Preparing Winter Sowing Containers – Ready to Plant!

It’s winter, and for me that means something very important! It’s time to winter sow some annuals (and perennials!). The discovery of winter sowing was a complete game-changer for me. You see, my tiny little house is a dark wasteland, and the last thing that thrives here are delicate seedlings. Moving the operation outdoors is definitely the answer for me. Preparing winter sowing containers is easy, too!

Now when you hear “winter sowing”, you may be thinking, “Whhhaattt, this stuff won’t grow in the winter!??!” In fact, when I first read online about winter sowing, the website told me just to walk outside in the snow and throw the seeds on the ground. Guess what! THAT DIDN’T WORK. Thanks for wasting both my time and my money “Mr. Garden Blogger”.

Can we just take a second – PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

Dear Internet, if you haven’t successfully done something yourself – don’t write a blog post about it, don’t make a video about it, don’t pretend that you have. Just STOP. STOP IT.

Okay, so with that mini rant out of my system. Winter sowing is using containers (usually empty milk jugs) to make little “mini greenhouses” that you plant seeds in and put outside during the winter. The best candidates for winter sowing are plants that don’t mind a little bit of a chill. For example, I wouldn’t winter sow my zinnias in January. However, something like bachelor’s buttons would be a very good candidate for sowing since they can handle the cold and are often one of the first flowers to germinate in the spring. By winter sowing, I’m able to get a jump-start on the season, without taking up precious space in my house. In addition to more hardy annuals, any perennial that is hardy in your climate zone may be a good candidate for the process. One reason this method works well for perennials is that many need a period of vernalization (cold exposure) before they sprout. Instead of sticking random packages of flower seeds in the fridge, why not let mother nature do all the work? After all, she’s the professional here – not me.

In the future, I plan on making a post listing all of the varieties that I’ve had success winter sowing. For now, however, you can do a pretty good Google search to start. As always though, be aware of climate differences, etc.

Project Precautions – Be careful cutting your container and making drain holes. Seriously, I almost cut myself every time I do this. Always wash your hands after playing with seeds and dirt. Other than that, milk is good for your bones, and it’s a good thing you’ve been saving those jugs!

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Step one: Grab an empty milk jug. Good Job!


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Ditch the lid and cut around the center of the jug. BE CAREFUL! Don’t cut all the way around, leave a little bit in the back so that it acts as a little hinge that you can use. After your seeds germinate, you’re going to want to open the “greenhouse” during the day so that you don’t roast your little greenies. At night, you can close the “greenhouse” back to keep them warm.


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Don’t forget to add some drain holes in the bottom. Once again – BE CARREEEFULLL! LOL!


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Last but not least, fill the jug with dirt and plant your seeds. When you’re done planting, use some duct tape (I only had packaging tape) to seal off the cut that you made earlier until your seeds sprout.

Want to see the results to my most recent winter sowing attempt? CLICK HERE!


That’s it, folks! Leave your seedy jugs outside with the (with the top cap off) and wait for them to germinate. Make sure you place them somewhere that rain and snow can fall into them and animals won’t try to get into them. If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below. Sometimes when I write these posts, I start taking things for granted and forget to mention important keys. Make sure you label your jugs all over the place, since they are outside, the elements almost always wash away the markers. As always, you can watch me make one below! Hope everyone is having a great day, much love!

25 thoughts on “Preparing Winter Sowing Containers – Ready to Plant!

    1. Good point! I knew there was something I was forgetting. I know I always talk about how much I dislike the winters here, but one really positive thing about it is that there’s never a lack of rain and snow to keep things nice and muddy!

    1. I’m glad! I’m sure that there will be plenty more on the way! 🙂 Who knows how many containers I’ll have sitting outside before winter is finally over!

  1. ditto – love the mini rant. too many stories written up in farm/garden/building/ad nauseum journals about someone doing something they’ve never done before, but they have a grand plan and it all looks good on paper. never a follow up three years later to describe how very little worked and they are exhausted and headed back to town for day job. Those follow up articles would be the MOST helpful so the same mistakes don’t get repeated with each generation. neat idea with the jugs – our milk comes in glass, but i don’t garden much anyway. Will start seeds outside in June and be done with it. Thanks for a great article! and thanks for the follow, too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something online and it wasn’t even remotely close to being accurate. Unfortunately, it’s not only little bloggers either – it’s the “big” ones, too. 🙁

  2. Great advice, and well put together. Some years ago we used to buy our water in 5litre containers, and I made little greenhouses out of them, this worked great, and like yours was quite demanding work but in the end it paid off. Now that I have a water filter I don’t ever buy the containers, still could ask from friends for theirs. 🙂

    1. I bet those containers worked great! I always find myself putting way too many seeds into each jug, lol 🙂 🙂 Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’re having a really great day!

  3. Definitely going to bookmark this. I’m resisting the urge to start any plants since we’re moving in 6 months. But oh man do I want to! This is getting saved for the future!

  4. Love this. Thinking I could start some more cornflowers and sweetpeas this way maybe? Wallflowers? Might divide my iris seeds that are currently living in the fridge and experiment. Live experimenting. Must remember to label though. I am terrible at labelling.

  5. Okay, so do you eventually plant these in the ground or do they continue to thrive in the milk cartons. Here is Texas, I have to sow larkspur and poppies in the fall outside or they won’t get big enough before they bloom as it warms up pretty early here. And believe it or not our winters are mild enough for the seedlings to make it through even some ice and snow. Of course I let the leaves fall in and around them and that provides some warmth. Last year and this year, I did have some luck doing the same thing with bachelor buttons. But at my age and with back issues, I can’t do too much transplanting. That’s why I’m curious about what you do with the things that germinate in the milk cartons. 🙂 <3

    1. Yes, they eventually have to be transplanted. It would still definitely be easier to sow hardy annuals in the fall. Even here in Kentucky a lot of them are direct sown out in the garden in the fall and make it through our colder winter. I’ve had success with bachelor’s button, calendula, poppies, kale, ammi majus, baby’s breath, german chamomile, godetia, love-in-a-mist, agrostemma, and sweet peas. I’m trying to work on a more complete list of things that you can just “throw on the ground” in the fall and will grow and bloom the next spring. As for the milk cartons, if lots of transplanting isn’t an option, you can still use them to germinate some perennials that may be hard to grow. For example, lavender can be difficult to get growing indoors, but does really well when you winter sow it in jugs. I hope I was able to help! Hope you’re having a great day!

  6. “if you haven’t successfully done something yourself – don’t write a blog post about it”

    Too true.

    Unfortunately, the “Internet” is now too often populated by uninformed opinion rather than experience and knowledge. Who can you trust on-line? It seems almost no one….. Sad.

    Yet, I tried your suggestions at:

    And so far, my rose cutting seem to be still alive and showing every evidence of being read to bud this spring. So I am quite excited by this.

    And many, many, many thanks for your blog post which stimulated me to give this a try.

  7. I have been winter sowing in Michigan for a few years. In my experience, the milk jugs don’t have much of a greenhouse effect. I don’t tape round them though so perhaps that makes a difference for you. Seeds germinate around the same time they would do so in the ground (self sown). However the ease of production and protection from digging animals make this very much worth while for me. Some of my favorites have been foxglove, English Daisy, Thalictrum and hollyhocks. I pot up into 4” containers for a few weeks before transplanting to the garden or giving away.
    This year I got two green smoke bushes from winter sowing, and two species roses. Not a high germination rate, but on the other hand I only have room for one or two of these shrubs!

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