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7 Plants I Always Start From Seed

By: Jennifer HowellJennifer Howell
Learn about the plants I love growing from seed each year! Whether it's trying something unique, growing heirlooms, or saving money, I'll share how & why here.

My favorite plants to start from seed every year & why!

Seeds can be started many ways: outdoors directly in the ground, indoors under lights or in a greenhouse, and even in the refrigerator in a paper towel. I use all of these methods. The needs of the plant and how it germinates best determine the way I do it. But the reasons I grow specific plants from seed vary. For example, sometimes it’s because that’s the only way I can find a particular variety. Let me walk you through seven plants that I always start from seed and highlight the whys and hows.

If you want to grow a lot of the same plant

petunias: Plants like petunias are great to start from seed when you want to install a mass planting like this group of Shock Wave® petunias.

Petunia (Petunia spp. and hybrids)

Why grow petunias from seed?

I use petunias in mass plantings, and it can be expensive to fill in large beds with flats of plants from the garden center. I may not be able to find some of the fancy colors or double cultivars, but the seeds of many great landscaping petunias, such as the Shock Wave® series above, are available.

Tips for starting petunias from seed

Start petunias indoors about 10 weeks before the last expected frost in your zone so they are blooming and ready to go in the garden as soon as the weather is consistently above 60 degrees F. Petunias’ tiny little seeds are often pelleted (coated in a clay material that dissolves when it’s wet), which makes them easier to handle.

I plant petunias in a seed-starting row flat in moistened potting mix. They need light to germinate, so just lightly pat them onto the surface. Set the flat on a germination mat until they sprout. When seedlings have two sets of true leaves, transplant them into a peat pot or multi-pack. If they start to get tall and leggy, pinch back a half inch to encourage branching and fuller plants.

More plants to start from seed

  • Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)
  • Wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens)
  • Zinnia (Zinnia spp. and hybrids)

If you want to save money

Gloriosa daisy: ‘Cherry Brandy’ gloriosa daisy is more affordable to start from seed than buying large plants at the garden center.

Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta)

Why grow gloriosa daisy from seed?

I love gloriosa daisy, but usually I find it in a premium 1-gallon pot with a premium price at the garden center. Since it isn’t always winter hardy in my zone 5 garden, I hate spending a lot of money on a single plant, so I grow seeds, which are less expensive than plants. Plus, if I want to use it in a container on the patio, it’s nice to grow it in a smaller pot that is easier to handle. That’s why I like to start ‘Cherry Brandy’ (above) and other gloriosa daisy cultivars from seed.

Tips for starting gloriosa daisy from seed

Start gloriosa daisy seeds indoors about two months before your expected last frost date if you grow it as an annual. Since gloriosa daisy needs light to germinate, I sow the seed on top of the potting mix and pat it down, then cover it with plastic wrap or a humidity dome. Once the seedlings have their first set of leaves, remove the humidity dome because the slightly hairy foliage can damp off or mold easily. Keep the potting mix moist and transplant seedlings outside after danger of frost is past.

More plants to start from seed

  • Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
  • Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia)
  • Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)

Related Articles:
Starting Seeds with Soil Blocking
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If you want to try an unusual plant

Annual phlox: Less common cultivars of annual phlox, like this Popstars Purple with Eye, are hard to find as plants in garden centers, but available as seed.

Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii)

Why grow annual phlox from seed?

I love to find unusual plants in catalogs and grow them from seed, since they may be hard to find in the garden center. One of my favorite plants to grow in containers is annual phlox, like the Popstars™ series, above, with its unique star-shaped flowers and light fragrance.

Tips for starting annual phlox from seed

Though annual phlox seeds can be planted directly in the soil, they are also easy to start indoors for earlier flowers. I sow two or three seeds in a small biodegradable peat or newspaper pot that can be transplanted into the garden or a container later without disturbing their delicate roots. Cover the seed with ¼ inch of potting mix and keep it moist until seeds sprout. Thin seedlings to one per pot to promote air movement and prevent powdery mildew from getting a foothold. If plants get a bit leggy before I get them in the ground, I pinch them when they are about 6 inches tall to promote fuller foliage and more blooms.

