I’ve perused most of the catalogs that continue to arrive in my mailbox, flagging pages with items to add to my ever-growing wish list.
I ordered most-needed vegetable and flower seeds and a few new dahlia tubers and I’m preparing to order garden supplies.
I’m still cleaning and splitting last season’s dahlia tubers, and as soon as I’m finished will disinfect the plant room to make way for the trays of seedlings I plan to plant.
All of the seed-starting supplies will need to be washed and disinfected and the fluorescent tubes that have burned for more than a year will be replaced with new ones.
I’ve made lists of what needs to be done and when, and I’m nearly ready to commit the vegetable garden plan to paper.
In my mind, the countdown to spring has started. While it’s too soon to plant now vegetables, it’s the perfect time to sow the seeds of dill, cilantro, onions, leeks and celery inside.
It’s also a great time to winter-sow seeds that need cold stratification, such as perennials. This method of seed starting is where we try to mimic the conditions nature uses to germinate seeds in our climate.
Winter sowing is a great project to do with children, and for those of us who are still in awe of the miracle of how things grow. This year I’m going to start Belamcanda chinensis (blackberry lilies), Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’ and seeds saved from one of my tree peonies.
Winter sown containers are meant to live outside in the cold, watered by rain and snow.
So before you plant, find a sheltered place in your yard that is safe from marauding squirrels, heavy winds and hot afternoon sun to locate your treasures. For example, under a bench or table that gets morning light on your deck or patio is ideal.
Empty plastic milk jugs or 2-liter plastic soda bottles make the best winter sowing containers. They act as mini-greenhouses. If you are using a container made with tinted plastic, make sure the plastic is not too dark. If you can see your thumb through the plastic, then it will let in enough light and won’t shade seeds or seedlings.
Cut the containers in half nearly all the way around, leaving the piece uncut to serve as a “soul.” Punch holes in the bottom for drainage and remove the cap to allow for ventilation.
Fill the bottom half of the container with 3 inches of good quality potting mix or soilless mix. I use Pro-Mix BX with Mycorrhizae. Water and drain thoroughly.
Check your seed packet for the correct planting depth. Add a thin layer of the dampened potting mix over the planted seed and lightly tamp down with your fingers so the seed makes contact with the mix.
Mist the top, there the unhinged part of the container with clear packing tape and place outside in the location you selected. Make sure to label the contents of your containers and the date you planted the seeds.
For inexpensive labels, cut an empty jug of bleach into strips. Another inexpensive option is vinyl mini blinds. They are easy to cut with a scissors and can be cut to any desired length. Use pencil to write on the plastic or vinyl. It does not fade in the sun like the indelible ink pens sold for this task. You can also write directly on the container with a permanent marker.
After a couple of days, check your containers. It is critical to see the condensation inside the containers; that means there is sufficient moisture for the seeds. Usually, containers won’t need supplemental water until the temperatures really warm up.
When condensation stops showing, place the containers on a shallow tray filled with water and let the containers soak up the water.
This method of sowing seeds is easy, economical and can become addictive. Once you have a few successes under your belt, you may want to try propagating shrubs, trees and vines. You may also decide to try winter sowing your vegetables and annuals rather than growing them under lights in the basement.
While growing houseplants is an essential element of winter gardening for me, tending houseplants is not nearly as fulfilling as planting a seed and seeing the ultimate result of that planting in the landscape years later.
Donna Lane owns Lane Interiors & Gardens, is a master gardener, past president of the Norwood Evening Garden Club, and an active member of many other horticultural organizations. You can reach Donna at LaneInteriors@verizon.net.