Winter sowing is a technique that we were introduced to last February. It makes a lot of sense for starting seeds that require cold stratification. The often recommended way is to put the seeds in your freezer/refrigerator for a period of time which is somewhat random. Then take the seeds out and start them in a bottom heated flat under lights. While this essentially does what Mother Nature does, it is a poor mimic. The cold, heat and light are fixed constants where Nature is random. When I had success with two species that I’ve never been able to start from seed before, I became a true believer.
Last year we used water and apple cider jugs. This year we are using the 8 x 12 x 3 ¾ containers Loblaw sells spinach in. Using this container instead of a plastic jug allows me to easily reuse it next year because it will store very compactly.
A lot of what we’ve started is native or long naturalised – eastern cedar, red pine, Indian grass, lilac, pink turtlehead, Canada lily, mountain blackberry, wild leek, wild garlic, black huckleberry, Indian cucumber root, bilberry, prairie dropseed, New Jersy tea, sideoats grama, Canada Wild Rye, orange butterfly weed, autumn olive, red pine, white pine, low bush cranberry, little bluestem, switch or panic grass, rosa rugosa, big bluestem, purple lovegrass, blue vervain, virgin’s bower, trumpet vine, highbush cranberry, staghorn sumac, and greyheaded coneflower.
The low-growing woodland plants will go into our woods. The grasses will go into a wildflower meadow that we are trying to start. We have found that native species need to spend at least one year in a large pot so that they develop an extensive root system. If they are planted before they have a well-developed root system, they are overwhelmed by whatever is already growing there.
For two years in a row we have started lilacs from seeds harvested from the lilacs along our driveway. The first year plants spent another year in 8″ pots and were planted this fall. They were 6-8″ tall with root systems verging on being potbound. They were protected with rodent guards. Based on this experience, we decided that a steady stream of 6-12 plants each year would be a good idea. And if lilacs, why not cedars and pines? We’ll look for other tree seeds next year such as catalpa, black locust, black walnut and oaks. They all grow in the area so finding seeds shouldn’t be a problem.