No, it’s not too late. That’s what nature does, literally dumping seeds onto the soil to overwinter.
In fact, many plants require a repeated freeze/thaw cycle to break down the seed coat, a process known as vernalization. While this process can be simulated by bringing seeds in and out of the freezer for a spring planting, that is simply too much work. Let nature do her thing.
Some plants that respond well to early winter plantings are native wildflower mixes, penstemon, echinacea, wild columbine, black-eyed Susan, northern sweetvetch, sweet alyssum, ammi (false Queen Anne’s lace) and sky blue aster.
Seeds sown now get growing much earlier than spring-seeded plants, and on average you’ll see blooms two weeks earlier. Having a plethora of early blooms in the garden is a surefire way to attract pollinators and predatory insects (predating on other, troublesome insects, not you), the latter of which are likely to take up permanent residence for the season when you extend them the right invitation.
It’s also much easier to find a beautiful day for planting these days, which means you’ll get it done on time. Chaotic weather in spring means you’ll often get delayed waiting for that perfect day.
The process is straightforward, and the only challenge is in keeping your actions minimal and not overworking your planting. The goal is to mimic how nature seeds.
1. If you live in the Salt Lake Valley, the first hard frost has probably already killed back sensitive plants. If not, wait.
2. Prepare your planting area by removing any existing weeds or unwanted plants.
3. Rake the area clean, then lightly roughen up and cultivate the surface using a hard metal rake.
4. Sprinkle your seeds on the surface according to the directions on the seed packet.
5. Compress the seeds into the seed bed by gently walking over the area or patting them with the back side of a flat-nose shovel.
6. Mark and label the seeded area. Otherwise, come March, you will have forgotten all about your fall-seeded patch and may very well start planting something else there. A boss gardener always labels and dates a planting!
7. Last, and most important, stop! Do not cover the seeds, do not apply mulch or straw, simply leave them as is.
The weather and the seasonal shifts to take their course, and next spring you’ll be greeted by a fresh stand of sweet l’il plant babies.
James Loomis is a full-time urban farmer, educator and keeper of the Old Cherry Orchard (aka OchO), a permaculture farm. He lives in Salt Lake City.