Milk jug allows you to sow seeds outside in Buffalo area– now!

mini-greenhouse made from recycled plastic milk jug in Buffalo NY
Here is the milk jug held closed with the twist tie. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

At a recent workshop at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, David Clark shared this ingenious way to plant hardy annual seeds right now in the Buffalo area– outside!

I love this idea because I always get itchy to do some gardening at this time of year, but there’s generally not a lot to do outside.

I’ve tried to start seeds inside at this time of year, but it doesn’t work. It’s simply too soon to plant seeds. Unless you use grow lights, your seedlings will get leggy, flop over and die before you can transplant them outside.

Even when I wait for the proper time to start seeds indoors (usually it’s not until the beginning of April), it’s hard to find enough  room for lots of seedlings since I don’t have many sunny windows.

This mini-greenhouse made out of a used milk jug seems like a great solution.

Note that you want to use seeds from cold-hardy annuals. These are plants that are typically tolerant of colder temperatures and capable of reseeding in most gardens. Think of plants that might sprout up on their own from your compost pile, Clark said, such as tomatoes, squash and cantaloupe. Here’s a list of flowers you can try.

To get started, rinse out a one-gallon milk jug. You don’t need the cap.

Using a sharp knife or boxcutter, make a horizontal cut almost all the way around. The uncut part will act as a hinge. (See photo at right.)

winter sowing in Buffalo NY milk jug is cut
Here is the milk jug cut almost all the way around, creating a hinge. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Poke two small holes in the jug opposite the hinge– one hole in the top half and one hole in the bottom half. I used a tiny screwdriver to poke the holes.

Fill the bottom with your potting medium. Clark recommends using a soil-less potting mix. Don’t forget to moisten your medium.

Plant your seeds.

Use a twist-tie to hold the two halves closed, as shown in the top photo. I twisted two ties together to make one long tie.

Use a permanent marker to label your mini-greenhouse with the name of what you planted.

Place your mini-greenhouse outside in a sheltered spot.  When the weather gets warm enough, your seeds will start to sprout.

Enough rain or snow should get in through the open top to keep the potting mixture moist. The milk jug will keep your seedlings protected from rabbits, deer and other critters.

When the seedlings are large enough, you can transplant them into your garden.

David Clark is teaching Horticulture 1 and Horticulture 2 certificate classes at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. You can attend single classes or sign up for the whole course.

23 Comments on “Milk jug allows you to sow seeds outside in Buffalo area– now!

  1. I planted 2 of the tomatoes plants from milk jug planter . They were about 4 inches long (roots were 3.5 inches long ) and were not doing well in milk jug. Sunflower plants doing fine . Rabbits got two of them.

  2. Around the time I planted the tomato seeds in the milk jug (they sprouted just like you said) I planted sunflower seeds in the ground (in March around 3/15/2021) and they sprouted this week to my amazement.

  3. Hi David, I’m not sure if they would overwinter, but a few things I’ve seen online indicate they may. If you’re starting now in the middle of April, I would bet they will do well. And what’s great is that while they are inside the milk jug, rabbits can’t eat the sprouts.

  4. Milk Jug trick planting tomatoes seeds . I have two that sprouted already. This is fun.

    Thank you

  5. Thank you so much for sharing! I’m a 5th grade teacher and will be doing this with my class.

  6. Yes, that’s what David said. The idea is that the seeds will sprout when it’s warm enough and sunny enough. I don’t think you’re really getting a head start on getting the seeds to sprout, but you can do this task when you have time during the winter, plus they can be outside where you have more space. Click on the link in the article for the list of vegetables. At that site (, you can read a longer explanation of the concept.

  7. I am excited to read all of your comments – keep me posted on your successes with Winter Seed sowing in Milk Jugs!

  8. I’m glad it was helpful! Please tell your students’ parents where you got the tip, and remind them that it’s free to subscribe to Thanks so much for writing.

  9. I teach preschool, and this is just the activity I need to get the children started on our outdoor gardening right now . Thank you for the tip!

  10. I went to David’s workshop at UrbanRoots and absolutely loved this idea. It is really genius! I’m going to try with marigolds and sunflowers and maybe peas and radishes.

  11. Hello, Connie!
    Many thanks for the posting of my class!
    I’m hoping all of my Horticulture Certification Series students will be attending the Garden Walk 2012 ‘Gala Fund Raiser Event’ at the Botanical Gardens on February 14, 2012 from 6-9 p.m. I am designing and donating the intimate guest table centerpieces… you’ve never seen anything like this before, and 2 larger ‘Floral Art’ designs….I am looking forward to meeting my students and Gardeners in Western New York – See you there!

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