Winter Sowing Zone Guides & FAQs

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Winter Sowing Zone Guides & FAQs

You asked for it in our post Winter Seed Sowing Anywhere, and I’m here to deliver. How do I know what to sow and when to sow? What kind of containers can I use? What about watering? I’ve got the answers to these questions and more. Discover how to winter sow seeds where you live.

How do I know what to sow and when to sow? What kind of containers can I use? What about watering? I've got the answers to these questions and more.

How do I know if my seeds are good candidates for winter sowing?

Look for these key terms on your seed packets.

  • Hardy seeds
  • Seedlings can withstand frost
  • Sow outdoors in late autumn or early winter
  • Sow outdoors in early spring when nights are still cool
  • Needs pre-chilling
  • Requires stratification (cold, moist conditions)

All of these key terms indicate that a seed is a good candidate for winter sowing. Of course your climate and gardening zone will play an important part in the success of winter sowing.

How deep do I sow my seeds?

The general rule of thumb is to plant twice the depth of the seed’s smallest dimension at the spacing indicated by your seed packet. I’ll be honest, with tiny seeds, I don’t worry too much about proper spacing or depth. I sprinkle them in and cover with a light layer of soil. When they begin germinating and sprouting in the spring, I thin as needed.

What do I use if I don’t have enough milk cartons?

There are a lot of great upcycle container ideas out there. Basically any container that allows light inside will do. Here is a small list to get you started:

  • Soda Bottles
  • Bakery Containers
  • Clear Storage Totes
  • Deli Chicken Containers
  • Travel Tin Foil Containers
  • Meat & Cheese Platters (for shallow rooted seedlings)
  • Juice Cartons with the tops cut off and a baggie over the top (more suitable for southern locations)
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Just be sure if you are using a container that doesn’t have a lid or cap that you drill in a few ventilation/moisture holes along the top.

What if I don’t have snow?

Winter is just a cooler season, not necessarily bitter cold and snow. Winter Sowing is merely getting a head start for your growing season, allowing nature to take care of everything. It’s like greenhouse gardening on a small-scale.

When is the earliest I can start Winter Sowing?

The Winter Solstice seems to be a good starting point. The days are at their shortest and typically the temperatures are at their coldest. The concern with starting too early is that the seeds will begin to sprout while the temperatures are too low to support the plant. By planting in the “dead of winter”, you can be fairly confident that the seeds won’t start until spring is beginning.

What about watering?

Mother Nature does a pretty good job at keeping your winter sown containers at the right moisture level during the dormant period. By keeping the cover off your container or cutting ventilation holes, rain and snow will enter the top and excess water will drain through the drainage holes. If you notice your soil is looking dry and crumbly, just drip water along the edges of the soil. It won’t take much water and you want to do it slowly so you don’t dislodge the seeds. Be sure to use cold water so you don’t shock your seeds.

Once spring arrives, keep an eye on your sprouting seeds. Again, the containers should create a mini-ecosystem. If you notice your containers seem soggy, try moving them to a sunnier location. If they seems to be drying out frequently, move them to an area that gets sunlight, but not direct sunlight. If they need to be watered manually, use water the same temperature as the outdoor temperature and gently water around the edges.

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The following guides are just that, GUIDES. Trial and error is
the best way to figure out when to grow what in your zone.

US Garden Zones | CAN Garden Zones | EUR Garden Zones | Other Zones

Zone 3 Growing Guide

February: Perennial Flowers & Hardy Annuals

Bellflower
Blanket Flower
Butterfly Weed
Canterbury Bells
Coral Bells
Coneflower
Delphinium
False Indigo
Helleborus
Hollyhock
Hosta
Lily-of-the-Valley
Mountain Bluet
Ox-Eye Daisy
Pincushion Flower
Pyrethrum
Rudbeckia
Veronica
Yarrow

.

March: Most Herbs & Plants That Require Stratification

Basil
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Hops
Horseradish
Kale
Marsh Mallow
Monkshood
Onions
Peas
Spinach
St. John’s Wort
Swiss Chard
Tarragon
Wormwood

 .

April: Frost Tolerant Vegetables

Beans Beets Bok Choy Lettuce

.

May: Tender Plants

Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Peppers
Pumpkins
Sweet Potato Slips
Tomatoes

 .

Zone 4 Growing Guide

January: Perennial Flowers & Hardy Annuals

Aster
Astilbe
Balloon Flower
Bee Balm
Blazing Star
Carnation
Coreopsis
Daylily
English Daisy
Helenium
Iris
Lamb’s Ear
Lupine
Phlox
Poppy
Viola

 .

February: Most Herbs & Plants That Require Stratification

Basil
Bergamot
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Chives
Chamomile
Clary
Comfrey
Garlic
Kale
 Mint
Onions
Peas
Peppermint
Spearmint
Spinach
Sweet Woodruff
Swiss Chard
Thyme
Walking Onions

 .

March: Frost Tolerant Vegetables

Bok Choy Beets Beans Lettuce

.

April: Tender Plants

Corn
(may be hard to transplant)
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Peppers
Pumpkins
Sweet Potato Slips
Tomatoes

 .

