Direct sowing

token28001(zone7b NC)October 21, 2008

I've read the wintersowing FAQs, but I'm hoping to get some real opinions from people who have done both W/S'ing and direct sowing.

First, thanks to all the great traders here, I have several hundreds of seed packets that I want to sow this coming winter/spring. Obviously, I don't have time to make containers, transplant, and baby everything through the spring. So my question is, if I direct sow, will I have moderate success? There are some that I intend to W/S just because I want to make sure they grow and I can control their placement, but others I just want to toss out in the garden and let them go crazy.

What are your thoughts on the two methods?

-ps. Lots of squirrels and birds around here.

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lgslgs(z6 SE ohio)

Your soil and your land will really influence your success with direct sowing.

In my garden, I have much better success planting out plants with some decent root structure than letting them try to grow directly in the soil.

But the biggest drawback to direct sowing here is the number of elm seeds that fall into the garden each spring. I do much better leaving the garden bare until after they fall, germinate and I hoe them away. If I direct sowed spring would be a never ending mess of trying to weed baby elm trees out from between little flower seedlings.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 1:43PM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

Ugh. I hadn't thought of that. My 60+ year old oak tree had dropped so many acorns, I might be pulling oaks until I die. Maybe I'll direct sow in larger containers.

I just see me working for weeks to set out all these seeds.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 2:01PM
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lgslgs(z6 SE ohio)

Yep, oaks are fun too! :) Here's ours:

It's over 100 feet tall and my garden looks like someone spilled a giant bag of marbles on it.

I don't mind the oak as much as the elm seeds. Sure, there's thousand and thousands of acorns but at least there is some hope of picking some up before they sprout. And when they sprout they are obviously baby oak trees so they don't get confused with flowers.

I've decided that I don't mind weeding. I just don't like weeding when I can't tell the weeds from the flowers or when everything is all tangled together. If I wait until after the big flush of weed (and tree seedling) germination before I plant out the rest of the year I really don't have many weeds to worry about.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 2:41PM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Well, the nice thing about the wintersowing method, is that you have all winter to get it done : )

I direct sow some things, such as marigolds, cosmos, and zinnias, and some of my veggies, carrots, cucumbers, canteloupes, and pumpkins. However, I don't have a lot of birds, or squirrels, which will certainly lower your success rate for direct sowing.

The key is keeping the seeds in place until it's time for germination to occur. If the seeds are lying on the surface, they can be blown away, or wash away by rain or snowmelt, in addition to being eaten be critters. One way to prevent this would be to put the seeds where you want the plants to grow, then place the top half of a 2L bottle that's been cut in two, over the area (be sure to leave the cap off). You'll still be fooling with containers a bit, but you can reuse them next year, plus you won't have to transplant seedlings later.


    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 2:48PM
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rosepedal(Four seasons zone4/5)

Lynda that is a beutiful picture. I have to say I am partial though. We had a lot of them die this past two years. Big ones like yours.

I like both methods. Especially ws you can plant the plant were you want it. If you have a large spot where you need plants and dont mind weeding than go ahead and throw them seeds. I like to think of it as a wildflower garden. Be warned I tried this method. And all I got was weeds. I dont know to be sure what happened. It was a waste of money on seeds I think. I am gonna try it with all my rudbeckia seeds I have been collecting off my plants and see what happens....Barb

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 3:15PM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

I direct sowed three packs of rudbeckia last year, I also sowed several packs of echinacea, some shasta daisies and a full assortment of other things. I don't know what I did wrong, but I got 3-4 plants total. I've never been so disappointed. That's one of the reasons I'm asking about direct sowing. I know that winter sowing works.

I really just hate the idea of transplanting thousands and hunks this spring not knowing what my schedule is going to be like.

Can I be a lazy gardener? LOL

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 3:34PM
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It's better to have too many seedlings with the problem of how to plant them all, than sow a whole bunch of seeds and get too few.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 4:09PM
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rosepedal(Four seasons zone4/5)

LOL You guys crack me up. We want the flowers without the work. Patience is a virture. HAHAHHA My spelling sucks. Good at math though. LOL Tom do you have wild finches they love them flowers???? They are cute though.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 4:30PM
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token28001(zone7b NC)

Yep. Tons of finches here. They cleaned out my coneflowers and black eyed susans that I purchased. I got a couple blooms for next year's seed. Thank heavens I got more in trades as extras. :)

Well, I guess that settles it, I've already saved up some 2 liter bottles from friends and family. I think I need a hundred more though.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 4:37PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I just see me working for weeks to set out all these seeds.

