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As a founding employee of Gardener's Supply, I wore many different hats over the years. Currently, I have my own company called Johnnie Brook Creative. The gardens around my home in Richmond, VT, include a large vegetable garden, seasonal greenhouse, cutting garden, perennial gardens, rock garden, shade garden, berry plantings, lots of container plants and a meadow garden. There's no place I'd rather be than in the garden.
Start these outdoors, right in your garden where you want them to grow. This technique is often called "direct-sowing." There's little if any advantage planting them indoors. Most (except sweet peas, sweet alyssum, poppies and larkspur) are tender annuals and should not be sown until after danger of frost.
Plant these seeds indoors, under lights, six to eight weeks before transplanting into the garden. Especially small seeds (including nicotiana, petunia and snapdragon) should be broadcast on a small seed tray. Once the seedlings have their first true leaves, carefully tease them apart and transplant into separate growing cells.
There was a day when I grew all my own annual flowers from seed — as many as 25 different varieties. Though my garden is now smaller and my ambition has mellowed a bit, I still start many flowers from seed. Here's why:
Say you want to plant a 12-foot row of zinnias along your walk, or put 40 white impatiens in your shade garden. Buying these plants at your local nursery will probably set you back at least $50, whereas a packet of seeds will run you about $4. That's an extra $46 to spend on some other gardening essentials!
Another reason I start annuals from seed is that even the best garden centers don't offer some of the most worthy garden annuals. To make sure I always have love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), Nicotiana langsdorfii, Phlox drummondii, Salvia horminium, lavatera (Lavatera trimestris) and other favorites, I always start them myself.
Most annual flowers are easy to grow from seed. The real challenge is figuring out when and where you should plant the seeds. All too often, people find themselves at home with a stack of colorful seed packets and no idea where to begin.
I don't know why it is, but seed packets rarely provide the basic seed starting information a gardener needs to know. The packet usually won't tell you whether the seeds should be started indoors under lights, or should be planted right in the garden. You won't be told if the seeds need light or darkness to germinate, or if the seedlings are frost hardy. These days, with so many unusual varieties available from seed, you may also wind up purchasing seeds for something exotic, like the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) that even a highly experienced gardener would have difficulty bringing into flower.
To ensure your success right out of the gate, start with some of the super-easy seeds listed at the top. Give yourself a year or two with these foolproof favorites before you venture into growing some of the more challenging annuals in the next list.
No matter what kinds of annuals you grow, here are a few things you might want to know before getting started (if you haven't grown plants from seed before, be sure to read Seedstarting Made Easy):
If you are interested in starting lots of annual flowers from seed, consider investing in a seedstarting reference, such as Eileen Powell's excellent book: The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Flowers from Seed to Bloom. This book describes more than 500 different types of flowers and how to grow them. You'll find important information about germination requirements, plant hardiness, time to bloom, etc. The more you know, the better you'll grow.
Last updated: 1/16/19
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