Thursday, December 22, 2011

Getting a Jump on Seeds for 2012

As I was flipping through the Feb 2012 issue of Garden Gate magazine, I came across an article about winter sowing perennial seeds.  While I’ve seen this type of thing before, this time it sent me into action.  I’ve been moaning about why some seeds I’ve tried just won’t germinate well, if at all.  The method described in this article by Michelle Mero Riedel, can also be found at theMy Northern GardenBlog', and at the Winter Sown Seeds website. So today I grabbed the two containers I had on hand to give it a try.

1. Cut container, leaving a hinge
2. Make plenty of drain holes
3. Add seed starting mix

In short, it involves cutting 90% of the way across the top of a 1 gal plastic milk carton (or similar) cut, to create a hinged lid.  After making some drain holes in the bottom it is loaded with pre-moistened seed starting mix.  The seeds are sown at their recommended depth and the top is taped back in place.  

4.  Sink the containers in soil 
outside in a sunny location
Next the carton is put outside in a sunny exposed location and sunken into the soil to simulate the actual soil conditions.  In this way the seeds will experience actual winter conditions, but be protected from animals.  The cover creates a mini-greenhouse for protection after germination and the contained soil-less mix will be easy to break-up for transplanting after the plants grow up a bit.  It is important not to put the cap back on the jugs, otherwise the seeds will cook.

The first seeds that I am trying are one’s that did not germinate for me last time: Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Rosey Sedge (Carex rosea).  As I get more containers I will also try this with the difficult Fernleaf False Foxglove (Aureolaria pedicularia) as well as with seeds that gave a lower % germination last season: Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corolorata), and Crowned Beggarsticks (Bidens coronata).

One trick I did differently from the article was to use a drill fitted with a brad point bit to drill very neat holes in the plastic, rather than using an awl or screwdriver.    We’ll see next spring how this method compares my usual method of cold stratification in the refrigerator.  So far this ‘winter sowing’ method has been pretty easy, plus it doesn’t take up space in the frig and I won’t need to use the grow lights for two months this spring.  Also by winter sowing early, I won’t be digging into frozen soil to sink in the containers.

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