Best Winter Sowing Containers…what I have tried and love!

Winter is a great time to sow seeds! In this article, we will go over some of the best winter sowing containers for successful seed germination. If you’re not sure where to start, these are the perfect solution!

Collect winter sowing containers throughout the season to be ready. Many start winter seed sowing in January, but you can actually start sooner if you are having winterish weather. Or you can start later, like in February. There are no really hard and fast rules on this.

winter seed sowing containers, house in snow
Winter sow seeds when you look out at this!

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Throughout the world, there is no one first and last frost date.

Local conditions, garden zone, and circumstances vary, so always use your local experienced garden friends to gain insight.

Why use winter sowing containers?

Winter sowing is a great way to get a head start on your garden season. By starting your seeds early, you can have a jump on the growing season and get an early start to your garden.

Outdoor winter sowing can be especially valuable if you don’t have the room or desire to start seeds indoors.

One of the reasons this works so well is the soil heats up sooner in the containers than in your garden beds.

Germinating the seed earlier and the container protects the seedlings from drying winds and pounding rain.

An added benefit is that with outdoor seed sowing you won’t need to spend the time and effort to harden off the seedlings when it is time to put them out in the garden.

Pansy seedling in 3 inch pot, Flower Patch Farmhouse, thinning and potting up seedlings
Seedlings being potted up

What are winter sowing containers?

Winter sowing containers are basically any type of container that can be used to start seeds outside in the winter.

Winter sowing can be done using many things you may have on hand, such as milk jugs, take-out food containers, and other large plastic containers with deep bottoms and transparent tops.

Plastic containers for gardening should be food-grade, that is why I like using recycled food containers. Like milk jugs, salad containers etc.

Recommendations for Winter Sowing Containers

Winter sowing containers would be clear or translucent plastic that is FDA compliant or food grade.

The containers should be deep enough to hold 2 to 3 inches of potting soil or seed starting mix.

They should be tall enough to give seedlings some headspace. (see notation on salad containers below)

Make sure that the container has drainage holes in the bottom. This is important because you don’t want water to accumulate and rot your seeds.

What are some of the best winter sowing containers for successful seed germination?

  • clean and sanitized 1-gallon milk or water jugs (opaque rather than clear)
  • sterilized plastic storage boxes
  • 2-liter pop bottles
  • mixed green salad containers
  • cold frame (I turn one of my raised beds into a cold frame by covering)

Picking the best winter sowing containers is rather objective. Meaning much depends upon your personal preference after trying different types of containers over a few seasons.

I find some work better for me than others in different situations. Experimenting is part of the fun of gardening.

So test out different things and discover what works for you.

winter sowing containers out in the garen

Winter Sowing Milk Jugs

Some people call this milk jug gardening, which I find appropriate.

Milk jugs are my favorite winter sowing container as the height inside gives the plants room to really get going before needing to be moved.

Shorter containers will need to be opened to prevent the seedlings from bumping into the top.

Also, most milk jugs are made of translucent plastic rather than clear. This can help prevent the scorching of tiny seedlings if you get an especially warm, sunny day.

I learned the benefits of translucent rather clear containers when I started propagating plants by cuttings 15 years ago.

I have used translucent jugs for numerous years for both winter sowing and rooting cuttings with great success.

Start with recycled 1-gallon milk or water jugs. If you don’t drink milk or other beverages from 1-gallon jugs then ask around, you probably have friends that do. (mine come from my sister who has 4 boys and they drink plenty of milk)

Wash and sanitize the jugs with a 10% bleach solution. That is one part bleach with 9 parts water.

Pierce holes in the bottom of the jug for drainage. I find a hot skewer, screwdriver, or old steak knife to work well.

I do this in a well-ventilated area but you can also use a utility knife to puncture the bottom.

Using scissors, I cut all around leaving a 1 1/2-inch wide band beneath the handle to act as a hinge.

winter sowing of seeds, milk jug cut

Feel free to watch how I do it in the video that gives you the step-by-step instructions at the end of this post.

I find scissors easier to control than a utility knife but that works as well.

You won’t need the lids so you can go ahead and put those in the recycle bin.

Duct tape works great for taping them up once filled. I also use the duct tape area to write what is inside the jug with a sharpie. I do this in several places.

For how to fill and sow the seeds see How to Winter Sow Seeds

winter sown seedlings with text overlay

Salad containers

Salad containers make good winter sowing containers for shorter-growing plants. Or if you will be opening the tops sooner rather than later.

Sanitize the empty salad containers with the 10% bleach solution.

Pierce the bottom of the container as you did the jugs. The lids of the salad containers will need some holes to allow natural rainfall and moisture to enter. As well as for ventilation.

Winter sowing of seeds, when you are sick of the snow and want to plant!

Plastic Food Storage Containers

Plastic food storage or deli are treated the same as salad containers.

I don’t use the ones with colored lids. They don’t let good light through and if you have them lined up with other containers only limited sunlight will go through the sides.

I mostly utilize these for my indoor seed starting as I have clear domes I can place over the tray of containers.

I do know others have used them for winter sowing and they did not work as well as other types of containers. Since I have so many of the others I don’t bother.

How to Start Seeds for a Beautiful Garden

Other containers worth considering:

  • Ice Cream Tubs
  • 2 liter beverage bottles.

Gardening in Plastic Tubs

Another easy seed-starting trick!

Gardening in Plastic Tubs!

Reusing Winter Sowing Containers

Want to reuse the containers next season?

Yes, you can, most of these containers can be reused the following season if properly cleaned and sanitized.

Personally, I don’t bother as by the time next season arrives I have usually collected more than enough fresh containers to start over.

As I plant out the seedlings I toss the container into the recycle bin unless I need it immediately for something else.

Many of the food containers now are made to deteriorate faster or are biodegradable, so they don’t work well season over season.

Note:  Personally, I have used this method in the Spring as well and had success starting more tender varieties of plants. (experimenting is fun) So technically that would be called Spring sowing but I used the same technique. I just located the containers in a different location so they wouldn’t be cooked by the more intense sunlight in the Spring. 

Have you seen the video of my winter sowing adventure?

Feel Free to Share!

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One Comment

  1. Write the names on the container with a paint pen. Sharpies wear off, even inside. I learned the hard way last year when I didn’t know which seedlings were what.

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