Winter sowing containers

Winter sowing of seeds allows for natural stratification processes to occur.

This can help give garden plants a head start going into the growing season. And will often result in stronger, more resilient plants flourishing in the spring.

Winter sowing using old plastic bottles.
Old bottles used as sowing containers, picture by cristina.sanvito; CC

Using winter sowing containers is a great way to perform the winter sowing.

These containers will help to serve as miniature greenhouses, safeguarding seeds from winter's harshest elements, while granting them necessary exposure to cold periods, and facilitating natural stratification.

When crafting containers for winter sowing seeds, it is important to prioritize creating good drainage and ventilation. This will help to prevent seed rot and fungal diseases.

Although you can buy specialized winter sowing containers, a wide selection of used household containers can be used instead – ranging from milk jugs through to clear plastic bins. This not only helps in reducing waste by repurposing items, but also makes gardening much more affordable.

Using these containers will help to give the germinating seeds a sturdy start in life. Thus, helping to nurture stronger, more resilient plants in comparison to the more traditional indoor-start methods.

By using winter sowing containers, gardeners can anticipate a spring that is blossoming with well-adapted, vibrant plants. This will help set the stage for a fruitful growing season in the year ahead.

Pros and Cons of Various Winter Sowing Containers

Winter Sowing in Milk Jugs

Pros: Easy to obtain and recycle. Transparent, allowing sunlight to reach seeds. Lids can be used to regulate moisture and temperature.

Cons: Limited space for seed growth. Milk jugs may be blown away by strong winds if not secured.

Winter Sowing in Plastic Food Containers

Pros: Reuses household waste. Use Transparent ones for sunlight penetration.

Cons: Limited depth can restrict root development. Lids can sometimes become too tight, and thus restrict airflow.

Winter Sowing in Glass Jars

Pros: Reusable and eco-friendly. Allows sunlight to penetrate.

Cons: Heavy and easily breakable. Might not provide sufficient insulation against extreme cold.

Winter Sowing in Wooden Boxes

Pros: Sturdy and able to house a large number of seeds. Can be reused for many seasons.

Cons: Can be bulky, and usually occupies more space. Less transparent, thus restricting sunlight penetration.

Winter Sowing in Plastic Bins

Pros: Able to accommodate a large number of seeds. Provides good insulation and protection from the elements.

Cons: Often requires modification to allow adequate drainage and ventilation. Less eco-friendly.

Winter Sowing in Paper Pots

Pros: Biodegradable and environmentally friendly. Can be planted directly into the ground; this can help to prevent transplant shock.

Cons: May decompose too quickly, requiring transplantation to occur sooner than what is ideal. Less protection against severe weather.

Winter Sowing in Old Nursery Flats or Trays

Pros: Offers a way to reuse old gardening materials. Suitable for sowing smaller seeds in quantity.

Cons: Limited depths of flats can restrict the growth of some plants. May require the use of an additional plastic or glass cover for protection against elements.

When selecting your winter seed containers, it is important to consider factors such as the local climate, the type of seeds being sowed, and the space available.

It is often beneficial to use a variety of different containers that will suit the various needs of the seed selection.

Winter sowing in milk jugs

A very popular winter seed sowing container is the milk jug, so I will go into a little bit more depth on their use here.

milk jugs, an ideal container for winter sowing.
Milk jugs make great containers for winter sowing, photograph by Casey Fleser; cc.

Milk jugs are easy to source, and provide an easy opportunity to recycle materials.

So using empty milk jugs as mini-greenhouses is both an economical and an environmentally conscious choice.

Their transparency facilitates ample sunlight penetration, which is a crucial component for seed germination. They also benefit from a built-in handle, which can be used to secure them against windy conditions.

The process is fairly simple. First, cut the milk jug in half while keeping a portion of the hinge intact. Then fill the bottom half with quality potting soil, and sow your chosen seeds. Next, replace the top (secure it with tape if necessary). Finally, place the milk jug in a spot where it can receive natural precipitation and sunlight.

The self-contained ecosystem created, will retain moisture and help to regulate temperature, thus fostering a conducive environment for the seeds throughout winter.

Be aware that milk jugs only provide limited space for seed growth, so you will be required to thin seedlings to help prevent overcrowding.

Despite this, using milk jugs is a great practical, sustainable method, for winter sowing.

Best seeds for winter sowing in containers

Here are a few plants that can benefit from winter sowing of their seeds in containers.


Coneflowers (Echinacea): These hardy flowers sprout well with a cold start.

coneflowers in bloom after getting a winter headstaet from early sowing.
Give coneflowers a head start by using winter sowing; picture by Marie Carnes; CC.

Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia): Easy to grow and will thrive when started off early in cooler temperatures.

Lupines: These plants adapt well to cold stratification, which can greatly help them to germinate successfully.

Marigolds: These robust flowers can endure cool early spring weather.

Milkweed: great for attracting monarch butterflies to the garden. Milkweed benefits from cold stratification for better germination.

Asters: These hardy plants appreciate a cold start to the season. It will encourage better germination and stronger early growth.


Broccoli: Prefers a cooler start to better develop before the heat of summer arrives.

Brussels Sprouts: These plants also prefer a cooler start and can be sown early in the season.

Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Lettuce): Cool-season crops thrive when started early in a cold frame or a milk jug or container greenhouse.


Parsley: A hardy herb that responds well to early sowing in cooler temperatures. Learn more about growing parsley from seed, and how and why parsley bolts.

parsley seedling
Winter sowing of parsley will give this hardy plant a good start in life. Photograph by Pquegg; CC.

Cilantro / Coriander: Can be sowed early in the season, as it prefers cooler weather.


Using reusable containers for winter sowing is a savvy, resource-efficient way to kickstart the gardening season.

Containers provide seedlings with a protective haven, simulate a controlled growth atmosphere, and harmonize with nature's rhythms.

Adopting the use of winter sowing as a gardening strategy can help to foster a more robust garden.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *