Winter Sowing for Beginners
What does winter planting mean, which vegetables should we use and when will the seeds germinate? Read everything you need to know about growing winter vegetables here!
The term winter sowing was basically unknown here in Sweden ten years ago. Only a few full-on enthusiasts were excited about my decision to start growing my garden all year round in 2014. Many more were very skeptical. It just wasn't the way to do things. But times change. And so does the climate.
I know that a lot of people are interested in winter gardening and want to give it a try. Almost every time I share something about winter sowing, I get a slew of questions from seasoned gardeners who haven't tried it before. That's why I wanted to tell my readers a bit more about what winter sowing actually is and how you can get started in your own garden. Don't forget to check out the links in this post to learn even more!
Winter Sowing in Short
- Sow vegetables, summer flowers or perennials.
- Sow outside or in the greenhouse when it's cold outside.
- Don't take the sowing indoors.
- The seeds germinate when the soil gets warmer in spring.
- Winter vegetables can be harvested earlier than a spring sowing.
- Can be done even far north.
A great thing about winter sowing is that we can sow many more seeds outdoors than inside. This is simply because we don't need to worry about finding the space for them indoors or provide them with extra light and heat either of course. A huge plus in my book!
What is Winter Sowing?
Winter sowing is actually a very simple principle. It's basically just about letting the plants do what they normally would anyway. Many plants release their seeds right down on the ground after flowering, and then the seeds germinate in spring. Just imagine all the flowers and other plants that flourish on their own after a long and cold winter. The seeds dormant on the ground, waiting for warmer weather.
You can do winter sowing in a smaller space like a trough or a pot or put your winter vegetables in your outside areas/raised bed too for that matter. We usually do a winter sowing because we want an early harvest of leafy greens. If you do, then you might want to protect the sowing and perhaps do it in a greenhouse or a growing frame covered with a see-through lid. This is called a cold frame.
All seeds are programmed to germinate at a specific time. Usually when the soil gets warmer.
Some people seem to think that winter sowing sounds like a very strange idea. The vast majority who give it a try are usually so happy with the results that they can't imagine going without the winter vegetables!
4 Winter Vegetables
The list of vegetables, summer flowers and perennials you can grow in winter is long. If you happen to be a beginner, I really recommend that you start with these easy-to-grow winter vegetables:
- Lettuce - the seeds can stay in cold soil for a long while without rotting and germinate in relatively cold soil in spring.
- Black kale - you can sow all types of cabbage in winter, but black and green kale are the best options for a quick harvest.
- Arugula - the perfect option for early sandwich vegetables, germinating a little later than lettuce but grows nicely without pests in early spring.
- Spinach - very hardy and well-suited to grow in winter, preferably in a greenhouse.
4 Summer Flowers for Winter
You can grow a lot more flowers if you sow them outdoors in winter. Do your winter sowing in troughs and containers that you put in the greenhouse, in raised beds, plastic crates or just simply on the ground with some kind of cover on top. Here are my 4 favorite flowers to grow in winter:
- Common marigold - these self-seed easily in the beds outside, but you can also sow them in troughs and then plant them outside in your favorite spots.
- Cornflower - the perfect early winter-sown plants since the flowering starts so soon.
- Cosmos - one of my favorite flowers to winter-sow and then I just put them in any empty spots in my beds.
- Poppy - a lovely summer flower perfect for winter sowing that you can use for companion projects later
Winter sowing is easy! You can start doing the sowings from December and forward, or sooner (before the snow comes) if you grow even further north and want to do it outside.
Sow in troughs
Do your winter sowing in troughs or pots, cover with a little soil but avoid watering. You can always put the sowing outdoors for a week or so instead to get some rain or snow on it. Just put it in a greenhouse, a raised bed with a lid, a cold conservatory or some other spot where it won't get drenched in rain or snow. Why not use a plastic box with holes in the lid if you don't have a greenhouse in your garden.
Again, remember to only water a little bit (or not at all) in the beginning. It's always a good thing to dampen the soil slightly with a little snow or possibly spray some water on the sowing if the weather is mild.
The seeds usually germinate in February-March here in zone 3. Of course, it might be sooner or later than that depending on where you are. Either way, germination is a great time to make sure that the soil doesn't dry out. Keep dampening it.
Winter sowing outside
If you want to do grow winter vegetables in the beds outside, you want to pick spots that you can protect. For example with wire mesh or row cover. This is of course because cats and other animals like to dig around in the ground and might ruin your sowing in winter. Especially if you don't get snow where you live. That's why you should do your winter sowing in a raised bed or similar spot that's easy to cover with wire mesh.
- Fertilize the spot by burying some type of manure before you do the sowing.
- Make rows in the soil (quite tight ones since the winter-sown vegetables will be harvested quite soon and don't need to grow very large.)
- Scatter the seeds in the rows or just do a broadcast sowing and cover the ground with a thin layer of soil.
- Put a wire mesh panel on top to keep cats and other animals away from the sowing.
- You can put row cover or a see-through lid on top of the sowing after a few weeks to make it germinate even sooner.
I live in zone 3, but I know of gardeners even further north who aren't entirely convinced that this method works. But this isn't actually true. Winter sowing can help you get an early harvest since the season is so short up there. Just remember to plan and prepare the spaces you want to use for your winter vegetables.
Winter Sowing Checklist
- Don't sow too soon, the seeds might germinate way too early in mild weather. Then they freeze and get destroyed when it gets colder again.
- Make sure to be careful with the watering so that you don't overdo it. You don't want an icecube with ruined seeds.
- If you like mulching your garden, be careful not to use straw, grass clippings or similar on your winter vegetables. This can smother the seeds while they germinate. The soil should be bare.
- Be open to trying new things. Nothing is more important than making your own decisions about what works for you and your garden.
The most important thing about winter sowing is probably just to get started. You can learn more about what to do with the plants after germination here on the blog.
I hope you give winter gardening a try. Good luck!