My winter sowing containers.
We're enduring a stretch of sub-freezing weather here in the Metro Detroit area. We've got several inches of snow. And we've got months yet until spring finally arrives.
If you simply must get your hands in the dirt, or if you're just looking for an easy, inexpensive way to add more plants to your garden, try winter sowing. Instead of using special cell packs and flats, lighting set ups and heating mats, winter sowing focuses on using recycled and reused materials and letting Mother Nature do the work for you.
The method is fairly simple: take some good potting mix (I like Pro-Mix, but any good, well-draining potting mix will do) and add three to four inches of soil to a container. Some of the best containers for winter sowing are clean gallon milk jugs and two liter pop bottles (you'll have to cut these across the middle to plant in them), and the plastic trays that deli salads often come in. Poke a few drainage holes in the bottom of your container, add your soil, water very well, and sprinkle some seed on top. Tape the top back onto your milk jugs or soda bottles, label the container (duct tape marked with a permanent marker and placed on the bottom of the container works well) and set it outside. Forget about it until March.
Seriously, it's that easy. Your seeds will start to sprout in late February or early March, and once that happens all you have to do is make sure they stay moist and that the lids allow enough heat to escape.
While you can plant an amazing variety of seeds using winter sowing, I really like using this method for growing perennials from seed. Many perennials need cold stratification anyway, and this takes care of that for you. Some of the perennials I've grown from seed include purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), 'Early Sunrise' coreopsis, hostas, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), and shasta daisies.
So, don't let these cold, dark days get you down. Get your hands in the dirt, sow a few seeds, and look forward to having plenty of healthy young plants this spring.