Winter Sow Your Spring Garden Now!

Winter sow your garden now, in February, to get a jump on the growing season. You'll harvest greens and root vegetables weeks ahead of schedule.

Reader Contribution by Sheryl Campbell
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Sheryl Campbell
Winter sown lettuce seedlings growing in March

It’s February, it’s cold, and it’s time to get out in your garden and plant! Now!

I’ve been on a three-year journey learning to winter sow my vegetable garden the lazy way. Now I’ll share what I’ve learned with you; warn you of mistakes not to repeat and share successes you’ll want to try in your own early garden.

Early to mid-February has proven to be the best time for winter sowing in my zone 6b garden here in the northern Shenandoah Valley. In a cold winter like this one the seeds will wait a little longer to germinate but still come in strong by March. In a warmer winter like 2021 they will take off quickly late this month.

What Worked

These are the vegetables I’ll be sowing in February from now on. They reliably gave us a several week jump on harvest dates. How big a jump depended on when regular sunny days in the 40’s got started each year.

Those self-sowing herbs that you can’t quite decide to label “weeds”:

  • Dill
  • Cilantro
  • Borage

Cold-hardy greens that reliably anchor your spring and fall garden:

  • Lettuce (chose the most cold hardy varieties)
  • Kale
  • Tatsoi
  • Spinach

Two root vegetables:

  • Carrots
  • Radishes

The quintessential spring vegetables:

  • Snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • English peas

And a few annual flowers:

  • Four O’Clocks
  • California Poppy
  • Love-in-a-Mist
  • Dew Drops
  • Columbine

Spectacular Failures

I tried a number of other vegetables, herbs and flowers either because I thought they should winter sow well, or I’d read that they might. Some of them did, but just didn’t grow fast enough to merit taking up garden space when I have the ability to grow seedlings indoors and plant them when they are large.

  • Swiss chard was, I thought, a natural for winter sowing since it grows in my garden until temperatures are down in the teens. Yet it didn’t germinate three years in a row. Sometimes seeds and seedlings can’t take the temperatures that full-grown plants survive.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower germinated and the seedlings grew well. They were just still so small by the time I needed to have large-sized seedlings in place that I ripped them out. I don’t believe they would have grown enough before our warm summer hit and ruined them.
  • The same thing happened to my hardy cabbage. The leaves were still so small by the time I’d normally expect to get my first small heads that I won’t be winter sowing these again.
  • Beets are incredibly finicky about sprouting to start with and winter temperatures did nothing to encourage them! I actually tried two winter plantings (one in February and one in March) of beets to no avail.
  • Kohlrabi and rutabaga also seemed averse to germinating in the cold, refusing to come up for me across two years.
  • Of the herbs, I’d heard that parsley, anise hyssop, and summer savory would winter sow. Not, evidently, without cover.
  • I’d also tried sunflowers, nasturtium, petunias, cosmos, and marigold but none of them deigned to show their faces in my trials.

Why You Should Winter Sow Your Garden

If you’re like me, February has you antsy to get out and play in the dirt. Here’s your chance!

Planting seeds now takes advantage of any warm spells that happen your way late winter through early spring. The seeds will sprout and, for the vegetables I listed at the beginning, will survive mild cold snaps as winter gradually recedes.

You’ll typically harvest your first vegetables 2-4 weeks before you would have following accepted planting schedules. This can allow you to get a second crop in of leaf lettuce or radishes, or free up garden space for late spring vegetables weeks earlier than usual.

Grab your seeds and GO!

Sheryl Campbell is an heirloom gardener, shepherd, and edible flower educator who owns Bouquet Banquet in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Read Sheryl’s previous blogging with Mother Earth Gardener and Grit and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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