Winter Seed Sowing

Grow your own native plants 


Native plants are essential to pollinators, local food webs and ecosystems. Despite high demand for pollinator-friendly flowers and shrubs, most traditional garden centers in Central Ohio sell plants that are native to Asia, Europe and other parts of the world. (Those exotic plants don’t support the full lifecycle of butterflies, wild bees and other pollinators and some are considered invasive). 

Thankfully, it is relatively easy to grow your own native plants. The timing and techniques for growing native plants from seed are different, however, than those used for most vegetable garden plants such as cucumbers or tomatoes. 

By sowing native seeds in protected pots and setting them outside for the winter, the seeds receive the cold, moist conditions or "stratification" they need in order to germinate. This winter seed sowing technique typically utilizes repurposed containers–no greenhouse, grow lights or other fancy equipment required

“It can be hard for experienced veggie gardeners to wrap their head around the idea that you need to start sowing native seeds in the middle of winter,” shared Master Gardener and Licking County Pollinator Pathway volunteer Julie Strohmeyer. 

One propagation method involves using milk jugs as mini greenhouses to sow seeds outdoors during winter, as illustrated by Pataskala-based artist Morgan Seidling below: 

Native plants seeds are planted in protected containers, such as milk jugs, during winter months. 

Seedlings potted up into individual pots in May or transplanted directly into garden. 

Another method of winter seed sowing involves planting seeds in pots, covering the pots with a window screen or inside a winter seed sowing box (to protect seeds from critters) and placing them outdoors, as illustrated below: 

Inspired by the Wild Seed Project and Eco59 Seed Collective, Licking County Pollinator Pathway volunteers constructed winter sowing seed boxes for native plant propagation. These cedar-framed boxes are hinged and have hardware cloth on both the top and bottom to protect the contents.  Small (3" or 4") pots filled with native seeds are placed inside the boxes and then set outside for the winter. Seeds are cold stratified naturally outside and germinate later in spring. Gardeners can pot up seedlings into larger pots or transplant directly into their gardens. 

To help local residents create pollinator-friendly gardens and landscapes, Licking County Pollinator Pathway offered seven winter seed sowing workshops in partnership with local organizations at six different locations across the county, including Pataskala, Johnstown, Newark, Homer and Granville.  

Participants at these hands-on workshops learned how to grow native plants from seed for their home gardens using winter sowing techniques, plus have enough to “plant it forward” and pass along extra plants to neighbors or donate them to a Pollinator Pathway community project or plant sale.  Similar to the "plant a row for the hungry" movement which encourages gardeners to grow extra vegetables for local food pantries, workshop participants are encouraged to “plant a plot for hungry pollinators."  

Using the "Plant by Numbers"  Bumble Bee Garden design by Ohio State University as inspiration, workshop participants planted pollinator-friendly flowers and grasses including: 

The first four winter seed sowing workshops filled to capacity and had waiting lists. Pollinator Pathway added three additional workshops in order to accommodate the level of interest

As Strohmeyer summed it up “Pollinator Pathway has activated interest in native plants in Central Ohio by teaching people to be native plant growers. That’s a really smart way to grow a movement!”


Wild Seed Project step-by-step instructions

Grow it Build it: video tutorial

UMD Extension video (or review their slide deck here)

Joe Gardener article: Winter Sowing: A Simple Way to Successfully Start Seeds Outdoors

This project made possible with support from the Denison Venture Philanthropy Fund

Additional in-kind support provided by 

Strait & Lamp Lumber

Dawes Arboretum 

Licking Land Trust

Prairie Moon Nursery

OPN Seed