If you’re planning to grow flowers alongside your vegetables this year, there may be some additional steps you’ll need to take when getting those started. Most annual flowers are started in ways very similar to our annual vegetable plants. But some flowers are trickier to start, especially perennials. And some can’t easily be started from seed and need to be propagated using other methods.
Today on Just Grow Something we’re going to talk about the easiest flowers to start from seed and those “special” flower seeds, the ones that need a little more time and attention than our standard annuals. Let’s dig in!
February Question of the Month: What’s your most successful garden crop and why?
References and Resources:
--- Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/justgrowsomething/message
Karin Velez [00:00:00]:
Over the next few weeks, we're gonna be talking about all the different components of starting seeds indoors. Now is the time for many of us to be getting started on that task for this year. But before we even get into what soils and containers and lights and stuff that you might need for that task, let's talk about flower seeds. If you're planning to grow flowers alongside your vegetables this year, there may be some additional steps that you'll need to take when getting those started. Most annual flowers are started in ways that are very similar to our annual vegetable plants. But some flowers are trickier to start, especially perennials. And some can't easily be started from seed, and they need to be propagated using other methods. Today on just grow something, we're gonna talk about the easiest flowers to start from seed and those special flower seeds. The ones that need a little more time and attention than our standard annuals. Let's dig in.
Karin Velez [00:01:37]:
It is time, my gardening friends, for your answers to January's question of the month. I am very excited to share these with you because you use some planning tools that I hadn't heard of, and some of you really do absolutely no planning at all, which I love for you, but that would cause me to lose my mind. I will leave links to all of the things that you guys have talked about in the show notes so everybody can find what everybody else is using. So without further ado, Laura Millett at the Girly Homesteader said, hi, Karen. I use a combo of 2 things.
Karin Velez [00:02:12]:
For mapping out the garden, I use the planter app, which also had great info about when to plant. And to get more detailed, I use the garden planner that I designed. Laura is from the Girly Homesteader podcast, and she did design a perfectly girly and beautiful homesteading planner. I will leave a link to that in the show notes if you wanna go check it out. It is for homesteading, so it includes additional information in there, but there is a very good section, just specifically for garden planning too. Marina Schmidt said, I use an app called Planter. It's been a gardening lifesaver. I'm staring at my garden beds already itching to plant something.
Karin Velez [00:02:52]:
Just have to wait 5 months till it's warm enough. Yes. Marina is one of my Canadian gardening friends, and that is the exact reason why I refuse to live anywhere further north than where I do. I really don't want to shorten my growing season by that much. Thank you very much. Brittney Marie said, I have been using the Farmer's Almanac Garden Planner, but I also enjoy the good old pencil to paper method. That is my favorite method, Britney, pencil to paper. Meg at our Wisco Homestead said, pen and paper.
Karin Velez [00:03:25]:
Staples first, then flowers and herbs, and if there's space left, wish list items. I always add one new thing I want to try. If it fails, oh, well. If it's a win, try again next year. And I am a big proponent of trying something new. As a matter of fact, I have to limit myself because it's very easy to look in those seed catalogs or find some really cool new variety at the garden center and just want to try them all. So, yeah, I'm with you, Meg. At least try one thing.
Karin Velez [00:03:55]:
I limit myself to 3. Otherwise, I'll get carried away. Cody Ruth, my gardening homie, she said, my method is to have a vague idea of what I want to plant, start way too many seeds, and give away what I actually can't fit in my garden. I like to call it my hippie method. I plant what survives my seed starting trials. Yeah. Cody sounds like a little bit of a chaos gardener, but I tell you, I have seen pictures of her beautiful gardens, and she packs a whole lot in there. She's been doing fantastic.
Karin Velez [00:04:26]:
So, Cody's hippie method seems to be working for her. Monica Baker says, this is my 1st year properly planning my garden, and I'm using a paper printout of a garden planner. It allowed me to customize what I want to record without any extras I won't use. I also included a complete 2024 calendar to make it easier to know the dates I should start seeds, transplant, etcetera. And she left a link to what it is that that she uses. So you she is using the free garden journal page printables from greeninreallife.com. That link will be in the show notes. And I absolutely agree with using a calendar to plan out all of your dates.
