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Easiest Annual Flowers to Grow from Seed

12 Flowers to Direct Sow in the Garden


Once upon a time, gardening meant scratching the soil and scattering seed. Well, there was a bit more involved, but not much. It is still possible to grow a lovely flower garden by direct sowing seed at the start of the season. Perennial flowers generally take more time to mature than a single season, but annuals are quick growers and very eager to get down to the business of blooming.

The annual flowers on this list will all start flowering within 2 months. That might not be as fast as purchased seedlings, but it will be a lot cheaper. A lot. You'll also get a lot more plants, which is perfect if you are trying to fill in spaces in your garden or cover a lot of ground. One final bonus point for starting from seed - most of these plants will reseed, giving you free plants next season.

1. Bachelor's Button (Centaurea cyanus)

Bachelor's Button (Centaurea cyanus)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Although most of the hundreds of Centaurea species are perennials, like mountain bluet (Centaurea montana), old-fashioned bachelor's button (aka cornflower) is an easy growing annual. These can be sown in early spring, around your last frost date. The seeds like a chill and the young seedlings can handle cooler temperatures. You can re-seed in  mid-summer, for a succession of blue blooms, but if you beneficial insects, including lady beetles and lacewings.

  • Days to Germination: 8 - 10
  • Days to Bloom: 50 - 60

2. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Calendula, or Pot Marigold, is another cool temperature lover that can be sown in early spring, right after the last frost date. In Zones 8 and up, calendula will bloom throughout the year. The flowers are edible, with a citrus-like flavor. They are no relation to common marigolds (Tagetes sp.), although they are often yellow or orange and look vaguely similar. The older varieties were single flowered, but now there are frilly doubles in unexpected colors. The singles seem to re-seed more readily, but not to the point of being a nuisance.

  • Days to Germination: 10 - 12
  • Days to Bloom: 40 - 50

3. Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cosmic Orange'
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

I don't think I've ever encountered an easier flower to grow from seed. Cosmos will grow in the worst soils, springing up into tall, frilly plants with flowers ranging from pastels to neon. They are quintessential cottage garden flowers and I like to dress up my vegetable garden with a few cosmos scattered about to amuse the pollinators. They don't start blooming until mid-summer, but they make up for the delay but not stopping until frost. Sow seed once the soil has warmed a bit, after your last frost date. Cosmos bipinnatus is the most commonly available species, with daisy like blooms on branched stems. They make great cut flowers, too.

  • Days to Germination: 3 - 10
  • Days to Bloom: 70 - 84

4. Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Annual Flax (Linium)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Annual flax is slow to germinate. Make the planting area, so you don't accidently plant over it. It takes a bit of patience, but otherwise requires little effort on your part. My biggest complaint is that companies tend to sell seed in mixes and I would like the option to seed just the blue or pink or red.

Sow seed after your last frost date. The plants themselves can be floppy. I like to interplant them with sturdier flowers, like perennials, for support. Deadheading will keep them repeat blooming throughout the summer and they will usually reseed themselves.

  • Days to Germination: 18 - 21
  • Days to Bloom: 50 - 60

5. Marigolds (Tagetes sp.)

Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Marigolds have become somewhat ubiquitous, but that should tell you something about how easy they are to grow. In fact, if you're looking for a good plant to grow with kids, marigolds are a great choice. Their large seeds are easy to handle and they are very reliable. Direct sow seed after all danger of frost has past or start them indoors, 4 - 6 weeks earlier and move them out. Pinching young plants encourages them to bush out and set more flower buds.

Marigolds are nice as a border in the vegetable garden. They deter rabbits and may help control some types of nematodes.

  • Days to Germination: 4 - 12
  • Days to Bloom: 60 - 70

6. Morning Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Looking for a fast growing vine to cover a wall or screen out a view? Look no further than morning glories. Plant them once and enjoy them for years to come. Morning glories are prodigious self-sowers . I try to plant them where I can mow down the extras, to keep them in check.

This is another plant that does not transplant well and lends itself to direct sowing, after your last frost date. The seeds have a very hard outer covering that germinates faster if it is scarified first and then soaked in water overnight. If you do want to start them indoors, use peat or paper pots.