Zone 5 Growing Guide

December/January: Perennial Flowers & Hardy Annuals

Blackberry Lily
Catmint
Chinese Lanterns
Chrysanthemum
Clematis
Cupid’s Dart
Evening Primrose
Flax
Heather
Jack-in-the-Pulpit
Primrose
Shasta Daisy

.

January/February: Most Herbs & Plants That Require Stratification

Agrimony
Basil
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Garlic
Kale
Lavender
Onions
Oregano
Peas
Sage
Spinach
Swiss Chard
Valerian
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 .

February/March: Frost Tolerant Vegetables

Beans Beets Bok Choy Lettuce

 .

March/April: Tender Plants

Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Melons (a gamble)
Peppers
Pumpkins
Sweet Potato Slips
Tomatoes

 .

Zone 6 Growing Guide

December – Perennial Flowers & Hardy Annuals

Broom Flower
Fleabane
Fountain Grass
Lily-of-the-Nile
Red Hot Poker
Sea Pink
 Verbena

 .

January: Most Herbs & Plants That Require Stratification

 Agrimony
Basil
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Garlic
Hyssop
Kale
Madder
Onions
Peas
Sage
Spinach
Swiss Chard

 .

February: Frost Tolerant Vegetables

Beans Beets Bok Choy Lettuce

 .

March: Tender Plants

Corn
Cucumbers
Eggplant
Melons
Peppers
Pumpkins
Sweet Potato Slips
Tomatoes

.

Zone 7 Growing Guide

December: Perennial Flowers, Hardy Annuals & Plants That Require Stratification

Blue Beard
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Garlic
Kale
Leadwort
Onions
Pampas Grass
Peas
Persian Buttercup
Peruvian Lily
Spinach
Swiss Chard

.
January: Most Herbs & Frost-Tolerant Vegetables

Arnica
Basil
Beets
Bok Choy
Carrots
(hard to transplant)
Lettuce

.
February: Tender Plants

Corn
Cucumbers
Melons
Peppers
Pumpkins
Sweet Potato Slips
Tomatoes
Eggplant

.

How do I know what to sow and when to sow? What kind of containers can I use? What about watering? I've got the answers to these questions and more.

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I am a non-traditional homesteader. What is a non-traditional homesteader? I'd like to think we are the people who don't fit the mold. I am a busy mom on a small bit of property with not a lot of financial resources, but I am figuring out how to live the life I want. A homesteader's life.

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Comments

Winter Sowing Zone Guides & FAQs — 19 Comments

  1. i have just purchased almost 4 acres in northeatern ga. moving from TEXAS to get out of the insane world cities provide. my only gardening to this point is tomatos from seed. thanks for your site. look forward to using your milk jug starter kit…lol, why didnt i think of that?
    thanks

  2. I have no green thumb whatsoever. I kill everything but would like to g8ve.it.to this a shot. I cannot find my zone. We live in NW Pennsylvania. My father seems to think that they will freeze and die if you put them outside because of the snow/frost. He’s skeptical but I’d still like to try. Though he does have me wonder how they do not freeze??

    Can u help me find my zone?

    • There is a lot of variation of zones in NW Pennsylvania, but if you go here, you can pop in your zip code and it will tell you which one you are in.

      As far as the freezing, the seeds won’t be hurt by freeze cycles, only the seedlings will. The seedlings won’t begin to sprout until nature gives them the cue that it’s time. The mini-greenhouse created by the milk jug protects them from the temperature fluctuations we often see in spring.

  3. I dont even know what zone am i? I am in Glendale Arizona border of Phoenix and Glendale.I started winter sowing 1/15/16 in milk carton, i try to watch them closely, im not sure how often to water them, its been warm here lately 70’s this week

    • For your area (I’m assuming you don’t have a freeze if it’s in the 70’s in January), I would water just enough to keep them moist. If they are drying out quickly, you can move them to an area where they are getting dappled sun instead of full sun.

      • I used to live in the desert climate for more than 30+ years. This young lady is in the 7 to 8B or even possibly a 9 growing zone. Weather is unpredictable this time of year and she could be looking at 70 to 75 degree days and still have 35 to 55 degree nights. What is chilly to us and chilly to the desert regions is completely different. She should check sites like Mother Earth or Farmers Almanac to find her exact zone…. this advice is from someone who survived zone 11, but loves her zone 5.

  4. It would be nice if you had all the growing zones, where are 8-11? I’m new to growing in Zone 8B and still learning when to start seeds or direct sow.

    • Winter sowing is best suited for areas that have sustaining frosts. I’m not too familiar with gardening in warmer climates, but I think you can follow the standard seed packet directions. I encourage you to check out SchneiderPeeps. She is a great source for southern gardening.

  5. I am in zone 7… central mountains of Arizona… we have had an unusual warm spell and many of my jugs have started sprouting …. now they are predicting a cold storm this weekend…. should I cover the jugs or just pray?

    • If you have sprouts and/or greenery beginning to show, I would cover them when there is risk of frost. Under the soil they are protected, but once they emerge, they are exposed to the elements.

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