until Fall rains begin or the weather cools.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydrangea, California

    Bookmark   January 31, 2012 at 1:23PM
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