Karin Velez [00:05:07]:
It really is a very effective way to know not only when you're supposed start seeds and when you might need to transplant, but also what feeding schedule your plants might need to be on and when you can anticipate your first harvest. I am all about the calendar. And finally, Amanda at Dural Family Farmstead said, first, I sit down and review notes about what I did last year. I keep notes and charts about when and where I planted things, what problems I had, lessons learned by failure. And in quotes, she said, learning opportunities. I consider what we actually ate versus what got wasted, as well as inventory my canned goods to see what we are using out of, and not using. Then I draw out new charts, figure out the required crop rotations, and decide what crops to increase, decrease, and add new. I usually have some sort of experiment going.
Karin Velez [00:06:01]:
Last year, I tried more companion planting during the growing season and put a winter rye crop in in the fall. I also inventory my seed stash this time of year as well as order new. So my answer to this question is that Amanda sounds like my garden twin. I am a planner, and I love pencil to paper. I review all of my garden notes from the previous year. I make more notes about what we need in our pantry and in our storage, what we didn't go through really the year before, which varieties did poorly and which ones were superstars. And then I lay all of the crops out on the garden map, including my succession plantings and my interplantings. And then I put everything onto a calendar.
Karin Velez [00:06:46]:
This includes seed starting dates, the approximate transplant dates, dates when things have to be given, amendments or when they get fed, and my first anticipated harvest for each of those crops. That calendar is detailed out from February through October. And that way, there is absolutely nothing I forget to do later on in the season when things get overwhelming. I loved reading all of your responses. I hope you learned a little something from your fellow gardeners. Let's do this again. The question of the month for February is, what is your most successful crop and why? Now this could be a very specific, variety of tomato that out produces all the others in your garden or just the one that you love the most, and therefore, you feel it's the best thing that you grow. It could be that you grow without fail the best spinach anyone has ever tasted, even if you have no idea how you do it.
Karin Velez [00:07:46]:
Or if you have a secret soil ingredient, share that with us. I once had a customer accuse me of putting sugar in my soil because our cucumbers were so sweet. Whatever you consider your most successful crop in whatever way you consider it successful, Send me an email, post it to Facebook, or slide into my DMs. You have until February 29th to get me your answer. I cannot wait to hear. Maybe we'll all find a new favorite to add to our gardens this year. So what is different about starting flower seeds for our garden? Well, it depends on the flower. For the majority of flowers, whether they're annuals or perennials, if we start them from seed, we're generally going to follow the same basic tenants of indoor seed starting, just like we do for our annual vegetables.
Karin Velez [00:08:39]:
We're going to choose the right container. We're gonna have a seed starting mix. We're gonna monitor those germination temperatures and use heat mats if we need to. Avoid overwatering, but make sure we're keeping them moist enough. And then once the seedlings sprout, make sure that we've got adequate light exposure, keeping our lights at the right height for growing those really strong seedlings, and we're gonna add some airflow for those seedlings as they grow on. Now over the next 2 weeks, we're gonna talk about grow light options and seed starting soils. But for now, let's just say that for our easiest flower seeds, nothing is gonna be any different than what we're doing for our veggie starts. Now when I say easiest, I just mean that these flowers don't really need any sort of special process to start them from seed other than our usual indoor seed starting standards.
Karin Velez [00:09:31]:
They germinate fairly readily. They grow on pretty easily. They generally don't suffer from too much in the way of transplant shock. Many of these can actually be directly sown out in the garden, so you don't have to worry about indoor seed starting. Of course, this is gonna depend on your climate. So pay attention to the seed package and what is listed on it for the preferred germination temperature and number of days to maturity. You want to kind of base your timing for outdoor seeds starting on what your local climate is, what your frost dates are, make sure that you have the right type of soil in your garden for that seed to start appropriately, and then make sure you also have some way to those little baby seedlings from insect pests when they are super tiny, and they're just sprouting up in the garden. Otherwise, you can absolutely start, these seeds indoors.
Karin Velez [00:10:29]:
So the easiest ones for me are things like zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, bachelor buttons, calendula, sweet peas. Sunflowers, I put on this list. The only caveat to that is if you can directly sow them out in the in the garden, they are going to prefer that because they have a deep tap root. So they might suffer some transplant shock if you have to start them indoors. But if you have a short season and you need to get them going early, start them in as large of a container as you can. So you don't have to transplant them more than once, and you'll have a large mass of soil to transplant directly out into the ground so that you're not having to disturb that tap root so much. Other than that, sunflowers do germinate very readily, and they grow on very easily. And then the other 2 that I listed were alyssum and snapdragons.
