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agee12 December 5, 2017 09:32 PM

Winter Sowing In A Mild Climate
I want to plant some herb and flower perennials and plan on trying winter sowing. I live in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 8A and low temperatures in the winter can get as low as the single digits but it mostly stays above freezing -'s almanac reports that the Historical Monthly Average for January is 52 degrees for the high and 34 degrees for the low in my area.

Are my conditions amenable to winter sowing? If not, what about other options like cold stratification?

MissS December 5, 2017 10:17 PM

Yes, you should be fine. They just need a cool damp period of about 2 months.

KarenO December 5, 2017 11:37 PM

The sowing and germination requirements of perennial herbs and flowers vary greatly depending on what you are planning to grow so each type of seed needs to be dealt with separately according to specific instructions. Many perennials are actually quite tricky to start from seed and would do better under lights indoors or at least in the shelter of a cold frame or unheated greenhouse at this time of year. ( I am in zone 8 here as well)
You could use these cold dark weeks to cold stratify seed that requires that treatment but frankly it’s actually easier to do that in some peat moss in your fridge crisper.
Nothing wintersown outdoors at this time, even the super hardy weediest annuals will germinate and grow right now outside. That said, many things can Be sown expecting germination not to occur until spring but perennial seeds tend to be expensive and fussy in my experience as a rule. It can take years for many popular perennials to grow to flowering size and many of the best and newest are hybrids so must be grown from divisions or cuttings rather than seeds. depending on what perennials you want to grow, starting from seed may sometimes be a lengthy and possibly disappointing endeavour.
I dont mean to be discouraging, some things could do well. I can help with specifics if you have a list of seeds you plan to try.

AlittleSalt December 5, 2017 11:49 PM

agee12, Patti and Karen have already written what I would have. There is one other thing to consider - I'm in zone 8A too - last winter we had two nights with low temperatures that got down to 18F. Otherwise, we did not have a winter here. Our onions suffered from the high temperatures last January through March - it resulted in small onions.

I know that's not herbs or flowers, but the same principles apply.

agee12 December 6, 2017 05:55 AM

Thanks for the responses.

I really like the idea of putting the seeds in peat moss, I assume I can also put them in the freezer, right?

Below is my tentative pre-spring grow list. Not all on the list require a cold treatment, I have been able to germinate and grow radishes and peas without a cold treatment.

I have tried to grow everything on my flower / pollinator list except milkweed and have been unsuccessful other than I have managed to get one anise hyssop to grow but it took numerous tries to get than one plant.

From the herb list, I tried rosemary, thyme and I think tarragon and have not been successful. I got germination with the rosemary and thyme but not growth.

From the vegetable list, I have not been very successful with beets, carrots, chard and spinach. I planted kale a while ago, and while it grew, it did not look that great at the beginning but seems to be doing better in the cooler weather.

I currently have a single brussels sprout plant and several broccoli plants growing, previous attempts with these two plants have not been successful. I currently have about three different varieties of mustard greens growing and they seem to be doing well.

My tentative Pre-Spring Grow List

anise hyssop
Bee Balm / Monarda
Black-Eye Susan
Cat Mint
Tansy (?? no seeds at moment)

- will also grow Basil, Cilantro, Dill, Parsely but will not plant until spring.


Just to be clear, I do not see cold treatment as a cure-all and I know that the failures were due to other things like rookie and other mistakes on my part, figuring out what grows well in my conditions, and as noted above certain plants being fussy. That's why I am not exercising any discipline and reducing the list, because I know that the odds are not in my favor that everything listed will be grown successfully.

Thanks again for the responses.

agee12 December 6, 2017 07:19 AM

For those of you in or around my zone, what are you growing now or planning to grow in the next couple of months?