Weeks?? I was planting out for MONTHS. 158 containers with multiple seedlings in most of the containers. I STILL have WS seedlings sitting in nursery pots that I haven't planted out. I'm afraid some of them may have to overwinter in the pot ghetto. What's even more ridiculous is that I already have a list of seeds I want to buy for 2009 that fills a whole notebook page. 8-)

Anyway, I do direct sow a few things as well. This includes Zinnias, Tithonia, Poppies. But I wouldn't just toss them willy-nilly - I've done that and few seedlings have germinated as a result. I actually plant the Zinnia seeds individually.

Many other plants reseed themselves, such as Cleome, Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Cilantro, Echinacea, etc. And I imagine that some of this year's WS plants will reseed themselves next year.

The end result is more seedlings than I know what to do with (or have garden beds prepared for)!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 7:31PM
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I take it you maybe talking about mainly flowers. I experimented with direct winter sowing tomatoes this year with good results. I prepared the holes, then tried a few different methods of sowing the seeds. One that worked well was using the cowpots I have and they then dissolve. I put some potting soil with a little seed starting mix on top. Used buckets and plastic milk jugs to put around them. Put plastic over the top of the buckets. I left the mix dry. Then when I was ready. I cut a slit in the plastic and wet the seeds. Had tomatoes up April 1st. I tried five this year. Worked so well plan on doing around 30 this coming winter. They are predicting a frost this week. If it does will start preparing holes next week. And then putting the seeds in sometime around Thanksgiving and after. Saves all the starting in the house. The light stand and transplanting at least once. Will still start peppers indoors or in a cold frame. This winter sowing method allows the seeds to germinate about 6 weeks sooner than they would if just direct sown. By June 1st they were ahead of the 8-12" plants I transplanted. I will know more when I pull them but feel they developed a better root system. JD

    Bookmark   October 21, 2008 at 11:31PM
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I am direct sowing a prairie garden. I won't know my results til next year, but here is what my research has taught me:

1) Sow around 50 seeds per square foot. More than that is wasteful, less than that may leave bare spots.
2) You sow the seeds at a certain time, usually early winter. For zone 5 (me) it is late November to Jan.
3) The site had to be prepared properly. Weeds have to be allowed to sprout and killed with glyphospate several times. The soil cannot be disturbed (brings too many new weed seeds up)

I am also wintersowing quite a few containers also just in case the direct sow bombs or to fill in bare spots

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 2:10AM
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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)

Elkwc, I remember you describing your version of wintersowing tomatoes earlier this year, and am intrigued, but have trouble visualizing the set up. Any chance you could post a pic or two?


    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 3:54AM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

I direct sowed some annuals before wintersowing. Some seeds are lost to critters, rain washout, etc, and some seedlings need separated and spaced, but it did work for me. I direct sowed nicotiana, zinnias, cosmos, alyssum, nasturtium, lots of things, and it worked pretty well.

However, I do think wintersowing in jugs works better for most things and they germinate earlier. But there's no transplant shock and pouting if they're allowed to grow where they sprout and I wouldn't be reluctant to do it again if I had seeds to spare. If I had only a few seeds for something I really want though, I'd wintersow in a jug.

Your location will have some bearing too, undoubtedly. If you're in a colder, far northern zone, direct sown plants might establish much later. And direct sown are more difficult to protect from a late spring frost. Each method has it's own benefit/risk profile.


    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 8:05AM
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It depends on how much seeds do you have. Lots of packets will have 25-40 seed count so if you direct sow you might end up with 1-2 plants out of it. My advice is to start small, WS few seeds, collect tons of those seeds and THEN sprinkle them around your garden. Majority of plants will produce lots of seeds per plant so you won't feel pressured and will be able to sprinkle them with generous hand.
Another trick to use when you direct sow, soak seeds overnight, thus cutting their germination time in half for most seeds, then mix it with sand and sprinkle that mix evenly onto the soil covering slightly with soil. Provide moisture for the next couple of days, if possible with gentle mist over that area, no direct running wanter to wash it out. Providing weather and soil are warm aprropriately for germination you will see first seedlings within couple of days.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 3:26PM
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Direct sowing is a no go for me. I tried that last year and a flock of white crowned sparrows landed in the yard and had a grand time scritch scratching thru the leaf litter and gobbling up almost every single seed that I planted.

