Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Let's Talk Seedlings: Greenhouse and Winter Sown Seedlings and Propagation

Impatien cuttings, Sweet Woodruff, Zinnia, basil, Great Blue Lobelia seedlings
From In the Garden
I've been busy in the garden and it only promises to get worse with all these seedlings. I mean what was I thinking?? As gardeners we can get a bit carried away with starting seeds. Oh how our gardens must be filled to overflowing with abundance such as never has been seen before. Seeds, seeds, seeds! Cuttings, cuttings, cuttings! And what do you do when you have all of these overflowing cell pack and pots? Well, post about it of course. I'll figure out the planting part later:)

Ever since I found out you could start impatiens from cuttings I've been a cutting fool with all of these new plants. I can't wait to plant them out. Impatiens are one plant I can always find a spot for. I'm not so sure about the zinnia, basil, sweet woodruff, and great blue lobelia you can also see in the above photo though. That will be another problem all together. 

I must say my seed starting endeavors have been successful. I think the secret is in the seed heat mat providing bottom heat. This heat seems to work magic on both cuttings and seeds. I recently saw a very neat  idea that I thought most thrifty. The idea came to me by way of one of my gardening magazines in which a reader substituted Christmas lights in a plastic Tupperware container for the seed heat mat. The lights gave off just enough heat to keep the seeds warm and provided a neat focal point as well. One of these days when this old standby heat mat gives out I might just try that trick.
Outdoor sowing area on the deck table.
From In the Garden
I tried winter sowing a few years ago and was not happy with the results. I surmised that perhaps I didn't use the right containers and maybe it was my fault all the seedlings did not survive past the container stage. This year I decided to use all milk cartons for my containers and the "Hunk of Seedlings" approach. The hunk of seedlings approach says to just plant a clump of seedlings without worrying about separating all of the seedlings. You can thin them later once they have settled in So far so good because most of my seeds have sprouted and are doing very well.

The winter sowing method basically says to sow seeds during the winter and when the time is right for the seed to germinate it will germinate. The method made sense to me but again, I have only just learned about this seed starting method about three years ago. I like winter sowing seeds in containers because I can have control of the seeds and seedlings. If seeds are sown in my garden in the fall or winter they tend to get lost. Some seeds need cold and warm temperatures to help with the germination so winter sowing provides this service-passively. Not only do the temperatures fluctuate quite a bit here in my area; which mimics the action of nature when seeds fall naturally from the plant in the fall, but moisture is usually always present so I don't have to water the seeds I have winter sown versus greenhouse seedlings. Some of the seeds I have sown in my milk jugs include: lychnis, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Mexican milkweed (Asclepias curassivica), sweet woodruff, hollyhocks, lilium regale, prunella, dames rocket (Thanks Darla!), and perhaps a few more I cannot recall at this time. So far these seeds have germinated: butterfly weed (tuberosa), sweet woodruff (also germinated in the greenhouse flats), hollyhocks, lychnis, dames rocket, and prunella. I am most excited about them all and expect the rest will pop up soon.
Sweet Woodruff winter sown seedlings.
From In the Garden
Now that I have all these seeds germinating what should I do with them? It seemed when I tried winter sowing before that the seedlings just kind of fizzled away in the containers so this time I have decided to be a bit more proactive with my new seedlings. Even though many of these seeds are used to germinating in cool weather and may do just fine, I wanted to baby them a bit. What I have done is separated these 'hunks of seedlings' into smaller sized hunks and transplanted them to a window box planter. I prefer window box planters because you can fit so many more plants in each elongated planter and there is a lot of soil available to each small plant. I do not like cell packs for propagating plants but do use them as well. The cell packs are okay if you buy the ones that have the large cell packs (no more than 32 cells per flat) and if you take very good care of them. Generally though I find the cell pack planting style to be a temporary way to start plants because the cells and trays wear out very quickly. The window box planters last a long time, usually have  a built in water tray, and are easy to handle and store. As of right now I have two window box planters full of three types of winter sown seedlings. I placed these pots in the greenhouse with the greenhouse sown seedlings and all are doing well. I am looking forward to everything getting a bit more girth so I can move all seedlings outside into a covered plastic germinating shelf I have stored on my porch. I have never used this little 'greenhouse' before but think it will be perfect for hardening off seedlings and cuttings this year.

