vision is vast, but your budget is tiny.
Solution: Create the large swaths of flowering perennials that
inhabit your garden dreams without spending a fortune by
choosing varieties that grow easily from seed.
Courtesy of the National Garden Bureau
Herbaceous perennial plants—those that live from year to year,
regenerating from the roots each spring—are often propagated by
dividing big clumps of roots into sections. The sections can be
potted and sold or, in the case of the home gardener, planted
elsewhere or given away to friends. So why do gardeners opt to
grow perennial flowering plants from seed, rather than purchase
them as a potted plant?
They Want to Save Money. For the cost of a pack of seeds you
might end up with dozens of plants. This is a powerful incentive
for an ambitious gardener on a tight budget. Many of the
perennials in your nursery’s inventory have, in fact, been grown
They Want to Start a Meadow. Wildflowers that inhabit
meadows are tough and tenacious, and are among the easiest
perennial plants to start from seed. Black-eyed Susans,
coneflowers, asters, lobelias, milkweeds, and native grasses
will create a colorful scene that will lure many species of
birds, butterflies, and bees to your plot.
3. They like Surprises. Vegetatively propagated cultivars
(those that have been divided or started from cuttings) are
perfectly uniform. This can be desirable—if you don’t like
surprises. For those who welcome the unexpected, seedlings can
provide a little fun. After all, many new perennial cultivars
are discovered when a seedling produces flowers of surprising
hues, or with unusual growth habits.
4. It’s Not Difficult. Although it’s true that some
perennials (orchids, for example) can be tricky to grow from
seed, others are almost foolproof. Some even flower the first
year from seed.
Ten to Try
Anise hyssop (Agastache): Seeds can germinate in
less than a week, but can also take as long as a month. Plants
grow 3 to 4 feet tall and sport spikes of lavender flowers that
are irresistible to bees and butterflies. Zones 4 to 9.
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) Seeds germinate in
about 3 weeks. Plants are tolerant of heavy soils, and the
cheerful flowers bloom throughout the summer. Zones 4 to 9.
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia): Seeds can take up to
three weeks to sprout. Keep them warm (70-75°F) until
germination occurs. Compact plants usually bloom the first year
from seed, and the warm-hued flowers attract butterflies. Zones
3 to 10.
Columbine (Aquilegia): Make sure the seed is
fresh. Sown in winter, native columbines (A. caerulea and A.
canadensis) germinate reliably in spring and bloom the same
year. Zones 3 to 8.
Coneflower (Echinacea): Sow seed in a warm
location (about 70°F) and germination should occur within 3
weeks. Seed can also be sown outdoors in the summer months.
Plants will take a year or more to reach blooming size. Zones 3
Feverfew (Tanacetum): Make sure the seed is fresh.
Feverfew seeds require light to germinate; sown on the surface
of a potting mix and kept moist, they sprout in two weeks or
less. Or sow directly outdoors. Zones 5 to 9.
Salvia (Salvia nemorosa): Of the many different
species of salvia, S. nemorosa is one of the easiest to grow
from seed. It germinates in 1 to 2 weeks and can reach booming
size the first year. The blue to purple flowers are attractive
to bees and butterflies. Zones 4 to 9.
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum): Easy from seed, treat
this the same as any annual flower. Plants grow to 4 feet tall
and are beautiful in a mass planting. Zones 4 to 8.
Thrift (Armeria): One of the easiest perennials to
grow from seed, thrift germinates in about 2 weeks and fills in
quickly, flowering in as little as 12 weeks. The grassy plants
stand only inches tall, with pink bloom stems of 6 to 8 inches.
Zones 4 to 8.
Tickseed (Coreopsis): Germination should occur in
two weeks or less. Plants usually can be counted on to produce
their characteristically profuse blooms the first year, if sown
in spring. Zones 4 to 9.
What You Should Know
Patience Pays Off: Perennials are typically slower to
germinate than annual flowers. Zinnias and marigolds pop up in a
matter of days, while some perennials may take up to a month to
Timing is Not as Critical: Because you’re growing plants
that will live more than one year, starting them in early spring
is not as essential with perennials. As long as your plants get
a sturdy enough start to make it through the winter, they will
bloom—if not the first year, then the second.
Soil Mix Should be Well Draining: Panayoti Kelaidis,
curator at Denver Botanic Gardens, recommends adding clean,
washed sand to soilless potting mix at a ratio of 1 part sand to
2 parts soil mix, to improve drainage.
Most Seeds Require Light: Sow several seeds in a single
pot, scattering them evenly on the surface. Cover them lightly,
if at all.
Maintain Optimal Conditions for Germination: Because
germination will take some time, it is essential that the soil
mix remain moist for a period of days to weeks. Try topping the
soil mix with a layer of sterile aquarium gravel and sowing tiny
seeds right on top (they will fall into crevices) to help keep
the seeds evenly moist. Larger seeds can be sown directly on the
soil mix and top-dressed with a light layer of gravel. Some
growers sow seeds in pots and place them in clear, loosely tied
plastic bags. Others mist frequently. Others simply mimic nature
as closely as possible, placing the pots outdoors and letting
the natural freeze-thaw cycles take care of the rest.
Water Gently: Water seeds that have not yet germinated
and newly emerged seedlings with a very gentle spray or mist. Or
set pots into a basin and allow them to absorb water from below.
“Prick Out” Seedlings and Give Them Space: Very
carefully, pull tender seedlings apart and place each in its own
pot after seedlings develops their first true leaves. Protect
them from direct sun until they size up. This can take 2 weeks,
or 2 months, depending on the species.
(1) Neil Diboll, 2003. The Right and Wrong
Grasses. Grounds Maintenance Magazine.
Garden Seed Association (HGSA) |
P.O. Box 93, Maxwell, CA 95955 |
Phone (530) 438-2126 |