It’s the middle of January and earlier this week I planted poppy seeds - outside - on the ground. Actually, I didn’t really plant them - I casually sprinkled them. Five varieties in three raised beds here in Zone 6b.
I’m learning about winter sowing and of course I want to share it with you!
Here’s the quick story: some seeds have hard shells and need the freeze/thaw/freeze/thaw cycle of winter to break down the shell so the seed can germinate. The hard shell protects it so that it doesn’t germinate too early. This process is known as stratification.
Stratification can happen in a few different ways: forced using refrigeration and a damp growing medium, planting seeds outside in covered containers, or scattering on the ground. I’ll talk about the last two methods.
Poppies work especially well for scattering (the easiest method) because they don’t need to be buried in the soil and they need light to germinate. They also don’t like to be transplanted so this method of directly sowing them where you want them to grow is perfect.
It’s best to sow the seeds fairly early in the winter (January is ideal) so that they get enough “chill time” and can germinate. And, you can scatter even if there’s snow on the ground (a couple of inches or less is best).
Here are a few more tips when sprinkling those seeds: it’s best to sow them where they will come into contact with soil (i.e. not on top of grass or mulch); sow them in a sunny space; and place netting over top if you’re concerned about squirrels or other animals disturbing the area. Poppy seeds are tiny and hard to see; if you want to keep track of where you’ve scattered them, combine the seeds with a bit of sand before scattering.
My raised beds are the perfect spot for my seeds. I already have them enclosed with netting, and there’s no mulch. I’m tempted to plant some in my larger pots too; they’d be great for moving around the spring garden to fill in bare spots.
For seeds that need to be buried to germinate, try planting them outside in plastic milk jug gallons. Simply cut them in half below the handle, leaving a small section that creates a hinge. Cut drainage holes in the bottom and then fill with dirt and seeds. Duct tape the cut, and set it out in the sun in January or February. Leave the cap off to allow rainwater and snow in for moisture. The jug acts as a greenhouse and once the weather warms up, you can remove the tape and open up the jug. For pictures and more, check out this great post at georgeweigel.net.
Now if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking - wow! what else can I plant in winter? Because this has got to be one of the easiest, most fuss-free, frugal ways to start seeds.
The good news - a lot can be planted in winter. This method is really just mimicking the natural process since many seed pods persist through late fall and early winter before dropping their seeds and going through the freeze/thaw cycle.
Many wildflowers are suited for winter sowing - here’s a sampling: lupine, coneflower, aster, columbine, foxglove, hollyhock, lavender, bachelor button, delphinium, and larkspur.
According to almanac.com, “Any plant that is “hardy” in your zone is fine to plant in winter. These flowers have no problem with snow or frost and, in fact, need the cold.”
And I’ll close with this charming description from highcountrygardens.com, “Go out and scatter the seed/sand mix over the area to be seeded and wait for the snow to come and “tuck them in.””
Yes, yes - I do want the snow to come tuck in my seeds for winter.
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