The secret is 4" of soil

ryseryse_2004January 12, 2014

I have been doing this for many years and now realize the best success is with containers where you can have 4" of Pro-Mix or seed starter. Anything less is a problem because you have to constantly monitor the moisture in the container.

4" of soil is easy if you are using milk jugs. The salad containers allow for 4" of soil but aren't deep enough to allow for the seedlings to grow without removing the top. When you remove the tops, you have to worry about keeping them moist.

Just my thought here.

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poorbutroserich(Nashville 7a)

Appreciate sharing your thought. I've been having the same thoughts here recently. Don't know what to do as I didn't start with jugs and now they are approaching the lids.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 7:00PM
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steff442(8b Portland OR)

I have always planted in at least 4" of soil as well. I remember seeing on Trudi's website the pictures of the crazy root systems that the WS seedlings ended up with.

I used various salad containers a few years ago, and remember the dilemma of having no space for seedlings to grow after I filled them with soil. My solution: I just used 2 salad containers and threw away their lids. I filled one container with soil, and duct taped the other on top. I ended up with a nice little greenhouse. I just made sure I didn't go crazy with the duct tape so that I could easily take the tops off when the time came.

Probably not the most original idea, but it worked for what I needed! :)

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 8:35PM
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How many inches of open space do you need in your container for the seedlings to grow?



    Bookmark   January 17, 2014 at 9:50PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

It depends on what kind of plants you are growing and how tall they will get before they can be planted out or survive with their tops open. I plant all tender annuals in my tallest containers, since they grow the fastest and will be most likely to need protection from late frosts. Native perennial seedlings don't get very tall, since they spend their first season developing root systems, and they can easily survive heavy freezes and frosts, if the tops have been removed. Ideally, 3-4" of headroom would be nice in general.


    Bookmark   January 18, 2014 at 6:40AM
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Thank you very much for the info, Martha.

I did not know different plants required different heights. I'll save my tallest containers for my annuals. This is my first year winter sowing and I'm so excited and learning new things all the time!

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 2:51AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

I agree! That's the main reason I use milk jugs almost exclusively. Nice and deep, and considering I am quite the procrastinator, the depth helps the poor seedlings stay alive while they sit in the driveway all spring, lol.

By the way, the milk jugs are great in terms of height, as well. Plenty of room for the little guys to grow until the tops come off!


    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 8:18PM
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I also made sure to have at least that in my containers this year. After the early heatwave last year. I came to that same conclusion. I also cut the soda bottles higher to allow for more soil too.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 9:13AM
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xiangirl zone 4/5 Nebraska(5)

My wintersowing experience has been mostly negative, but I keep trying. This year I put in 4" of soil. I use mostly 2 liter soda bottles because that's what I have, but then I have to put them in laundry baskets so they don't blow over. I like the idea of milk jugs because they stay centered.
I also didn't realize I needed to let the little sprouts grow inside the containers. I assumed since they sprouted they'd do fine outside the container. When I transplanted them, they died.
I'd love to see more pictures of people's wintersowing. A picture is worth 1,000 words and gives me hope (and ideas).
Last year my containers dried out and I didn't realize it. Keeping a closer eye this year. Thank you all for sharing what you've learned.
For those who need more containers, I worked at a job with recycling. You can go to a recycling trailer and take out what you need. People are glad you're reusing them and you can still recycle the plastic after your babies have sprouted.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 6:39PM
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Definitely let the sprouts grow up to teenagers! It won't matter how crowded they are as long as you keep them watered. Every year I plant way too many containers and end up with a few that don't get planted until August! The longer they stay in the containers, the more successful you will be.

No matter how large they are, I cut around the bottom of the milk jug, let the mass drop out and then just slice them in squares with a serrated knife like brownies. Works nicely and makes the little squares easy to plant. The strongest survive and really take off! Good luck this year.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 8:34AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Heidi, I am glad you are sticking with it, and hope you have better luck this year! I guess one way to think of it is, even though the seeds have sprouted, you pretty much still need to wait till proper planting time in your zone to plant out. In the meantime, the sprouts should stay in the containers, but be aware that on the other hand, they should not necessarily be all closed up either. While some folks here just wait till a certain time and remove all tops, I check my containers regularly (milk jugs) and gradually cut back the tops. This gives protection from wind and somewhat from heavy rains or a spring snowfall, and also helps retain heat a bit more than having the top totally removed, but it also give breathing room so the seedlings don't fry in any spring heat.

Some tops (i.e. sunflowers) get cut back more/sooner than say alyssum - the sunflowers need more room, grow faster, and because of that, for me at least, can handle the more-open container than the alyssum can. I'll try to post a picture showing the various stages of openings, and I apologize ahead of time for the poor quality!

It's kind of a balancing act but once you find it, I think you will see it's not so hard. Just takes some monitoring, especially your first year or so, and then after that, just an eye on the weather forecast so you and your seedlings are not taken by surprise.

Good luck this year!!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2014 at 12:57PM
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spartangardener(z4 MN)

The plants don't need to grow up to be "teenagers", but they require a good root system. Jugs also won't dry out nearly as easily if you keep them on the north or east side of your house so they get some shade in the hottest part of the day.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2014 at 10:12PM
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I absolutely agree with the 4" of soil and with the advice to keep the jugs on the north or east side of your house - or somewhere that they are a bit protected from the hottest sun.

As far as when to plant out, I think that depends partly on where you are. For those of us in really hot summer areas, it's probably best to plant out before the heat of summer really hits. This is especially true of cool-weather, spring blooming things (which you want to get out earlier anyway) and things going in full sun. If it's a tender annual, you must still wait till after the last frost, but for hardy and half hardy annuals and perennials, I want them in the ground as soon as they have a couple sets of true leaves. For me, this minimizes the transplant shock. For those with cooler summers, the additional growth time before transplanting may be more helpful.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2014 at 3:57PM
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