Morning glories are late bloomers, often not flowering until August or later. Some people referred to them as the "Back to School" flowers.

  • Days to Germination: 7 - 10
  • Days to Bloom: 90 - 110

7. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

Tropaeolum majus
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

The plump, round seeds of nasturtiums are easy to plant and easy to grow. They tend to produce a mound of round leaves first and then non-stop bright, cheerful flowers. The whole plant is edible, even the seeds, which make great fake capers.

Direct sow, once the ground has had a chance to warm in the spring. Soaking the seeds will improve germination. They germinate quickly and do best in a lean soil, with regular water.

  • Days to Germination: 7 - 10
  • Days to Bloom: 55 - 65

8. Nigella (Nigella damascena)

Nigella (Nigella damascena)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Nigella's common name, Love-in-a-mist, is an apt description, with its lacy foliage and hallo. These plants have tap roots, making direct sowing the best option. Sow early in spring by sprinkling on the ground. They need light to germinate, so do not cover with soil. The plants tend to tire out and re-seeding monthly will extend the bloom period, especially if you like to leave the interesting seed pods on the plants to mature. Hopefully they will re-seed for you. The flowers are great cut and the seed pods dry well. Like annual flax, I wish more companies would sell seed of specific colors.

  • Days to Germination: 10 - 15
  • Days to Bloom: 65 - 75

9. Poppies (Papaver sp.)

Opium poppies (Papaver commutatum)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Whether annual or perennial, poppy plants are worth growing just to watch the dropping buds bust open and raise their heads high. Opium poppies (Papaver commutatum) were the first flowers I grew from seed, as a child, shaking the flat-topped seed heads throughout the yard. They grew so readily, they gave me confidence to try many more varieties, like red Shirley poppies (P. Rhoeas) and perennial Papaver orientale.

Annual poppies do not like being transplanted. Direct sowing is optimal. You can sow seed in early spring, even before the ground has thawed. They need some light to germinate, so do not cover with soil. Just press down on the seeds so that they make good contact with the soil. Most varieties will reseed. They take awhile to start growing, but when the weather warms, they will shoot up. Most varieties will self-seed profusely, but if you don't want volunteers, it's easy enough to deadhead and remove the seed pods.

  • Days to Germination: 10 - 14
  • Days to Bloom: 60 - 70

10. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Every gardener should grow sunflowers, at least once. What greater thrill is there than planting a seed and watching it grow 6 or more feet in the air. Some of the tallest only produce one flower, but it's usually a very large flower. If you want more blooms, look for the branching varieties.

Sow seed once the soil has warmed. Young seedlings will need protection from animals and birds. I cover them with an old seedling tray. Once up and growing they won't need much care, other than protecting them from squirrels and birds. The taller varieties can get top heavy and may need staking. Deadheading the branched types will encourage more blooms.

  • Days to Germination: 10 - 14
  • Days to Bloom: 75 - 100

11. Sweet Peas (Lathrus odoratus)

Sweet Peas (Lathrus odoratus)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Sweet peas like cool, but not cold, temperatures. Gardeners in areas where spring goes right into a tropical heat wave will have the toughest time growing sweet peas and you might prefer to start them indoors, a few weeks early. I've had good luck growing them like clematis - with their feet in the shade and their heads in the sun. If frost free areas, grow them during the fall and winter.

Scarify and soak the seed before planting, otherwise be prepared to wait weeks for them to sprout. It's worth looking for the scented varieties. They really are wonderfully perfumed. Keep plants deadheaded. Once they start to go to seed, they will stop flowering all together. They make great cut flowers, so cut away.

  • Days to Germination: 10 - 28
  • Days to Bloom: 50 - 65

12. Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)

Zinnia (Zinnia sp.)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti

Colorful, freely blooming and super drought tolerant, zinnias are one of the fastest growing plants from seed. They are true annuals, not just tender perennials grown for a single season. They seem to know they only have a limited amount of time to flower and seed, so that's exactly what they do.

Direct sow as soon as the soil has had a chance to dry out and warm up. They don't like being transplanted and direct sown seed will catch up and possibly pass by transplanted seedlings. This is another good choice for growing with children.

  • Days to Germination: 4 - 7
  • Days to Bloom: 50 - 55

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