Saturday, December 6, 2014

Winter Sowing Workshop or What To Do with Your Left Over Water Bottles

Monday, November 17, 2014
There were many options of what to do today - put up the lights outside, cut some greenery and do some holiday decorating, go to the holiday parade downtown (also outside) - but it is pouring out and thus a change of plans.  On the "to-do" list is post about our 'Milk Jug & Munchies' propagation workshop from a couple of weeks ago, so this seems like a good day to start. 

On the blog from last spring in March is a post  titled 'Sweet Siberian Iris White Swirl'.  Several methods of starting the iris by seed were tried.  This is where I first learned about the 'milk jug' method and it was by far the most successful.

Fast forward to September when three of our club members attended the Shirley Meniece Conference and brought home lots of new seeds to try.  Our Hort Chairman Kitty Sprout scheduled a workshop for mid November.  Although slightly early (most of the winter-sow sites suggest January), we felt November would still be a good month to try. 

Kitty Sprout sent out an email in October with the details of what to collect.  Opaque milk jugs - not a problem to collect these where we live.  A lot of members no longer drink that much milk, but we have an abundance of one gallon opaque water jugs, left from the water crisis we had here last winter. 
This is what you
want to use!
Spring Sprout is the co-chair of our Hort committee and volunteered to hold the workshop in her garage.  The weather was pretty chilly, so bundled in fleece jackets we gathered.  She supplied the potting soil, permanent markers, tape, scissors, tags for labeling the plants.  Members brought bags of jugs.

About half of the committee could come; a second workshop is planned this coming Thursday.

We sorted through the packets of seeds and selected only hardy perennials for this workshop as it is way too early to start annuals and vegetables - those need to wait until March.  "Relax! Now sit back and let Mother Nature do her thing. As the weather chills and warms, your seeds will freeze and thaw. These natural actions loosen the seed-coatings. This is why advance soaking or nicking of hard-shelled seeds, such as Morning Glories and Sweet Peas, is not necessary when you winter-sow" is the advice from Kevin at 'A Garden for the House' in his article Winter-Sowing 101 

The project is quick and easy.  This is a great project to do with children, just exercise care when poking or cutting drainage holes with sharp tools and opening the jug (sharp edges).
  • Have your soil prepared early - moisten and have ready in buckets.
  • Grab a jug.
  • Cut or poke several drainage holes just below the skinny neck.  A knife and some slits work fine, or a drill.  The drill is quick and easy and safe. 
  • Cut or poke several drainage holes in the bottom of the jug.
  • Take a knife or scissors and cut the jug just below the handle about 3/4 of the way around the front and sides (not under the handle - leave it intact)
  • Do not cut too low on the jug as the deeper the soil, the better for root development.  Allow for 3-4" soil depth.
  • Open your jug.
  • Add pre-moistened soil filling close to where your cut is.
  • Plant your seeds - do not sow too heavily in this project as once the jug is sealed up it is pretty hard to go back and thin out the seedlings.  Sow lightly and just what you think you might want.
  • Cover your seeds with 1/2" of soil.
  • Add a plastic label with the name of the seed and the date planted.
  • Close your jug by using package sealing or duct tape.  This may require a second set of hands to hold the jug, cut the tape, and wrap around the jug.  Leave lid off.
  • Label the outside of the jug.
  • Place outside where the jug will receive moisture and hopefully an occasional nice snow pack during the winter months.
  • Make sure and remove the lid!  The lid is not necessary and it is an additional way for your seeds to get moisture.
  • Sit back and wait!
  • Do not remove your seedlings until spring when you are ready to pot up.  The Siberian Iris last year were still very small and fragile, so I potted up and finally put in the garden when I felt they could survive.
There are a lot of great sites about winter sowing in jugs - a few are:, Winter Sowing for your Vegetable Garden, Winter Sowing,  and DIY-Milk Jug Greenhouse.  Many others can be found - Google Winter Sowing, Milk Jug Greenhouses or similar.  And lots of images.  Have fun exploring.  They all seem to follow the same basic premise.

We made a few decisions to share: 
  • Use opaque one gallon jugs (we felt clear would provide too much direct sun)
  • Place in a sheltered spot that would receive water but not hot afternoon sun (one site suggests more sun, but my experience from last year was north is better, against the side of the house, but not under the eaves).  This allows plenty of cold for stratification and keeping hot January sun off the jug will keep the plants from germinating too early.
  • Add an additional plastic name tag/stake inside the jug.  Even though you use a permanent marker, after a certain amount of time outside the marker will start fading.
  • Add the words "Do Not Disturb" to your jug to prevent husbands from deciding the jugs are not an attractive addition to your garden and throwing them away!
A few photos below of the November workshop - and more to add from the second and hopefully a March workshop for those annuals.  Have fun!

Selecting seeds to plant
Filling the jugs. Notice how the
one on the far right is cut and hinged.
Getting the inside label ready.

Taping the jug back together.

Taped jug ready to go home.

Jugs in today's steady rain!
Thursday, December 11, 2014
A second 'come if you can' workshop was held at WV Sprout's home today for those who could not make the November workshop.  Very casual - drop in from 1-4, pick your seeds and enjoy some holiday friendship.

Kitty Sprout, Library Sprout and Sleepy Sprout came.  They all left with 3-6 jugs of plants sown with various seeds. 

New this year.  Instead of posting journals by sprout name so that you have to flip back and forth and read each Sprout's journal we will post by plant.  This way if 3-4 people each try Baptisia for example you can follow the entire journal about Baptisia on one page and see what success each 'Sprout' had.

The first post will be on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum).

Let us know how you like this new method!

June 12, 2015
A lot of our plants have now been transplanted and individual posts on those plants.  But, here is a photo of Kam Sprout's newly transplanted seedlings in her yard.  Kniphofia (red hot poker) and Eryngium (sea holly, and a Baptisia from my sprouts traded for a sea holly.  All will stay in these pots for most of the summer as they are very tiny.


  1. A new post today on Water-Jug/Winter Sowing propagation workshop.

  2. Little sprouts appearing! One member reports a few of her winter sown water jugs have things happening. I have baptisia and cup plant. Another has rodgersia. These are VERY tiny spots of green; none-the-less it is definite activity. We will not disturb or do anything yet as it is still too early. Night time temps still in the 30s and will dip into the teens periodically. Daytime temps are 45-70 - so huge temperature swings. Remember we are Zone 6 and our last frost date is May 10.

  3. I have green growth - not much - in all of my milk jugs. The baptisia has the best, and the Culver's Root barely poking through, no leaves yet. (am slightly worried it may be green mold!)
    The baptisia, BTW was doing very well(March), and I discovered it tipped over after the leaf blower had been used - righted it, and the sprouts continued on their journey.
    Should I take the tops off of my milk jugs?

    1. Hi Forgetful Sprout. Yes, take the tops off. I cut the top off along the tape and set outside in a semi protected place. Not strong sun so they won't burn and a little protection against a deluge so they won't get washed out. The baptisia are probably ready to transplant. I put about 4 each in a quart pot like we did with the milkweed and will baby for a while til the roots develop more. I have the same problem with the cup plant but haven't checked it lately to see if any growth. Looked moldy to me, too. Will check and see what it looks like and let you know. Kitty Sprout has stokesia and meadow rue. Lots of meadow rue. Take photos and I will come over and we can post together.

  4. Photo of Kam Sprout's newly transplanted seedlings in her yard.