Organic Gardening

No-Fail Flowers to Grow from Seed

Remember the glorious spring season of pastels when it seemed like every tree and shrub was in bloom? Has your garden gone monochrome green for the summer?  With a few seeds and some good soil it is easy to make your summer garden as vibrant as HD TV and in full motion with bees, butterflies and hummers.

Every spring I head out to the garden with rake and seed packs in hand. By the summer solstice, my garden has its summer bloom in full swing.

Zinnias are the drama queens of my summer garden.

Zinnias are the drama queens of my summer garden.

Why not just head to your local nursery for some 6-packs of annuals?  One would think this would give you a definite head start, but here are some things to consider.

  • In my Summerfield, NC garden, seeds sown directly in my own garden soil quickly produce far more vigorous plants.  Although I would like you to believe it is simply my excellent green thumb, here is the real reason.  Wholesale growers are challenged with having to keep transplants on retail nursery racks looking good until we consumers get around to buying them.  As a result, transplants are often treated with a growth inhibitor to keep them from outgrowing those little pots.  Unfortunately, some plants are forever stunted.  Big plants like sunflowers also get stunted from simply becoming root bound in those tiny pots.  If you want big bodacious flowers, sowing your own seed is the way to go.

    Easily grown from seed.

    Mexican Sunflower’s orange blooms cover this bushy plant all summer.

  • Nurseries cater to homeowners who prefer 12” tall border plants like impatiens, begonias and vinca. If you want long stemmed flowers for bouquets or any flowers that are out of the ordinary, you have to grow your own. Seed catalogs offer an amazing variety to choose from.
  • It is very inexpensive to grow a garden from seed. $10-$20 will buy you a lot of flower seed! Fellow gardeners are also happy to share seeds, and after the first year, you will have plenty of your own seed to save and share from year to year.
  • Finally, there is something magical about watching the first green leaves pop out of the earth. This is as close to motherhood as you can get with a plant. Then there is the rush you get when the first bloom opens. (Cheap thrills at their best.)

I cannot lie, I love gaudy plants.  I want the tall zinnias with 4” happy blooms, the deep red ruffled heads of cockscomb, sunflowers that branch out to produce 2 dozen 5” yellow blooms on a single plant, spiky balls of hot pink and red gomphrena/globe amaranth, the fluffy pink blooms of cleome/spider flower with long skinny seed pods that look like fringe on every stem, and ornamental millet with its strappy chartreuse foliage and thick spikes of brown velvet seed heads.

So many Sunflowers- all from ONE seed.

So many Sunflowers- all from ONE seed.

Easily grown from seed.

3′ Tall Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ makes a thick cloud of hot pink flowers.

And who could not want amaranth ‘Love Lies Bleeding”? The name alone would break your heart not to grow it!  Then there is the flamboyant castor bean ‘Carmencita’, that always commands a “What IS that?!” from visitors.

Easily grown from seed.

Castor Bean ‘Carmencita’ with Orange Zinnia

There is a lot to love about old fashioned marigolds too. They are among the most heat and drought tolerant annuals you can grow, immune to deer and rabbits.  There are now more varieties available than ever, my favorite being a white one that anyone would mistake for a carnation.  Cleome, celosia, euphorbia ‘Snow on the Mountain’, and marigolds often reseed themselves, meaning you may not have to plant them again.

Celosia is easily grown from seed.

This brilliant pink Celosia reseeds itself in my garden every year.

All of these no-fail annuals may be sown in your garden in April.   Here are 3 non-negotiable requirements for success:

SUN – at least 8 hours a day.

GOOD SOIL – Hard red clay won’t work.  Addition of compost is mandatory.  You can buy a pick-up truck load for about $20.  Fill her up!   (Avoid “top soil” mixes as the pH can be way too low to grow annuals.)  Till at least 6 inches of compost into the soil, then simply scatter your seeds on top and water them in.  Most seeds pop up fastest after a rain.

WATER  plants regularly through the growing season.

If you are anxious to get started, fall is a great time to seed annuals too.  With the Piedmont Triad’s mild winters and the right seed, September sowing brings May flowers!   Hardy annuals are actually much easier to grow because plants rarely need watering through the winter. Cool Flowers, by Lisa Mason Ziegler, is a great book on growing long-blooming hardy annual flowers. You can order it from her website at www.thegardenersworkshop.com.

Little ornamental peppers make great border plants and are a delightful surprise in table arrangements.

Little ornamental peppers make great border plants and often reseed themselves the following year.

Here are my favorite no-fail annuals to sow in September:  poppies, larkspur, bachelor buttons, perennial sweet peas, rudbeckia ‘Indian Summer’ and bupleurum (florists’  call ‘green & gold’).  Most of these are winter hardy to zone 5.  They sprout in fall, overwinter in the ground as little rosettes of leaves, and bloom in spring.  Your garden will already be on its way to a fabulous spring while other gardeners are still deciding what to plant.

Happy Gardening!
Ellen Ashley teaches an annual program of “hands-on” gardening classes on her 10-acre property in Summerfield. Contact her at ellen@www.learntogarden.net.

Plant a Garden

“Plant A Garden Instead of Waiting for Someone to Bring You Flowers” Amen.