Karin Velez [00:11:24]:
The only caveat to these ones is that they both require light to germinate. Now Kathy Gormandy talked about the Snapdragons in our episode last week. She was starting those in soil blocks. They are very easy to start, but again, you don't want to cover them or the alyssum with any soil when you plant them, they need that light to germinate. Other than that, all of those seeds can be started the exact same way we start our annual vegetable plants. Now it's not just annual flowers that can be started from seed. We can also start perennials, certain perennials. Some of the popular perennials that are candidates for indoor seed starting are things like black eyed Susans or rudbeckia, cone flowers also called a ganache, lupines, bee balm, coreopsis, shasta daisies, foxgloves, and balloon flower.
Karin Velez [00:12:11]:
Now, not all of the flowers that we want to start from seed are as straight forward as our annual vegetables, though. And some of the ones that I just mentioned benefit from maybe an extra step or 2. The first of these is scarification. Some seeds have a hard coating surrounding them to prevent them from germinating in poor weather conditions. In our area, we often see desperately cold winter temperatures followed by perfectly balmy, unseasonably warm days. If the seeds of these plants were to sprout at the time when the daytime temperatures are above 60 Fahrenheit, and then we had another 10 days where we dropped below 0, that early sprouting would spell disaster for those tiny flower seedlings. The hard coating on some seeds ensures that the seeds sprout at the optimal time to ensure germinate. Natural scar occasion occurs over time, usually throughout the winter season as the ground goes through its natural freeze thaw cycle.
Karin Velez [00:13:18]:
Eventually, the outer coating is weakened enough to let water and air in which leads to germination. This is incidentally also what happens when a bird eats a flower seed and then poops it out in your garden later. Scarification. Now there are plenty of types of seeds that benefit from scarification. A lot of them are perennials, things like our butterfly weed, lupine, moonflowers, columbine, joe pye weed. But there are some annuals that also benefit from scarification, things like nasturtium, milkweed, and morning glory. Now, there are 3 different methods for scarification, mechanical, chemical, and thermal. Mechanical just involves physically opening the seed coating somehow to allow the air in the water to enter.
Karin Velez [00:14:05]:
Chemical involves using something like sulfuric acid to weaken the seed coating and encourage that germination. And then thermal involves just brief exposure of the seeds to some hot water to break down that outer coating. Smartification is not difficult. There are 3 really easy ways that you can do this. The first is to just soak the seeds in water for 24 hours to help break down that outer coating. You could also use sandpaper or a nail file to just gently rub a spot on the outer coat and break it down a little bit. And then you can use the thermal method by simmering a pot of water to just about 180 degrees Fahrenheit, turning off the heat, and then dropping the seeds in and just leaving them sit there until the water has cooled down. Exposure to the hot water will break the coating down enough to do the job.
Karin Velez [00:14:52]:
Whichever method you choose to use, be gentle enough that you don't damage the interior of the seat. We just need one spot where the water and the air can get in. So do your filing or your rubbing gently. And then plant the seeds right away after scarification so that they don't get overexposed and become unviable before planting. Of course, there is one final easy option, and that is to plant the seeds in the garden in the late fall or the early winter before you want them to sprout and just allow mother nature to scarify them instead. Oftentimes, the seeds will sprout right at the time you'd be starting them indoors anyway. So if you have some cold weather during your winter times, go ahead and just try planting the seeds in the garden. It's kinda how nature intended it anyway.
Karin Velez [00:17:33]:
One other way that some seeds protect themselves from sprouting too early is by staying dormant until a specific temperature is reached for a specific duration. This is called cold and it protects the seedlings from early germination in much the same way that a hard seed coat does. In fact, it usually works in tandem with a hard seed coat. The seed naturally needs to be exposed to cold temperatures and certain levels of moisture in order to encourage germination. Again, nature is kinda gonna take care of this naturally over the winter. The seed drops in the late fall, it stays buried in the cold ground. And then once the ground thaws, starts to warm up, more moisture is available, it tells the seed it's time to sprout. If it hasn't been cold enough for long enough, that's nature's way of saying, hey. This might be a fall spring.
Karin Velez [00:18:26]:
Don't sprout yet. So how do we artificially cold stratify the seeds that need it in order to sprout them ourselves indoors? Place the seeds in a plastic bag with a damp medium of some sort. Small seeds can be sprinkled onto a damp paper towel. Larger seeds should be placed in something like peat moss or vermiculite. You want the environment moist moist but not soaking wet. Puncture the bag with a few holes or just leave the top partially open for airflow. Place the bag in your refrigerator. Ideally, these seeds should remain at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below for at least a month.
