Easy Summer Annuals to Grow from Seed
Cornflower, Cosmos, Forget-me-not, French Marigold, Larkspur, Love-in-a-Mist, Moss Rose, Nasturium, Stocks, Sunflower, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Pea & Zinnia
So Easy to Sow, So Easy to Grow
Easy-to-Grow Annuals for Your Garden
Want to grow the same annuals year after year? Buy heirloom seed the first time. Seed collected from heirloom plants grows "true," producing plants identical to parent plants.
Annual flowers like forget-me-not, French marigold, portulaca, stock, sweet alyssum, sweet pea, and zinnia are so easy to grow from seed that there's no need to start them indoors.
That means no little pots, no seed-starting mix, no grow lights or windowsill clutter, and no messy indoor watering. (Yeah!)
In some cases, annual flowers are so easy to grow that practically no soil preparation is needed.
In spring, simply loosen the soil a bit and, if necessary, add a little organic matter, such as compost or barnyard manure.
Then sow the seeds, keep them moist until they germinate and wait for the summer magic: beautiful annual flowers for minimal effort!
Cosmos is not only easy to start from seed (just prep the soil, sprinkle the seeds and keep moist), it's also a vigorous self-seeder. In fact, the super tall (over six feet!) Cosmos bipinnatus that we sowed last year, reseeded itself beautifully throughout our garden this year.
Cosmos blooms nonstop until the first hard frost.
To keep it looking good (and blooming consistently), trim stems with lots of spent blooms by about a third and then fertilize. (We like fish fertilizer best.)
Cornflower (also known as bachelor's buttons) grows best in hot, dry areas, producing sturdy summer flowers that are ideal for arrangements, both live and dried.
Sow cornflower seed in the spring shallowly, about 1/8 inch deep.
First, scratch up the soil with your fingers or a garden claw, and then scatter the seed. Within 1-3 weeks, it will germinate.
Cornflowers grow as perennials in some zones, with varieties like C. hypoleuca 'John Coutts' forming clumps.
Forget-me-nots are wildflowers, members of the Borage family, and they can be aggressive self-sowers. In fact, in some areas of the world they're considered invasive weeds.
To start forget-me-nots, sow them directly in your garden in spring or fall and cover them lightly. (They need shade in order to germinate.)
Depending upon the hardiness zone in which they grow, forget-me-not plants can be annuals, perennials or biennials. However they grow where you live, you probably won't know the difference, as forget-me-nots self-seed aggressively. In other words, if you plant them once, you'll most likely have them in your garden year after year without ever planting them again.
Forget-me-not plants will grow just about anywhere. They aren't picky about soil quality or water, and they'll begin to bloom in the spring.
Here in Zone 7, our forget-me-not plants reseed themselves throughout the growing season, blooming from spring into fall, when the flowers become much less prolific.
Myosotis sylvatica compacta, a nice mounding variety of forget-me-not, is available in pink as well as blue.
Sprinkle dry, unflavored gelatin (like Knox brand gelatin) on seeds after sowing to feed them as they sprout.
French marigolds have a pungent aroma which deters some insects and other pests, and that makes them popular companion plants, especially for vegetables.
Sowing Marigolds in Spring
French marigolds are often grown among vegetables throughout the garden or closely in rows so that they form small hedges around vegetable patches. They grow best in full sun and rich soil.
In spring, sprinkle marigold seed over a raked flowerbed and sprinkle it lightly with dirt, covering it by about an 1/8 inch. By summer, the seed will develop into bushy plants with orange, red and/or yellow flowers, depending upon the variety.
Interested in starting a cutting garden?
If you sow cornflower, larkspur, stock and zinnia in the spring, you'll be able to harvest fresh flowers for arrangements throughout the summer and into the fall.
Some varieties of larkspur grow to heights of four feet, with giant larkspur like Pacific Giant and Giant Imperial growing up to eight feet tall.
Larkspur produces long spikes of flowers, usually in white or shades of blue, purple and pink, into late summer.
Sow larkspur in either late winter or early spring, sprinkling seed onto full-sun to partial-shade flowerbeds and covering it with about 1/8 of soil. In three to four weeks, the seed with germinate.
Larkspur grows quickly and is a good flower for a cutting garden.
Love-in-a-mist is a pretty annual, with frilly leaves and feathery flowers. It blooms in summer, producing white, blue or pink flowers, depending upon the variety.
In the fall, love-in-a-mist reseeds itself, developing unusual looking horned seedpods that eventually split open.
Luckily for gardeners, love-in-a-mist is one of those happy plants that grow best when directly sown outdoors, as its seedlings are so fragile they're difficult to transplant successfully.
Beginning in spring, plant love-in-a-mist seeds in a sunny location with well-draining soil. Sow seed every three weeks or so for continuous blooms throughout summer and into fall.
Bothered by deer? Spray portulaca with a mixture of rotten eggs and garlic, or they may eat your plants to the ground.
When I was a child, just about every old lady in town with a rock garden grew portulaca.
Today, portulaca is more often called moss rose, rose moss or moss-rose purslane, and it's a popular annual ground cover that self seeds.
A succulent, moss rose is ideal for hot, dry, poor soil areas of the garden where few other plants will grow.
To start moss rose, sow it in the spring, scratching up the soil a bit in order to plant the seeds shallowly, about 1/8 inch deep. Within two to three weeks, they should begin to sprout, developing into flowering, low-growing plants no more than eight inches tall by summer.
Moss rose blooms in a variety of colors, from vibrant reds and yellows to pastel shades, depending upon the cultivar. In early morning, the blossoms are closed; however, they open as the day passes, putting on a beautiful, bright display in the afternoon.
Soaking & Nicking Seeds
Nasturtium is one of the easiest annuals to direct sow.
