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How to Grow Any Flower From Seed

Growing plants from seeds is not only easy to do but is also one of the cheapest ways to fill your garden with abundance. Some people may only think of growing vegetables from seeds, but flowers are just as easy to plant. As a bonus, you’ll have a greater choice of variety and color if you’re willing to start your own varietals from seeds rather than just buy what’s already being grown and sold at nurseries at the start of the season.

Perennial flowers may not bloom their first year, but if you have the patience to wait, you can fill your garden for a fraction of the cost of buying mature plants. Annual flowers will bloom right on schedule, and many of them will even seed themselves, so you’ll only have to plant them once to receive years of beautiful blooms. If you’ve been dreaming of nonstop color, pick up some seed packets, and get started with the tips below.

Growing Annual Flowers From Seed

Garden of Annual Flowers in Bloom

Annual flowers are the backbone of billowy cottage gardens. Many annuals will seed themselves, so all you have to do is leave the flower heads on the plants at the end of the season. They will eventually drop seed, and the seeds will weave themselves throughout the garden with a little help from the wind. You may sometimes end up with too many seedlings in one spot, but they should be easy to pull or transplant.

Keep in mind, annual flowers tend to grow quickly, so even those you direct sow outdoors in the spring will flower at their usual bloom time or very soon afterward. Just about any of the annuals that self-sow are good candidates for starting from seed, either indoors or direct sown.

Growing Perennial Flowers From Seed

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Sonia Hunt/Getty Images

Most perennial plants don’t bloom until their second year, spending their first season growing a strong root system and lots of leaves for photosynthesis. You can sometimes get around this waiting period by starting your perennial seeds in the fall and fooling the plants into thinking the following spring is “year two,” but more often than not you’ll just have to be patient.

After your perennial flowers are established, they will begin blooming and grow larger every year. In a few years’ time, you’ll be able to make even more plants by dividing the ones you have.

How to Speed Up Seed Starting

Seed Pod Splitting OpenMarie Iannotti

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Not all seeds know it’s time to sprout just because they’re planted in soil. Some need a signal that it’s time to germinate, either from a change in temperature or moisture levels, or an increase in light. To trick your seeds into germinating sooner than they might typically, you can use one of the below methods:

  • Winter sowing: To sow your seeds in the winter, you’ll want to start them outdoors while the temperatures are still frigid. Not all seeds can survive freezing temperatures, but there are some that need the freezing and thawing action to break dormancy or to crack their hard coverings, including heartier vegetables like broccoli, beets, and carrots.
  • Scarification: Seeds with really tough or thick coverings (think: apples, nasturtium, and false indigo) can take forever to germinate. Scarification (nicking them or rubbing them with sandpaper) can help give them a jump start and speed up the process a bit.
  • Stratification: Stratification is a way to simulate the warming and cooling conditions seeds would be privy to if left in their natural environment through the winter. It’s especially useful for people in zones that don’t have a long enough (or cold enough) winter for their desired plant, as well as any gardener looking to harvest delicate perennials like delphinium and violets, which will germinate more seeds if they’re put through the process.

Starting Seeds Indoors

Flower seeds

If you have a short growing season or are just impatient to see those late-blooming flowers, starting seeds indoors can help move things along. To do so properly, you’ll need to know your last frost date, as your seed packets will note which varietals can be successfully started indoors (not all seeds transplant well) and the proper time frame. To start seeds indoors, you’ll need potting mix, something to plant your seeds in, and a way to keep them moist. Your supplies can be anything from paper cups or paper egg cartons and clear plastic bags, to tiny pots, peat pots, or seed-starting trays with a clear lid.

Some seeds may require hardening off (exposing to cool temperatures) before planting outside, but this will be noted on the seed packet if required.

Growing flowers from seed can take some patience, but it's an inexpensive way to fill your garden with color. Use these tips to get started.

U.S. Identifies Some of the Mysterious Seeds Mailed From China

The 14 varieties identified include common ones, such as hibiscus, morning glory and lavender. Still, experts warned recipients not to plant them.

Officials said unsolicited packets have also appeared in Australia, Canada and the European Union. Recipients are asked to hold onto the packages and mailing labels and not plant the seeds.

A federal agency said it had identified 14 types of plants from unsolicited packages of seeds that appeared to have been mailed from China, revealing a “mix of ornamental, fruit and vegetable, herb and weed species.”

Among the plant species botanists have identified so far: cabbage, hibiscus, lavender, mint, morning glory, mustard, rose, rosemary and sage, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“This is just a subset of the samples we’ve collected so far,” Osama El-Lissy, deputy administrator for the service’s plant protection and quarantine, said this past week.

Last month, a number of states reported that residents were getting packages of seeds they did not order.

All 50 states have since issued warnings about the unsolicited packages and the inspection service said it had been sent packets from at least 22 states.

Doyle Crenshaw of Booneville, Ark., said he had planted some of the unsolicited seeds he got.

“I told my wife, ‘They don’t look like any flower seed I had ever seen,’” he said on Sunday.

Mr. Crenshaw said he had ordered blue zinnia seeds from Amazon, but when he got the package about two months ago, it contained the blue zinnia seeds as well as seed packets he did not order.

The package label read “studded earrings” and “China,” he said.

“It’s a really pretty plant,” he said, describing what grew from the unsolicited seeds. “It looks like a giant squash plant.”

A representative from Amazon could not be immediately reached on Sunday.

Mr. Crenshaw said he called the Arkansas Department of Agriculture and officials were set to come this week to dig up the plant that grew from the unsolicited seeds. He also plans to have them collect another unsolicited package he received — but has not opened — that was labeled to say it contained beads.

After receiving these packages, he said he and his wife will from now on order their seeds locally.

The federal inspection agency said evidence indicates the packages are part of a “brushing scam” in which sellers send unsolicited items in hopes of increasing sales.

Although the risk is low for some nefarious outcome, like introducing an exotic species in the United States or some form of biological warfare, recipients of the mailings should not plant the seeds, said Art Gover, a plant science researcher at Penn State University.

These seeds can be troublesome because they can introduce problematic weeds and diseases, he said.

Lisa Delissio, a professor of biology at Salem State University in Massachusetts, said if any of the unidentified seeds turned out to be invasive species, they could displace native plants and compete for resources and cause harm to the environment, agriculture or human health.

Bernd Blossey, a professor in the department of natural resources at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said he received a few calls from worried recipients of the seed packets.

“Obviously planting rosemary or thyme in your garden isn’t something that will endanger our environment,” he said. “But there may be other things in there that have not been identified yet. Any time you gain something unknown, my suggestion is burning them, not even throwing them in the trash.”

Gardeners have been responsible for introducing invasive plant species in the past, and nurturing them with a green thumb, including the butterfly bush, Japanese knotweed and some ornamental grasses, Professor Blossey said.

“Who knows who’s behind it or what’s behind it?” he said. “I think there may be more to the story.”

Marie Fazio and Christina Morales contributed reporting.

The 14 varieties identified include common ones, such as hibiscus, morning glory and lavender. Still, experts warned recipients not to plant them.