One problem solved as to where I should put the winter sown seedlings, check. Greenhouse seedlings and cuttings doing great with bottom heat in the greenhouse, check. Now to find a spot for all of the cuttings and seedlings....

in the garden....

One note about the containers. When I cut my first milk carton I did not cut large enough drain holes. I think it vitally important these containers drain well so I had to go back and cut some large holes. I left the handle intact so I could close the top over the milk jug; which makes a small greenhouse that will protect the seeds from harsh weather like pelting rain. Pay close attention to drainage of your winter sown containers if you are getting  a lot of rain like we are here in Tennessee. 

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. Wow, you definitely have some wonderful seedlings sprouting and some great impatiens cuttings. I did up some seeds in seed starting mix, and only had sprouts in three different little compartments of the tray. I am so bummed out. I'll just have to try again.

    I know you'll find spaces for all of your seedlings and your gardens will be colorful and wonderful.

    Enjoy ~ FlowerLady

  2. They say the third times a third try at posting a comment.
    Impressive percentage rate on your germination and rootings. Here's 'rooting' for you that you find a place for all of's either feast or famine when it comes to germination and rooting...You and your greenhouse make one helluva team!

  3. Looks like a nursery in your greenhouse. I tend to use seed trays for winter sowing; I find drilling holes into the bottoms of milk jugs nearly impossible as the plastic stretches so much. WHen I started winter sowing maybe 7 years ago the jugs were made of more rigid plastic. Winter sowing has been really successful for me, which is good, because I don't have room indoors.

  4. You are having a huge success with your seeds!

    I saved up so many jugs for winter sowing, but February brought such warm temperatures that I went ahead and direct sowed my southern exposure sites instead of winter sowing -- and I spent last night online looking at photos of seedlings to make sure I can identify all those babies popping up out in the garden!

    PS. Chris, the archaeologist, is working near Knoxville for the TVA right now. Short project-he won't be there long.

  5. Good morning all! Busy busy day in the garden moving some very large arborvitae. I hope I achieve success-wish me luck.

    Flowerlady, Some sprouts is good! It most likely was the seeds so try some other seeds. Some seeds are easy peasy while others take some work. Don't give up.

    Darla, I love that little greenhouse. I didn't even know it but the breaker went out and there was no heat in there and it was all fine. So cool! It gives my house and garage a break from plants. Here's rooting for you-too cute!

    Monica, When you first taught me about winter sowing I gave it a try but had no luck with the trays, maybe because of the cover I used, I don't know. I like the milk jugs and just poke them with scissors to get holes. It can be difficult though. Looking to see your seeds soon!

    Cameron, Ha! Don't hate that trying to figure it out? Seymour seeds has a wonderful catalog that shows wildflower seedlings. I like it very much. Check them for wildflowers. Say hi to Chris for me. Knoxville is about 3-4 hours from us. A pretty long drive but I'm sure he'll enjoy Knoxville.

  6. Isn't too many seedlings a great problem to have? ;) I'm hoping to sell some of my extras this year in the neighborhood garage sale. I started a few more seedlings outside yesterday. I used the winter sowing method even though it probably can't be termed "winter sowing". More like March Seed Sowing Madness...

  7. Wow, Tina. It looks like you have been busy! I do believe with all of those seedlings, you are only going to be busier as the days warm up! Hope all is well with you and your family! Carla

  8. Just look at all those impatiens! And, they're blooming. You are having good sucesss with the winter sow technique. I like the idea of transplanting them to the window box trays. My winter sown seeds haven't sprouted yet but I keep checking. I know I have good drainage because even after I thought they were safe to sit on the kitchen counter to tape shut, they leaked everywhere and made a mess. Ha.

  9. Wish I had done the winter sowing in containers like the milk jugs of my Aquilegia seeds... now I can't find them in the garden.
    My other seeds that I had ready to sow will go into peat pots on the deck. You certainly have a great collection of seedlings!! I am green with envy.

  10. Good Morning! I am having a difficult time typing this morning as I have a cat in my lap....

    You have a good start on seedlings girl. Before long, you will have blooms. Oh wait, you already have blooms there! Too neat...

