Super Simple Winter Sowing with Milk Jugs Tutorial

Winter is almost over & spring is almost here. Our weather is generally unpredictable during this time of year with warm & sunny days backing right up to chilly & windy days. I am itching to do some planting outdoors, but our average last frost date isn’t until mid-May. I do have an indoor grow light system, but the lights can only reach so far & I have limited space indoors to grow seedlings. That leaves only one solution to my plight: winter sowing. Winter sowing is a gardening method that essentially turns milk/water jugs into tiny greenhouses which allows you to start seeds outside while still keeping them protected from the cold. How can one harness this gardening sorcery? Read on.

winter sowing in milk jugs
Free greenhouses never looked so good.

Materials

  • Clean milk jug or water jug
  • Scissors
  • Potting soil (I used coconut coir)
  • Seeds
  • Duct tape
  • Water
  • Spray bottle full of water
  • Permanent marker

Method

  1. Carefully cut the jug horizontally in half.
  2. Poke holes in the bottom of the jug.
  3. Pre-moisten the potting soil by mixing it with water in a bucket. The soil is ready when you can clump it together in your hand.
  4. Fill the bottom of the jug with soil, about at least 2-3 inches high.
  5. Plant your seeds according to the directions on the seed packet.
  6. Spray with water to moisten the soil.
  7. Write the name of the plant on the top of the jug with a permanent marker.
  8. Place the top of the jug on top of the bottom & tape it together with duct tape.
  9. Place in a sunny & protected spot in your garden without the jug lid.
turning milk jugs in to greenhouses
The milk jugs are getting ready for their second act.
winter sowing milk jugs with soil
Cut in half, poked & filled with soil.

Tips

  • Toss the lid of the jug. You don’t need it & this way your seedlings will be able to get water when it rains or snows.
  • Check on the jugs daily to make sure that they have enough water, especially if you don’t get a lot of precipitation in your area. We generally get a lot of snow/rain, so I don’t normally need to water after planting up the jugs, but your experience might vary.
  • Choose seeds that are labeled as “cold hardy” or “frost resistant”. When in doubt, Google it.
winter sowing Iceland poppies
Come on down, Iceland Poppies!
winter sowing poppies in milk jugs
& potted up!

I have been saving milk jugs for a few months now in anticipation of finally being able to start up my winter sowing garden. I love the fact that I can reuse milk jugs for this project, instead of having to buy even more seed-starting trays & spending even more money. Gardening can be such an expensive hobby, so it’s always nice when you can reuse something you already have. It might not be the prettiest way to start seeds, but it’s certainly the easiest & cheapest way! It’s the most accessible way too, considering the fact that most people don’t have grow lights & seeds can be hard to start next to a window. All you need is a jug, potting soil & a sunny spot outdoors & you’re good to go!

winter sowing sweet peas
Sweet peas, please!
planting sweet pea seeds in coconut coir
These were the only seeds that showed up in the pics, the rest were far too tiny.

Another benefit of winter sowing is that it creates strong plants that don’t need to be slowly acclimated to the outside. The seedlings have spent their entire lives outside so they are completely used to the elements. You don’t need to keep a fan on them so that they can grow strong like you have to with indoor seedlings. You don’t have to worry about bringing them outside for a few hours at a time so they can get used to the sun & outdoor temperatures either. It’s way less work & way more fun. I’ll take that option every time!

winter sowing foxgloves
Last up, in a blurry pic, are the Foxgloves.
planting foxgloves in a milk jug
All potted up & ready to go.

Staying true to my seed starting plans, I have winter sown Iceland poppies, Foxgloves & some of my Sweet Peas. I have a few more seeds that will greenhouse up in jugs, but they’re not as winter hardy as the seeds that I have already planted. I learned my lesson last year when a late cold snap took out all but one of my winter sown tomatoes in one severe swoop. I am certainly tempted to try to start some of my seeds earlier than I should, but the sad image of wilted tomato seedlings just doesn’t leave you. It’s looking like I might end up with about 6-8 milk jug greenhouses. I’m trying to winter sow as many seeds as I can, but not all seeds take to this method well. I wish they all did!

winter sowing in a raised bed veggie garden
How my raised bed veggie garden is looking right now.

Winter sowing is one of the easiest gardening methods that I have ever done & it’s certainly the most budget-friendly. Get yourself a clean jug, some cold-hardy seeds & get going! You have everything to gain & little to lose. If you’re a little unsure if your seedlings can survive the still chilly weather then winter sow half & save the other half. Then plant the saved seeds indoors or directly in the ground once the weather is more to their liking. You’ll have nothing to lose that way, plus you’ll have a fun little gardening experiment on your hands. Happy gardening, everyone!

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