How to Winter-Sow Annual Seeds


Many annual seeds are able to be planted out in winter for spring germination. This is simpler than starting plants in individual pots inside and requires less time. Annuals that easily self seed grow naturally in your area, and wild flowers are the most successful candidates for winter sowing as they are usually frost hardy and require the process of freeze and thaw to germinate. Use either seeds from a seed supplier or those you collect from your own garden for winter sowing.

Step 1

Prepare the garden bed in fall before the ground freezes. Till the soil to a 10 inch depth. Remove any large rocks and old plant material. Lay a 3 inch layer of fresh compost over the bed and till it in to improve nutrition and drainage.

Step 2

Sow the seeds in late winter, once daytime temperatures are consistently above freezing but night time freezes are still occurring. Sow seeds to the depth indicated on the package or sow small seeds on the soil surface and gently press them into the soil.

Step 3

Water the bed lightly, just enough to moisten the soil but not enough to make the bed soggy. Avoid watering if the bed is already moist.

Step 4

Cut off the bottom of a milk jug and remove the cap. Place a jug over each planted area of the bed. Alternately, use clear plastic trays with holes poked in them or commercial cloches.

Step 5

Remove the covers in spring once seedlings emerge. This may be two or months after sowing. Keep the bed moist at all times by watering as needed.

Tips and Warnings

  • Always make sure the covers have vent holes. Without fresh air the seeds will rot in the ground. Not all annuals are receptive to winter sowing. Read the seed envelope to see if they are cold hardy plants, and experiment with a variety of seeds. Most seeds that recommend early planting dates require cold stratification or require nicking can be planted outside in winter.

Things You'll Need

  • Power tiller
  • Compost
  • Milk jugs
  • Scissors


  • Ohio State University Extension:Plant Propagation
  • Wintersown: Winter Sowing
Keywords: winter sowing annuals, starting garden flowers, seed starting outdoors

About this Author

Jenny Harrington is a freelance writer of more than five years' experience. Her work has appeared in "Dollar Stretcher" and various blogs. Previously, she owned her own business for four years, selling handmade items online, wholesale and via the crafts fair circuit. Her specialties are small business, crafting, decorating and gardening.