January 20, 2021
Start Growing Now
By Cheryl Alloway, Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway committee member and contributor.
Being cooped up this winter is getting to be a bit of a bore. Have you grown weary of jigsaw puzzles and had your fill of binge-watching TV? Is your dog refusing to take another walk today? Are your thoughts wandering to the coming of Spring and the possibilities it will bring? Perhaps visions of a pollinator garden are dancing in your head? Now is the perfect time to get started on bringing that vision to life.
Making plans for the upcoming spring (yes, it will come) and growing your own native plants is certain to lift your spirits from the grey of winter. The pollinators will love you for it! Plus, seed starting is an inexpensive way to grow your garden.
Go ahead, give it a try.
Fear not though, if the thought of starting seeds sets a panic in your heart. You are not alone. So often I’ve sown the seeds indoors in little trays, watched them germinate and begin to grow, only to have my joy crushed when the seedlings drooped and turned yellow or just died.
Whatever the cause – too much water, not enough light, damping off – I just gave up. That is, until I found a really fun, easy and practically fool proof way to grow native plants for your garden. It’s called winter sowing.
Invented by Trudi Davidoff, winter sowing involves sowing seeds in milk jugs or containers and placing them outside in the winter to germinate. Yes, you read that right, outside in the winter! The milk jug acts like a little greenhouse, protecting them from the wind and critters.
Each species of seeds will germinate when their time is right (depending on soil temperature and moisture) and the plants develop strong and sturdy roots. This method works well for starting all kinds of plants, including native perennials for the pollinator gardens and meadows. Most of them need a period of moist cold before breaking their dormancy, so this is a perfect fit.
Winter sowing requires only a few things to get started, most of which you probably already have:
Milk jugs or similar plastic containers
Phillips head screwdriver, hot glue gun or a drill to make drainage holes
Soil-less potting mix or seed starting medium (do not use garden soil)
Scissors or knife
Duct tape or a hole punch & twine
Permanent marker or paint marker
For step-by-step instructions on how to winter sow, check out these web pages.
The posts from A Garden for the House will show you how to use the milk jugs. Wild Seed Project shows a slightly different method, with the same results. Either way, have fun with it.
Another good resource for winter sowing tips is Trudi Davidoff’s Facebook group, “Winter Sowers.”
If you collected seeds from native and pollinator friendly plants last year, you should jump right in. Otherwise, you can browse through seed catalogs or visit them online. Some garden centers and nurseries carry native plant seeds too.
Start with natives like milkweed species (including swamp milkweed and butterfly weed), Joe-pye weed species,coneflower or echinacea species, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), beebalm or Monarda species (including spotted beebalm and wild bergamot), goldenrod species and aster species.
These companies are good online resources for native seeds:
There’s no time like the present to start growing your pollinator friendly garden. Winter sowing helps make it easy and fun. Grab those milk jugs and some seeds. Let’s do it!
And don’t forget to join the Wallkill Valley Pollinator Pathway. You can add your pollinator garden, whatever the size, to the pathway map here: https://wallkillvalleylt.org/pp/join-pollinator-pathway/