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I've been gardening and writing about gardening for more than 20 years, yet I find I'm always learning new things about the plants, insects and other critters that call my backyard home. That's the great thing about gardening — it's never boring! I've worked as a landscaper, on an organic farm, as a research technician in a plant pathology lab and ran a small cut-flower business, all of which inform my garden writing. Someone once asked me when I'll be finished with my gardens, to which I replied, "Never!" For me, gardening is a process, not a goal.
I can't help but cringe when I browse the perennial section of seed catalogs and see finicky flowers like Himalayan blue poppy without any comments about the challenges of starting them from seed or how many years it will take the plants to bloom. Some perennials are notoriously finicky to grow from seed; others are as easy to grow as cosmos and zinnias.
In this article you'll find ten easy-to-grow perennials that usually bloom in their first growing season if you give them a head start by sowing the seed indoors in early spring. Starting perennials from seed is similar to starting vegetables and annual flowers with a few exceptions, noted below. For general how-to information, see How to Start Seeds, which is a comprehensive guide.
Be patient. Seeds for the perennials in this list are typically slower to germinate than seeds you might be familiar with growing. Zinnias, for example, may germinate in less than a week, while some of these perennials may take up to a month to sprout. Start seeds eight to 10 weeks before your last frost date. It's a good idea to label pots with not only the type of seed, but also the date of sowing and the average days to germination. In most cases, give seeds at least a month to germinate.
Deep-Root Seedstarting System
Provide the proper conditions. Most of the perennial seeds described below germinate best when exposed to light, so scatter a very thin layer of soil over the seeds or press them onto the surface to ensure good seed-to-soil contact. One of the keys to starting seeds is making sure the germinating seeds don't dry out; this can be especially challenging with surface-sown seeds. To maintain moisture, use a covered seedstarting kit, such as the Deep-Root Seedstarting System or place the pots in a loosely tied, clear plastic bag. Unless otherwise indicated on the seed packet, seeds germinate best at warm room temperature (70-75 degrees F); after germination, place pots in cool room temperature (around 65 degrees F) for best growth.
Use supplemental light. If you're hoping for flowers the first year, you need to give the seedlings plenty of light so they're in top form when you set them out in the garden. If you're starting seeds indoors, you will probably need to use grow lights. A well-made grow light stand, with adjustable-height, full-spectrum lights, is your best bet.
Purchase seeds from a good supplier.
Although you might be tempted to create new plants from seed you've saved, keep in mind that plants might not look exactly like the parent plant, especially if the parent is a hybrid. There may be wide variation in plant size, flower color and other characteristics. For consistent results, use purchased seeds for hybrid varieties.
This easy-to-grow plant forms a tidy clump and produces abundant flowers (usually golden yellow) starting in early summer. Flowers are beautiful in bouquets and attract butterflies and birds.
Beautiful in rock gardens and other sites that have gooddrainage, maiden pinks form a low-growing mat of foliage topped by flowers in late spring. Foliage is evergreen year-round in mild climates. Flowers may be solid colors or have contrasting eyes.
Mounding plants with aromatic foliage are covered with flower spikes over a long season. Plants grow 10-14″ tall, are relatively carefree and the flowers attract hummingbirds and pollinators. Catmint is less attractive to (and less likely to be destroyed by) cats than its cousin, catnip (Nepeta cataria).
This clump-forming perennial grows 3-4 ft. tall and bright golden yellow, sunflower-like blooms starting in midsummer and continuing into fall. Attracts butterflies; perfect for cut flowers.
A cross between two native Gaillardia species, this blanket flower forms mounds of gray-green foliage topped by large, daisylike flowers in shades of yellow, orange and red. Flowers are attractive to butterflies and are beautiful in bouquets.
With velvety silver-gray foliage and white, pink or magenta flowers, rose campion is a favorite in informal cottage gardens. Although individual plants are relatively short lived, they freely self-sow to form permanent stands. The plant grows to 2-3 ft. tall and blooms in midsummer.
Tall and airy, with delicate flowers on thin stems that resemble hovering butterflies, gaura blooms from late spring into fall. At 3-4 ft. tall, this North American native is ideal for planting behind and between shorter, larger-flowered perennials. Also excellent in bouquets.
Here are a few other perennials that may flower their first year from seed:
Last updated: 11/12/18
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