I did get TWO gilia and one or two forget me nots. when you consider the thousands of seeds that are in those mix mags tho, not a good return.

It was fun to watch them, I love birds. Would have liked some flowers tho too. Did much better with the containers.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 10:16AM
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A great way to wintersow lots of seeds is to scrounge up an old rigid kiddie pool. Punch some holes in the bottom, fill with soil, at least three inches. Spray the soil. You can then sow away to your heart's content, in rows, clumps, whatever. Cover the pool with translucent plastic sheeting, and fasten it down. (I used pajama elastic around the whole thing). Punch some holes in the plastic for ventilation.
Hintus biggus..get your container soil now and store it in the basement so it doesn't freeze. Hard to plant in a frozen block of soil come February.
Just my tuppence..

    Bookmark   October 24, 2008 at 10:45AM
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newbie_in_nj(6b E/Central NJ)

Oooooh, Wendy, that kiddie pool winter sowing idea is very attractive.

I found it difficult to get enough smaller containers for winter sowing as we don't use large containers of milk or anything else for that matter.

Do you use the sterile soil-less germinating mix in the pool or regular potting soil?

I also found it very difficult to separate roots of WS babies from containers particularly the last ones to get planted out.

Using the kiddie pool seems like a great idea to row plant.

Ended up with 50 Cosmos last year, all except one eaten by rabbits, and don't know where I would've planted them.

I need fewer numbers of each plant variety with good roots and greater number of plant varieties with less containers to prepare...never got the hang of doing milk jugs so I must be more dense than our clay soil...LOL.

Guess I'd need to seriously be on the lookout and treat for slugs as they're all over around here but that's worth the ease of starting lots of plants in one place.

Thanks for mentioning that you use it to do actual sowing and not just "mass bottom watering" as I've seen them used before on forum.

Think the people in my life who hate even a couple milk jugs would notice a kiddie pool filled with soil up on the deck all winter? LOL Less slug risk than the patio.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2008 at 9:15AM
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I would use a good container mix, or a blend of potting soil with a bit of vermiculite or peat mixed in if it were a "heavy" soil.
If you keep it on your deck, put a sheet of plastic down first, or you might get staining on your wood as the pool drains. to disguise it...not a clue!
I think Trudi mentions kiddie pools on the site as well, possibly in the "intro" section.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2008 at 10:01AM
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newbie_in_nj(6b E/Central NJ)

I mentioned the "kiddie pool on the deck" idea today during an 8 hour drive back to Jersey from my niece's wedding in Pittsburgh.

My sister laughed hysterically knowing we had to listen to the same old "I never get to use my deck" lament from my father who hasn't sat on his deck in years long before I ever started this gardening thing last year.

I'm going for it...LOL. Now I just have to find a kiddie pool after our killing frost which was abundantly clear when I saw the mailbox garden as we rounded the corner. Heavenly Blue MG hydra, Zinnia, Aegeratum and Cleome are all goners for the year.

First thing tomorrow that bed gets cleaned out although the thought of it being bare isn't acceptable...LOL.

Gotta buy some ornamental kale seeds with my last seed order for this year (?) so I'm ready to sow them midsummer next year. Stores and nurseries around here want $3. per way, Jose.

You're right about putting plastic sheeting down first to protect the wood. There are stains where I had saucers under containers but luckily my father is considering laying that plastic decking material cross wise right over the wood that's there now since his many attempts at using weather proof paint haven't been weather proof at all.

I just keep agreeing about what a great idea that is!

The Agway I found in this county is holding a case of germinating mix for me. I can't leave it outside or it'll be like cement for winter sowing but still haven't figured out where I'm going to stash it. Already hid recycled containers under the ancient ping pong table in the one looks under there but me.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2008 at 9:24PM
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the way i'm going to do most of mine is to direct sow mine in the boxes, then cover them so no critters of any kind can get in there. then when they are big enough and ready i'll take the "lid" off. some of the others i will sow in the jugs. not many though. i have it pretty much figured this year. Hee Hee!!! LOL ~Medo

    Bookmark   October 26, 2008 at 11:00PM
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kqcrna(z6 SW Oh)

Speaking of direct sowing, it works very well with larkspur. Sown in late summer or fall, they sprout and overwinter, getting much taller next year. That was Vera's tip, and, as usual, absolutely right. Direct sowing worked much better than sown in jugs, at least for me.


    Bookmark   October 27, 2008 at 7:16AM
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