Karin Velez [00:19:08]:
But this time length will vary based on the seed. So, make sure you reference the seed packet or look it up online if these are seeds you've collected yourself. Be sure to check on your seeds once a week to check for mold and be sure the medium is still moist. Sometimes, the seeds will sprout in the bag and you'll need to get them planted right away. This is more likely to happen if your fridge is kept on the warmer side. The colder the fridge, the less likely they'll sprout early. I do not suggest using your freezer for cold stratification because not all seeds can handle temperatures that far below freezing for an extended period of time and still remain viable. And, of course, if you live someplace with cold winters, you can always just plant these seeds outside in the late fall or the early winter and allow mother nature to do the rest.
Karin Velez [00:19:59]:
So some candidates for cold stratification are things like lavender, balloon flower, rudbeckia, butterfly bush, cone flower, heliopsis, joe pye weed, and hollyhocks. And there is one more way that we can start our garden flowers indoors, and it has nothing to do with seeds at all. Certain flowers are just more effectively propagated from cuttings rather than seeds. It's not to say they can't be grown from seed unless it's a hybridized variety. It just means that growing from seed can be tough or complicated and cuttings are just the way to go for better success. So popular garden flowers that typically benefit from propagation through cuttings are things like geraniums, lavender, roses, fuchsia, salvias, which also includes our common garden sage, by the way, coleus, and dahlias. And dahlias, we generally grow from a tuber. But if you don't have a way to split those tubers or you don't have enough, cuttings are definitely easier than trying to do them from seed.
Karin Velez [00:21:02]:
Now one of the bonuses of growing flowers from cuttings is that the genetics remain exactly the same. You're cloning the plant when you root their cuttings, and this means it will be genetically identical to the one that you were growing. This is actually important if there is something you really like about the flower, say, if it has a certain variegation to the leaves. Most variegation is actually a result of a genetic mutation, and that's not easy to get passed on properly from planting from seed. So in this instance, you want to propagate through cuttings. So how do you start new flowers from a previous plant by using cuttings? For most flowers like geraniums, the easiest thing to do is just snip a section of young growth. If it's a woodier plant like a butterfly bush, it's generally better to take cuttings from new spring growth rather than the older parts of the plant. They just tend to root better and more readily.
Karin Velez [00:22:01]:
So to do this, you're gonna make a clean-cut of a 3 to 6 inch ish section of healthy stem off of the plant. Remove any lower leaves and then place the cut end down into a small container of a moist seed starting mix or potting mix. Using a rooting hormone is optional, but if this is something that's notoriously difficult to root, then it doesn't hurt to use that hormone. You just dip the cut end into the hormone powder before sticking it into your potting mix. It's then a good idea to create a little makeshift greenhouse around the cutting by wrapping it loosely with some plastic wrap or covering it with a little plastic baggie. And then just put your cutting somewhere where it gets bright light, but indirect light. This is not the time to be using grow lights because they can be too intense for your cuttings. You wanna keep the soil damp and then just wait for the plant to root.
Karin Velez [00:22:59]:
The alternative to this is to put your cuttings into a glass of water and then put it into a sunny window to encourage it to pull roots. You wanna change the water every few days until you see those roots start to come out. Once you see the roots have gotten to be about an inch or 2 long, then you can just transplant the cutting into potting mix and continue as usual. This doesn't always work because some flowers just don't tolerate that amount of water and they'll tend to rot at the stem instead of starting to root. But if you try it this way and you see that that's happening, you can always pull the cutting from the water and just make a fresh cut above where it's rotted, and then try the soil method instead. Using either of these methods, it could take just a few weeks for your cuttings to root, or it could take several months depending on the flower. Either way, you'll have an exact duplicate of the original flower and no seed starting needed. There are a ton of flowers out there that we can put into our home garden.
Karin Velez [00:24:08]:
Some of them are just a little bit easier to start than others. To help out just a little bit, I put together a chart of about 25 or so different flowers that we commonly see in our gardens, whether they're more easily started from seed or cutting or both, the days to germination, if it started from seed, and its average days to maturity. So these are gonna vary a little bit based on your unique situation, but at least it will give you an idea of how best to get these flowers started and when to get them started so they're ready to transplant. So to get that little guide, go to justgrowsomethingpodcast.com/ flowers. It will also give you an idea of whether you can just skip the indoor seed starting and just plant those babies straight into the ground. The link to the chart and all the garden planning options from your fellow gardeners will be in the show notes. Until next time, my flower gardening friends, keep on cultivating that dream garden and we'll talk again soon.