  11. How wonderful you can do that. The only thing I start inside is nasturtums--and so far I have had great success! Wish I was closer, I would take care of those zinnias for you! :)

  12. I always end up with a gazillion seedlings too. At least now I'm tossing some of the seedlings instead of trying to replant every one. lol It's funny how one day you can seem to have too much and another day you want 50 of something.

  13. I'm always excited about posts with seedlings and cuttings and otehr people's methods.

    Those impatiens are so pretty. I use wax begonias where impatiens would look good here because impatiens tend to faint and fall over here when it gets hot and dry and I can't water 3 times a day.

    Seedlings of the day here are purple Datura. I'm anxiously awaiting Pride of Barbados and Castor Beans to emerge.

  14. I have to admit to being a sucker for impatients - all that bright color summer long. I didn't know you could start them from cuttings - thanks for sharing. Still plenty of snow in my yard.

  15. I agree about the cells not lasting. This year I gave up on them and am using small plastic pots and it seems to be working great so far. I have had all the pots for years and years in the basement. I bought the tin foil cookie sheets at the dollar stare to put under the so I do not get water everywhere. So far I have planted over 100 pots and have more than that ready to plant. Most of what is planted is flowers with only 3 tomatoes and 3 sweet peppers. Gotta get going on the rest of the veggies. Also need to try some cuttings of the impatients. I did snip 1 branch of one after you talked about it before but I did not get it in dirt but just stuck it in some water and it does not look so good.

  16. I'm hiding from my garden. It has been a tough day moving huge shrubs. Anyone want to help? Can't move them even with hubby's help. Waiting for the neighbor to come home. She's gonna love me-not. Anyhow, let me talk while I can still type.

    Dave. I'm awful and want to save every single one. Especially the woodruff. Tough problem I know. I didn't start winter sowing mine until 6 Feb but it worked. March is good too.

    Carla, I am so tired and tuckered out already. It really makes me reconsider my garden because each year I say it will get easier. Ha!
    We are fine. Today is hubby's last day of working-woohoo!

    GOSS, Those little impatiens just go nonstop. I love them! Most have been easy to start or I got lucky. The new ones I'm doing are having a harder time. Drainage is good for sure.

    Janet, Yes it is so much easier in the cartons to find the seedlings. But don't worry, columbine is one of those self seeders that comes up when and where it wants. I just love it here.

    Skeeter, Cat in your lap? Ha! That must indeed be difficult. Yup, I have garden club tomorrow and debating about making an arrangement from flowers in the greenhouse. Might be cheating huh? We shall see.

    Linda, Nasturtiums are lovely seeds to start. And I sure would give you some zinnias. I really don't have room for them all at all. Wish I did.

    Sweetbay, A sign of a smart gardener to toss some of those seedlings. There is no need to try to save them all. That is why I love the hunk of seedling method. I plan to try it. Too bad you didn't live closer we could all have a seedling swap.

    NellJean, Aren't seedlings the neatest? We can learn so much from each other with starting them. The key is in doing. Sounds like you are on a great start with yours. Love the daffodils today.

    Sarah, Cuttings indeed. I just learned about it myself. Impatiens are easy to grow inside as a houseplant too. Try it out sometime-makes the snow go away.

    Mom, I think the water might work better. My later cuttings are having trouble. I'm trying to start some for my neighbor and they are taking forever. Yup on the cookie sheets. Great idea! I do it sometimes too. I really like the window boxes though as they are easy to store on my deck rail or whereever. Get those veggies started now.

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  18. Tina,

    I'm guessing you don't have wilting problems with your impatiens. The heat of summer would wilt them down everyday. I was a slave to the watering can. Looks like lots of fun with those seedlings.

  19. Hello all.
    You sure have a lot of seedlings going there.
    I am trying something new. My little starter cups planted with 4 o'clock s & Cockscomb {some in small plastic pots} are using nature instead of grow lights. Each day I set them in the sun & put them up at dark. What do you think?

  20. I'm glad you had such good success with WS. I was just checking mine yesterday, about half of the 16 types of seeds have germinated.
    I didn't realize how easy the impatiens were to get cuttings of. They are pricey here, and I love them too. Might have to experiment myself once I see them at the nursery.