Thursday, February 9, 2012

Wintersowing Memories

This year's wintersowing containers are out on the deck, safely nestled in a blanket of snow. It will be a while before we see any action in there. So what's a gardener to do, stuck in the middle of dreary February? How about trawl through the photo archive for memories of wintersowings past...

Anchusa 'Blue Angel'
 Wintersowing is an easy and inexpensive way to grow perennials like this anchusa from seed, without having to worry about complicated and difficult seed treatments. If you haven't tried it yet, check out for instructions and lots of tips. The basic idea is you plant seeds in deep soil in old plastic milk jugs or soda bottles, then put the containers outside during winter where they will be exposed to natural cycles of snow, frost, sunshine, and rain. The freeze-thaw cycles break the seed coat and produce excellent germination results. The seeds themselves decide when it's time to germinate, and they know what they're doing! After germination, you'll have lots of teensy little babies that look something like the below. (If your labels get rubbed off and you can't remember what's where, The Seed Site has an excellent database of seedling pictures for identification.)

Wintersown anchusa seedlings
Then you cut away the container and slice your soil like a wedding cake, and transplant out in the garden. The tops are tiny but the root system will be extensive. It is an easy and fun process, and best of all gives you an excuse to garden over the winter! Most perennials will not actually bloom their first year, although some will. The top picture of anchusa is from its first year - as you can see it bloomed nicely in year one. There is a great forum where you can ask wintersowing questions at the GardenWeb.

Here are some more past wintersowing successes:

Poppy 'Venus'
 I wintersowed lots of poppies, and this particular crazy puff-ball always attracted lots of attention. You can see the anchusa blooming in the background as well. This is an annual poppy, and I had just as much luck direct seeding annual poppies as with wintersowing, but you get more precise planting control with the wintersowing.

Stocks 'Vintage Red'
 Stocks are another annual I experimented with both wintersowing and direct seeding. I actually had much better success with wintersowing on these. I would do anything for that awesome fragrance!

Lupine 'Lulu'
 My favorite wintersown perennial was this lupine. This picture is from its 3rd year after wintersowing. It did bloom the first year, but not as much and the plants were much smaller. Sadly, I'm a bit too far south for lupines (not many times a Wisconsinite gets to say THAT!), so they only lasted 4 years in my garden before giving up the ghost. Lupines don't like humid summers at all, so that gorgeous foliage gets a bit tatty after blooming. I still think that blaze of glory is worth it - not bad for the price of one seed packet!

Phlox drummondii
Phlox drummondii is another annual that wintersowed better for me than direct seeding, for some reason. Here it is adding bright color to a planting of California poppies. Not my personal favorite plant because the foliage is kind of "Eh."

Hollyhock 'Queeny Purple'
I loved the purple color and large double flowers on this hollyhock, but as you can see here the foliage is already starting to look terrible. Hollyhocks always sound so good in theory, but in practice they are a bit of a mess. I've never seen one that didn't look as if it were being eaten alive. It did bloom in its first year though, despite being technically a biennial.

What joys will next year's containers bring...?

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