KarenO December 6, 2017 12:27 PM

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Of the seeds mentioned, the vegetables can be sown now if you have an area prepared but they likely won’t grow until spring unless you have a very warm spell.
In my garden at this time I have winterbor kale, violas, chard and several types of lettuce all were started in August and September.
To me, winter sowing seeds outdoors has no expectation of any growth until spring.
Growing greens etc is possible in my zone during a normal winter but they are plants that were started in early fall and hardened before it got cold. My plants are looking ok, usable size leaves but are not growing right now. More just sitting growing very slowly . Alive but waiting for it to warm up before resuming normal growth.
I think honestly unless instructions require a period of cold stratification that except for the veggies planted in ground now, mulched so that rain doesn’t wash the seeds away) you will have better luck in spring. If you want a growing project now, grow indoors with lights for more success.
For next year, start or buy transplants of cold tolerant greens, kale, cos lettuces etc in the late summer early fall, plant them in place before it gets cold, allow them to acclimatize gradually and you should be able to have some garden produce right through winter.
I use large pots for convenience, easier to move or cover if needed. Have 8 this size planted similarly. Used for tomatoes in summer.

agee12 December 6, 2017 01:57 PM

That looks like such a nice container set up, I would like to see other pictures, perhaps a wide shot. I actually have a faux half whisky barrel that will be freed up once the frost kills the annual that is currently occupying it, and I was just going to store it but this is a good idea for it, if not this year then next year.

On my end I was not expecting to sow anything now and have mature plants or flowers in 90 or so days, but at the same time I don't want it to be March or April and I want to plant certain things only to find out that they needed some kind of cold treatment. It is not a big deal for me to put seeds in peat moss and then throw them in the freezer for a few weeks, or to plant some seeds in a milk jug and let it sit outside for a couple of months. I am prepared to get mixed results, it can't be worst than what I already experienced where I planted seeds and they did not germinate, or I planted seeds, got germination but the plants did not survive.

KarenO December 6, 2017 03:25 PM

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My pots are plastic, about the size of half barrels, maybe a bit smaller. Heavy frost here last night but being up off the ground helps. Here is a shot taken just now 1100 am PST.
Frozen leaves and gravel in the driveway right alongside the row of pots.

If you aren’t afraid of failure or losing the seeds you have. Go ahead and sow your wildflower seeds. I would do as you suggest and grow them in a container so you can protect them and observe them. For most perennial herbs, rosemary especially it is a lot easier to root cuttings (free ones from a neighbor?)
Regardless, as long as you are enjoying and learning it’s always worthwhile to grow things even when experiments don’t turn out as planned. I have had a great many less than stellar results in my gardening through the years and although not as frequent now I still have my fair share of trouble. Go for it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

agee12 December 6, 2017 03:38 PM

Ooo experiencing major plant envy right now! :env:

What is the diameter and height of your pots?

KarenO December 6, 2017 04:37 PM

about 22 wide by 20 tall? something like that. each would hold about 50 L of potting mix. Im in the process of building a little greenhouse. although they look OK, they would do better under some shelter so I will move them into it once it's ready.
"frost tolerant" doesn't mean they like it. Nothing likes frost, even tough things that can survive it like kale don't prefer it.
definitely start or transplant some greens in late summer and you should be able to be quite successful with a fall garden like this next year in your zone.

MissS December 7, 2017 06:47 PM

The flowers that you have on your list just need a short period of cold treatment. You will do just as well to store the seeds in their packaging in your fridge (dry) until you would like to plant them outside. All of them with the exception of the Coneflower need to be surface sown, so I like to cover them with some sort of clear top to prevent them from being washed in too deep by the rain. Most surface sown seeds need light to germinate.

Have fun with them!

agee12 December 8, 2017 09:12 AM

^ Thank you. Can I put the seeds in the freezer? Putting seeds in the fridge is not out of the question but I feel like they are at risk for being jostled and think that putting them in the freezer is safer. I have two freezers, the one that goes with the fridge and a standalone freezer. I don't know the temperatures but ice cream in the standalone freezer gets very hard.

Thanks again.

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