When should I start winter sowing? This is one of the most common questions I get from newbies. In this post, I will give you all the details about when to start, how to know if it’s too late to begin, and also when to stop winter sowing. Plus, I’ll give you ideas for what you can do while you’re anxiously waiting to get going.
One of the things I love the most about the winter sowing method is that you can take your time, and sow your seeds all winter long. There’s no rush to get them done like there is when you plant them indoors or direct sow them.
Even though winter sowing breaks the rules of traditional seed starting, it is still very important to get the timing right.
If you begin too early, the seeds could germinate prematurely, and die before spring. And we certainly don’t want that to happen.
There is also a limit to how late you can begin, especially if you use certain types of seeds. So, how do you know when to start winter sowing, and when to stop? Don’t worry, I will break it all down so it’s super easy for you to get it right.
When Should I Start Winter Sowing?
The short answer to this question is “it depends on where you live”. But that’s not helpful at all, right? So let’s talk more about how to tell when you should start winter sowing.
Many avid winter sowers make it a ritual to begin on the winter solstice (the first official day of winter) which is sometime around December 21st here in the Northern Hemisphere. So, I guess you could call that the unofficial first day of the winter sowing season.
However, it can still be too warm in many places in December. But, how do you know if it’s too warm to start winter sowing where you live?
The main rule of thumb is… don’t start until after freezing temperatures are here to stay. That means that it is below freezing outside, and will stay that way until spring.
There are lots of exceptions to this rule though, and it can be different from year to year. Mild winters also make it more difficult to know exactly when to start.
My best advice is to stick to the main rule of waiting until it’s freezing cold outside, and you will be fine. Then, as you gain more experience, you will have a better feel for exactly when to winter sow, what works best for you, and in your growing zone.
When Is It Too Late To Start?
Brace yourself because this is another “it depends” type of answer… this depends on the type of seeds you’re growing. You see, some seeds need a period of cold dormancy in order to germinate (the technical term for this is “cold stratification”).
The beauty of winter sowing, and one of the reasons it works so well, is that the seeds are naturally cold stratified when we put them outside in the snow and freezing cold. So we don’t have to worry about that at all.
But, if you winter sow those seeds too late, then they won’t get properly cold stratified. And that means they probably won’t grow. Bummer, right?
If you have seeds that require cold stratification, then you must winter sow those before it warms up outside. So plan to get those done at least 4-5 weeks before it gets above freezing outside.
If your seeds don’t need cold dormancy in order to grow, then you don’t have to worry as much about starting too late.
I winter sow well into April here in MN zone 4a. I’ve even used this method in the summer to start my fall crops (keeping the containers in the shade of course).
When To Stop Winter Sowing
There’s no rule saying when you have to stop. As I mentioned above, I keep going through the spring, and even into the summer.
Just be sure you start winter sowing early enough so the seedlings have plenty of time to mature before you transplant them into the garden. The average is about 6-8 weeks before transplanting, but check the seeds packets to know for sure.
Honestly though, it will get to the point where you start to wonder why you didn’t just sow your seeds directly into your garden, rather than planting them in the containers.
But, there really is no limit to how long you can go. So, I’m going to leave this one up to you to decide!
What Can I Do If It’s Too Early To Start?
If you’re antsy, but it’s too early to start winter sowing, there are a few things you can do to prepare…
- Collect your containers – It takes some time to build up a nice stash of the right types of containers, and also to get them ready before planting. So this is the perfect activity to do while you anxiously await the arrival of winter.
- Sort and organize your seeds – Sort your seeds into piles, and then organize them into the order you plan to sow them. Here’s the order that I use…
- Seeds that need cold stratification
- Perennials and native plants
- Cold hardy annuals, herbs, and veggies
- Warm weather vegetables, herbs, and annuals (wait until early spring to sow these)
Oh, and don’t forget to buy some potting soil so you’re all ready to go when it’s cold enough outside.
Unfortunately, there is no exact set date or schedule for when to start winter sowing that will work for everyone. But, as you gain more experience, you will know exactly when the time is right for you, and your growing zone. Heck, if you’re super organized, you can even put together you own personal winter sowing calendar!
Otherwise, if you want to learn how to grow any type of seed you want for your garden, then you should take my Seed Starting Course. It is a detailed online course that will show you how to grow any type of seed you want using a mix of the three most common seed starting methods (including winter sowing!). Enroll and get started now!
More Posts About Winter Sowing
- How To Choose The Best Seeds For Winter Sowing
- Winter Sowing Questions & Answers (FAQs)
- Choosing The Best Soil For Winter Sowing
When do you start winter sowing? Tell us in the comments below.