Milk Jug Gardening

Winter seed sowing, aka milk jug gardening, is a process where you use milk jugs as mini greenhouses to start seeds in January, February, and March.

Cold Winters:   In areas of the country that have cold winters you can start seeds that need a period of cold to germinate.  See resources below for a list of seeds.

Warm Winters:  The milk jug method will also work for seed starting if you have warm winters, but you will need to pre-chill those seeds that need cold to germinate.  You will also need to watch the jugs for moisture and add water, especially if you don’t get much rain. If it is very hot, you need to monitor the temperature inside the jug.

Collect Milk Jugs

First, collect any milk jugs that are clear enough for the sun to shine through and clean them thoroughly.  The opaque white ones work well but avoid the solid ones.  You can also use one litter soda bottles, but the milk jugs give you more surface area for seeds. You can throw away the cap as you will leave the jug open to the elements.

Create Drainage

On each milk jug, using a drill or knife, make several drainage holes.  These will allow water to drain out of the jug and prevent too much moisture inside.

Make a Cut

Next find the area just below and slightly to the left of the handle and make a cut from that point all around the jug leaving just enough under the handle to make a flap or hinge for the top. See the Garden Answer You Tube video below.

Fill with Seed Starting Mix

It’s important to use seed starting mix here.  This mix is meant to supply the seedlings with all the nutrients they need for the short time they will be living in the jugs.  Don’t use potting soil or garden soil as it will be too heavy.  Pour seed starting mix into a separate bowl or bucket and moisten until it holds its shape in your hand.  Proceed to add the mix to the milk jugs, filling about three-quarters full.

Spread the Seeds

Following package directions, spread the seeds as evenly as possible over the seed starting mix and cover lightly if instructed to do so.  See resources below for a list of seeds that lend themselves to this kind of sowing.

Seal the Jug

When finished planting seeds, you may want to add a waterproof label inside the jug identifying the seeds in case the outside label fades in the weather.  You can also write the name on the outside of the jug and the date of sowing.  Place the top (without cap) back on the jugs and seal with tape.  Duct tape works well. Just use something that won’t come off in wet weather.

Next Steps

Place the jugs together outside and wait for the seeds to sprout. If you live in an area that doesn’t get much moisture, you may need to give the jugs a little drink from time to time. When the seedlings are about 1-2 inches tall and weather permits, you can open the top during the day.  When nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees, you can leave the top off.


If seedlings outgrow the jugs, plant them out in the landscape if weather permits, or put them in small pots to grow on until they can be planted out.


Kevin Lee Jacobs

Garden Answer




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