There's no need to amend the soil beforehand, and after nasturtium seed germinates and grows, there's no need to fertilize.
Give it a sunny spot, and nasturtium performs as well (or even better) in very poor soil as it does in rich loam, producing trumpet-life flowers in shades of orange, red and yellow.
When selecting nasturtium seed, you'll have lots of choices: single, semi-double and double flowering plants that trail or climb or clump.
Nasturtium seeds have a fairly tough coat. To increase germination rates, soak them overnight before sowing them about ½ inch deep in loosened soil. Using a fingernail file or sharp knife to file or nick the seed coat before planting will also increase the likelihood of germination. The seeds that do sprout will do so quickly, in about one week.
All-day sun, or at least 6-8 hrs. of direct sunlight per day
Four to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
Stock is an aromantic cutting flower that's easy to grow from seed.
Stock grows best in rich, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Because it stops flowering in hot weather, sow it in partial shade if your area has hot summers for a longer bloom time.
Stock flowers are available in a wide range of colors—pink, yellow, purple, blue, white. They develop on tall spires, and stock plants usually grow from one to three feet tall, depending upon the variety.
Sow stock seed directly outside in early spring a few weeks before the last predicted frost in your region. Be sure to amend the soil first, working in lots of organic matter.
Depending upon the variety, sunflowers can grow from one feet to 15 feet tall, with large seed heads containing as many as 8,000 seeds. Their flat, broad seed heads make good feeding stations for birds (and for squirrels). Alternatively, you could collect the seeds yourself for saving and replanting or for roasting and eating.
Their height and large flowers make sunflowers cheerful additions to the garden as well as effective providers of both shade and privacy when planted en masse.
Sow sunflower seed in a full-sun location that's out of the wind. Before planting, loosen the soil to a depth of about two inches and add organic matterl, such as compost or manure. Sunflowers like rich soil best.
Then sow the seeds about one inch deep and water. Once sown, sunflower seeds will usually sprout in about one week.
Once their heavy flowerheads develop, sunflower plants are likely to topple over, so you'll probably have to provide them with a bit of support, such as stakes or high lines of twine for them to lean upon.
Easy-to-Sow & Grow Flowers
Special Sowing Directions
Cornflower, Bachelor's Button, Hurtsickles (Centaurea cyanus)
Needs full sun; dislikes wet feet. Sow in spring & summer for summer & fall blooms.
Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.)
Sow shallowly in any type soil in full sun or partial shade. Cover lightly with soil after sowing.
French Marigold (Tagetes spp.)
Sow in full sun in rich, lightly cultivated soil in spring. Cover with about 1/8 soil.
Larkspur, Annual Delphinium (Consolida spp.)
Sow shallowly in late winter in full sun or partial shade. Cover with about 1/8 inch soil.
Love-in-a-Mist, Bluebeard, Devil-in-a-Bush (Nigella damascena)
Likes almost any type well-drained soil & full sun. Sow every 3 wks. beginning in spring.
Moss Rose, Moss-Rose Purslane, Portulaca (Portulaca grandiflora)
Sow shallowly in any type lightly cultivated soil.
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Grows best in poor soil, full sun. Soak seeds overnight, or file or nick them before sowing in spring.
Stocks (Matthiola incana)
Sow outside in early spring a few weeks before last predicted frost. Prefers rich, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
Sunflower (Helianthus )
Sow 1-inch deep in spring in lightly cultivated, enriched soil & full sun.
Sweet Allysum (Lobularia maritima)
Sow shallowly in full sun, any type soil.
Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Soak seed in water overnight before sowing. Plant in spring in full sun; moist, rich soil.
Sow in full sun, rich soil in spring.
Sweet alyssum is a drought-tolerant ground cover, front-of-the border or container plant that produces dainty, white sweet-smelling flowers from spring into fall.
Like nasturtium, it will grow well in poor soil. In early spring, sow it in a full or partial sun location by raking the flowerbed with your fingertips or a garden claw, and then sprinkling the seed. Cover it lightly with more soil and mist. Nasturtium seed will germinate in about two weeks.
Sweet alyssum is a fairly reliable self seeder, so you may only have to plant it once to establish it in your garden.
With little effort, anyone can grow sweet pea from seed. In fact, if you soak sweet pea seeds overnight before planting, they will practically sprout as soon as they hit the soil!
Even if they were difficult to grow, gardeners would make the attempt. Sweet pea has a luscious, heavy perfume that's intoxicating, and its clusters of shell-like blossoms come in a variety of colors, including white, black and various shades of red, pink, purple and blue.
Select a sunny spot in the garden that has rich, moisture-retentive soil. Sweet peas like moisture.
Or, sow sweet pea seed in regular potting mix in containers and place them near an entrance to your home so that you can enjoy their intoxicating scent throughout the summer.
You may want to give your sweet peas a bit of support, too, as most varieties are climbers. A wigwam, a trellis or simply crossed sticks stuck in the ground work well. And be sure to pick sweet peas often! It makes them bloom longer.
Zinnia is a big family of easy-to-grow annuals that produce cheerful, daisy-like flowers in loads of bright colors.
Zinnia are excellent cutting flowers, lasting up to two weeks in arrangements.
To grow zinnia from seed outdoors, sow them about 1/8 inch deep in the spring, selecting a full-sun location with rich soil.
Zinnia seeds will ordinarily sprout within a week, producing showy flowers from the middle of summer until the first hard frost of fall.
About the Author
The Dirt Farmer has been an active gardener for over 30 years.
She first began gardening as a child alongside her grandfather on her parents' farm.
Today, The Dirt Farmer gardens at home, volunteers at community gardens and continues to learn about gardening through the MD Master Gardener program.
© 2013 Jill Spencer