Direct sowing flower seeds is about the easiest and most budget friendly way to get a mass of flowers all season long with very little effort. It’s incredible just how much you get from a tiny $3 pouch of seeds. And I think it’s a great way for a new gardener to get their feet wet or the experienced one who’s looking to fill an empty spot. Direct sowing simply means that, instead of starting seeds indoors weeks in advance of putting them out in the garden, you spread the seed in the garden according to the package instructions, usually after all chance of frost is gone. Aside from deciding where to plant them and keeping them watered as they germinate, direct sowing is about as easy as gardening gets.
My problem right now (is it really a problem, though?) is that just when I think I’m finished with seed orders, I see someone’s blog or a photo on Instagram and I’m right back at it. But seriously, I think I’m finally finished and was thinking about the seeds I direct sow and how grateful I am for the little workhorses that they are. My experience with all of these plants is that they bloom their heads off until the last frost, providing continuous color all season long and many are beloved by pollinators of all kinds.
So I thought I’d share my favorites with you. They’re all sun loving flower factories, and with the exception of a few, when they’re gone they’re gone. The first frost is usually the death blow. It’s in no way a comprehensive list of all the seeds you can direct sow, just the seeds I’ve grown in my garden and love.
With so many options to choose from, there’s a sunflower for every situation. Some are garden behemoths perfect for the back of the border while others are small enough for containers. I plant a different variety every year through the center of my vegetable garden and always find plenty of bees, especially bumbles, scrambling through the centers of the flowers. As summer comes to an end and the flowers are past their prime, I like to cut them off the stalks and wedge them between the tops of the fence pickets where the finches go bananas feasting on the seed.
(See photo at top of post) It really does sound like a disease, doesn’t it? My University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener instructor gave me a handful of these seeds many years ago and I’ve never had to sow them again. Once you got ’em, you got ’em. But in a totally good way. It’s not like creeping jenny. Seedlings are easy to remove if you don’t like where the wind has blown them. I tend to let them be and am always pleased at the lovely way they mingle with their mates. As a see-through plant, tiny purple flower clusters float above the rest of the garden atop thin but surprisingly sturdy stems that sway in the breeze. They’re more of an accent in my hot, full sun garden and the pollinators never seem to get enough of them.
Also called flowering tobacco, you’ll want to plant this gorgeous flower near a patio or windows where it can truly be appreciated. The sweet smell is intoxicating and becomes stronger as the sun goes down. This is another I haven’t had to sow since planting it several years ago. I collected seed from the flowers the first year it was in my garden, but discovered it self-sowed quite deliberately and was easy to pull from places I didn’t want it.
This one from Renee’s Garden gets about three feet tall and can get a bit unruly, but I like that attribute and find it adds a wild touch to my garden that I really enjoy.
Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)
This is by no means the prettiest plant, it’s actually quite ugly and sprawling. I forgave these shortcomings rather quickly when I realized just how nuts the monarch butterflies were for it. The flower seeds shot up fast and quickly overcame the center of the vegetable garden. It seemed like a good idea at the time but live and learn. At least the butterflies appreciated it. I’ll grow this again in another part of the garden where it can do as it pleases but I can still enjoy all the pollinator activity from the window or the patio.
Hyacinth Bean Vine (Lablab purpureus)
I’ve grown this fast growing vine in containers where the seed germinates faster than you can blink. It was great for sprawling up the pergola posts, but now that the wisteria is taking over, I haven’t needed it on the patio. It’s huge and can reach 20′ high! I saved seeds from the original vines however, and they’ve done great work at camouflaging ugly areas of my garden. Last summer was the first time I planted them in the ground and they did even better, quickly sprawling across trellises forming an impenetrable wall of gorgeousness.
Heart-shaped burgundy leaves full of purple veining and sweet-pea like flowers on almost-black stems are eye-catching. Purple pods develop toward the end of the season that are striking in floral arrangements.
Rudbeckia ‘Prairie Sun’
How can you look at this happy yellow flower and not smile? It’s my favorite black-eyed Susan. I used to buy the plants from the garden center every year and was disappointed that they hardly ever reseeded. They’re biennial here and so the most cost effective thing I can do is direct sow them every year if I want them in the garden. And I definitely do! They get about 2.5′ tall. The dark side of these bright lovelies is that I rarely see pollinators on them.
My garden wouldn’t be my garden without a zinnia, or two, or three. Who am I kidding? I LOVE ZINNIAS! The fact that they come in all types of colors, flowers shapes and heights is even more of a reason to toss a few into the garden mix. They never disappoint and flower non-stop all summer long. I love picking bouquets of them for the kitchen table. And the picking encourages more flowering so it’s a win-win.
I’m really excited about the Magellan series I discovered while touring Ball Seed Company’s trial garden in West Chicago last summer. At just 12″ tall and sporting 4″ to 5″ color-saturated flowers, Magellans are perfect for edging pathways or adding an upright pop of color to container gardens. I bought a few packets from Park Seed and, at the moment, can’t remember which varieties. It’s late.
As the name implies, the flowers of this heirloom vine unfurl from cone-shaped buds in the evening to release their sweet fragrance. The flowers on my plants last summer had 5″-6″ diameters and absolutely glowed in their container on the patio where a trellis allowed them to scramble up the wall and onto the pergola.
I think the addition of this and the flowering tobacco, both evening bloomers, account for the uptick in nighttime pollinators in my garden. A Polyphemus moth the size of a large man’s hand surprised me in the compost bin last summer.
I used to hate them, until Big Duck walked into my life and made me reconsidered their merits. Not the prettiest smelling flower, I found the colors of the marigolds of my childhood downright ugly. My grandmother had them in her garden and about the only thing I liked about them then was how their “heads” popped off so easily.
All-America Selections sent me one to trial, Big Duck Gold, last summer and you can read about it here. This guy developed huge pompom flowers above lush blue-green foliage. I’m not fond of all marigolds, but there are a few that are worth planting along the edge of a vegetable garden which is where I plant mine. Whether they are a deterrent, as some say, for rabbits, I couldn’t tell you but I didn’t experience many rabbit issues last year. Perhaps this is why.
Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor)
Once these flower seeds get going, watch out! Morning Glory is magical and tenacious. It does exactly what it’s name implies, opening in the morning then closing as the sun sets. I have these planted along my fence and they cover it willingly with heart-shaped leaves and plenty of trumpet-shaped flowers that keep the butterflies and hummingbirds happy. Some gardeners have expressed problems with it self sowing in the garden. That hasn’t been an issue for me, but every garden is different so proceed with caution.
There are many from which to choose but I love the trailing habit of this amaranth where the flowers look like strands of tiny rubies. This was a new-comer to my garden last year and it’ll definitely be back for a second go. At about three feet tall, it made a good middle-of-the-border flower. I’m looking forward to adding it to table-top flower arrangements.
I’ve added a few more newcomers to my list of flower seeds to be direct sowed this year and will likely document their progress. It’s exciting to think of the possibilities, and slightly overwhelming when you’re trying to be reasonable about just how much room and time you have to grow stuff. But direct sowing, whether in the ground or a container, is about as budget friendly as gardening gets. And an endless supply of flowers is the icing on the cake!