MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 8, 2014

Winter can be a time to sow

By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening

— Seeds of last summer’s flowers have fallen onto the cold ground and if conditions are favorable, they will grow into new plants next spring. In fact, many, tree, herb, vegetable and flower seeds can be grown outside in the winter. No special equipment is needed:  no greenhouse, no cold frames, and no shelter required.

New Yorker Trudi Davidorff came up with the term “winter sowing” and has successfully educated gardeners about the wonders of using Mother Nature’s methods to plant your spring garden months ahead of schedule.

Warmth loving plants such as corn, beans, and squash will prefer spring and summer temperatures but asparagus, onion, cabbage, lettuce, spinach and all the chard and Brussels sprouts family will respond well to winter seeding outdoors. Any tree, shrub, herb or ornamental plant that can take a winter freeze will also do well. This month you can winter-sow these seeds outdoors: Alyssum, asclepias (butterfly weed), calendula (pot marigold), corn flower, coreopsis, cosmos, foxglove, hollyhocks, larkspur, petunia, poppy, beets, broccoli, parsnip, chard, carrots, Mache, radish, lettuce, spinach, kale, shallot, parsley and dill.

Some seeds have complicated needs for heat, cold, moisture and light. They have thick seed coats that prevent water from being absorbed until the best time; otherwise, they could sprout and die.

Cool or cold-stratification describes the periods of moist-cold that are required to break through the seed coat and challenge the seed’s protective hormones so it can sprout roots and shoots. The temperature has to be between 32 and 45, and the cold period has to be between one and three months, depending on the plant.

Generally, planting seeds outside in January resembles planting them outside in April. Select high sided trays, clear plastic clamshells, milk cartons cut almost in half, plant flats and other containers with holes. To put holes in milk jugs, just cut the corners with scissors or use a soldering iron to melt holes.

Select sterile potting soil mixes from the garden center or mix peat moss half and half with sand or perlite. Pour hot water over the peat moss to help it absorb water before planting. Wet the soil and let it drain before planting. This method allows the soil to settle so you know how much more to add before adding seeds.

Label each container with the name of the plant and the planting date. For labels, you can use tape, recycled window blinds, strips of milk carton, etc. Write with a paint filled pen or a pencil to mark the labels. You can keep a master list of details, or just mark each container with information such as sun/shade, plant height, perennial/annual, etc.

Follow the seed pack instructions: Press seeds into the soil if they need light to germinate and cover seeds that need darkness.

Put the containers outside, covered or uncovered. With plastic clamshells, the cover can be snapped into place because rain will get in. Punch holes in solid covers for air circulation. Check covered containers weekly to be sure the top of the soil never dries out.

When seedlings emerge, make the holes in the top larger for increased light and air circulation.

Seeds that need cold treatment in order to sprout include: Monkshood, flowering onion (allium), angelica, columbine, flowering cabbage, heather, tea plant (Camellia), trumpet vine, (Campsis), redbud, virgin’s bower (Clematis), dogwood, bleeding heart (Dicentra), shooting star (Dodecatheon), Christmas rose (Helleborus), daylily (Hemerocallis), lavender (Lavandula), bitter root (Lewisia), lobelia, Tahoka daisy (Machaeranthera), Phlox paniculata, primrose (Primula), trillium, globeflower (Trollius), snowball bush (Viburnum), and the viola, violet-pansy family.

Resources

• Get Busy Gardening — http://bit.ly/1awfgHu

• Permies-Homesteading and Permaculture All the Time — http://bit.ly/1g7YXVD

• Tom Clothier Germination database — http://tomclothier.hort.net

• Video — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6aSoaxdFo0

• Winter Sown — www.wintersown.org