flowers - putting seeds in the soil - is the
easiest way to garden. Pictured are marigolds,
great for attracting pollinating insects.
the simplest kind of gardening: Plant some seeds and
watch the flowers grow. And now that the soil has warmed
up, there are plenty of bright annuals you can sow right
outside in the garden.
likely won’t see blooms until midsummer, though. That’s
why many gardeners give annual flower seeds a head start
of several weeks indoors under lights in spring: so they
will bloom earlier once they are transplanted outdoors.
In our relatively short growing season, even six weeks
may seem too long to wait for flowers.
the other hand, you can’t beat the simplicity of
direct-sowing, or the price, either — a couple of
dollars for a packet of seeds.
very easy to grow from seed and it’s very
economical," says Diane Blazek, executive director
of the National Garden Bureau, a seed industry trade
group that has a wide range of advice on its website.
also are likely to find a much wider variety of plants
available as seeds than as plants in the garden center.
offers these tips for sowing annuals in the garden:
the soil. Few seeds will sprout in dense, heavy clay.
Dig in compost or other organic matter to lighten it.
Rake the soil surface smooth and moisten it. You can sow
annual seeds in pots, too: Use a good-quality,
well-drained potting mix.
the seed packet. It will tell you how far apart to plant
the seeds and how deep. Some seeds need to be well
covered in soil to germinate, while others need to be
more exposed to the sunlight. Some gardeners sow seed
thickly and plan to thin the seedlings later. Do this
only if you are sure you won’t forget to thin them,
Blazek warns; if plants grow up crowded, none will
thrive. (Even if you set seed judiciously, keep an eye
on the seedlings; you may still need to thin some.)
the seeds watered. Seeds need to be steadily moist until
they germinate. Sprinkle often, using a very gentle
spray to avoid disturbing the seeds or the soil. Once
the plants sprout, water less often.
patient. Most annuals will sprout in five to 10 days,
but this is dependent on the weather conditions.
as needed. Once the seedlings appear, apply a liquid
organic or synthetic fertilizer at one-half the rate
specified on the label every other time you water.
Annuals need a steady supply of nutrients to keep
flowering, but too much fertilizer can damage the
are some annual flowers that will brighten the midsummer
garden if you sow the seeds outdoors in May in a sunny
spot. A number of them have edible blooms.
(Helianthus annuus): The big, happy yellow faces of
sunflowers can make anybody smile. The garden varieties
are descended from North American native plants. Some
varieties grow 8 feet tall or more and have flowers a
foot across; others top out at 3 or 4 feet. The seeds
are edible, if you can beat the birds to them.
Sunflowers need full sun and plenty of space. For kids,
it’s a fun project to grow a "sunflower
house" — a circle of seeds that will grow into a
hideaway of tall sunflowers. (Don’t forget to leave a
gap for a door.)
button (Centaurea cyanus): This jaunty blue flower, also
known as cornflower, nods on long stems about 30 inches
high and has a casual charm. It combines well with bushy
perennials such as calamint or prairie flowers such as
coneflowers. This European native needs full sun and
well-drained soil; it does best in cooler weather and
likely will run out of blooms in July. ‘Blue Boy’ is
a popular double variety with fluffy flowers. The
flowers are edible.
(Tagetes): Bold and bright in shades of orange and
yellow, marigolds are among the most popular of garden
flowers. Several species native to the Americas have
long since been spread around the world, which is why
the tall Tagetes erecta is often called "African
marigold" and the smaller, bushier Tagetes patula
is called "French marigold." The flowers are
edible, with a citrusy flavor, and some varieties have a
lovely scent. They range in height from 6 inches to 3
feet. Marigolds are traditional companions for tomatoes,
attracting pollinating insects to the vegetable garden.
They need full sun and well-drained soil.
(Tropaeolum): These showy rambling plants have
attractive rounded leaves as well as flowers in colors
from creamy white through yellow and pink to orange.
Most species are trailing vines, which can climb a
trellis or swoop from a hanging basket. Many modern
varieties hold their flowers above the foliage for a
better show. And the flowers are edible, with a peppery
kick. They do best in full sun but can handle a little
flower (Cleome hassleriana): The name is perfect, if you
can imagine huge pink, white or purple spiders. Or else
think of fragrant fireworks above your garden bed.
Native to South America, cleome will grow to be 3 to 6
feet tall, although there are shorter hybrid varieties.
It prefers full sun and soil on the dry side, making it
a good candidate for less-watered areas, but it can
handle some shade. Cleome can reseed to an annoying
degree, so remove the seed pods while they are still
(Mirabilis jalapa): Every evening is a carnival with
this colorful character, also called "marvel of
Peru." The trumpet-shaped flowers, with pink,
yellow and white on the same plant and sometimes the
same bloom, open in the evening, with an orange-blossom
fragrance, and bloom into the night. A white variety (Mirabilis
jalapa "Alba") is hard to find but lovely in a
night garden. Four o’clocks, which grow 2 to 3 feet
tall, prefer full sun but tolerate some shade and a wide
range of soils. They can self-seed, so be prepared to
pull up errant sprouts.
(Zinnia): Cheerful blooms come in shades of red, pink,
yellow, orange, purple, lavender, green and white.
Common zinnia (Zinnia elegans) prefers a rich, evenly
moist soil in full sun; creeping zinnia (Zinnia
angustifolia) can handle drier soil and its color lasts
better in the heat of summer. There are varieties of
zinnia from 6 inches to more than 3 feet tall. To avoid
leaf fungus diseases such as powdery mildew, don’t
overcrowd the plants. Native to Mexico and the
southwestern U.S., zinnias have edible flowers.
(Cosmos bipinnatus): The crinkled petals and bright
yellow centers of cosmos flowers stand 2 to 3 feet high
on slender stems with ferny foliage. The blooms are rosy
red, pink or white, or a mixture. The simple five-petaled
ones have a certain elegance, but there also are fluffy
double varieties. Cosmos, a Mexican native, needs full
sun. It does best in soil that is well-drained but
evenly moist. The blooming may slow down in the hottest
part of summer.
rose (Portulaca grandiflora): Vivid ruffled blooms
appear above a mat of foliage on a low-growing,
spreading plant that can handle hot, fairly dry sites.
The slender leaves are fleshy and succulent and the
flowers may be pink, red, orange, yellow or white. Moss
rose needs full sun; on cloudy or rainy days, the
flowers won’t even open.
glory (Ipomea purpurea): Climbing up a mailbox, a
downspout, a porch or a trellis, morning glory is a
summer classic. It will take some time to get started,
but by late summer the vine may reach 6 to 8 feet, and
its weight can collapse a lightweight support. This
Mexican native reseeds heavily, so be prepared to weed
out lots of sprouts; if left in flower beds, morning
glories will twine around other plants and drag them
down. Before you sow the seeds, nick each one slightly
with a sharp knife to help them sprout faster.