More plants to start from seed

  • Blue pimpernel (Anagallis monelli)
  • Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
  • Painted tongue (Salpiglossis sinuata)

If you want to get an early start

'Bonarda’ broccoli courtesy of Johnny's Select Seeds: Seed catalogs
have a wider variety of broccoli cultivars, such as purple ‘Bonarda', above, that you may not be able to find in the garden center.

Broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica)

Why grow broccoli from seed?

Cool-season vegetables are some of the first plants to hit the garden center benches in early spring. But seed catalogs carry a plethora of unique varieties, such as purple ‘Bonarda’ broccoli, above. And in fall, when I could get another crop as cooler weather returns, plants are tough to find, so I start seeds in late summer.

Tips for starting broccoli from seed

For a spring crop, start broccoli seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last expected frost and transplant outdoors once temperatures are consistently above 50 degrees F.

To determine when to plant a fall crop, check the seed packet for the number of days to maturity. Then count back that number from the expected first frost date for your region to get your planting date. You can direct sow the seed in your garden at this time, but I like to start them indoors so I can more easily keep the seedlings moist. I plant in multi-packs and grow them under lights until they have several sets of leaves, then move the plants outdoors as summer winds down and it gets cooler.

More plants to start from seed

  • Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata)
  • Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea)
  • Peas (Pisum sativum)

Seed Starting Supplies You Might Like:
Plastic Plant Labels
Grow Light
Watering Can

If you want to skip the indoor seed-starting setup

Cosmos: Sow cosmos seed like 'Xanthos' around established spring-blooming perennials to fill in and provide summer color with airy blooms.

Cosmos (Cosmos spp. and hybrids)

Why grow cosmos from seed?

These no-fail plants have seeds that are large and easy to handle, so they are great to direct-sow in the ground. And cosmos usually has good germination rates, so I can space seeds the recommended planting distance apart and feel confident they will all sprout instead of overseeding and thinning later.

Tips for starting cosmos from seed

Though I sometimes plant cosmos indoors, they will grow just as quickly from seed planted outdoors after all danger of frost is past. In fact, I have found my direct-sown cosmos often fill in just as quickly as those I started indoors and transplanted outside. Bed preparation can be minimal — just rough up the soil where you want to grow these plants, sprinkle the seed around and rake the soil surface to cover them. Or scuff up a small planting hole, drop in a seed or two and cover with soil. Cosmos are so easy to grow from seed that sometimes they do it all by themselves! You can get volunteers in that spot the next year, though they may not look like the parent plant.

More plants to start from seed

If you want to grow an heirloom seed

Breadseed poppy:  Breadseed poppy may be hard to find, but it is easy to save seed after they bloom to plant next year.

Breadseed poppy (Papaver somniferum)

Why grow breadseed poppies from seed?

Hand-me-down plants are a connection to a special person or garden. That’s why I save breadseed poppy seedheads every fall and replant them in early spring. A good friend gave me the original seeds, and I think of her when I see them in bloom.

Tips for starting breadseed poppies from seed

Heirloom plants like breadseed poppy produce seeds in abundance and are often very easy to grow by direct sowing. I collect them in the fall after the pods have dried and the seed rattles inside. As soon as the ground is workable in the spring, I rake an area and scratch up the soil just a bit. Breadseed poppies need light to germinate, so I simply shake the seed out of the pod, scattering it on the soil surface. Since seeds are tiny, mixing them with sand helps you see if you have distributed them evenly. If you live where it snows, you can even sow breadseed poppies right on top of a late winter snow — as it melts it hydrates the seed and settles it into the soil.

More plants to start from seed

  • Four o’ clock (Mirabilis jalapa)
  • Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
  • Spider flower (Cleome hassleriana)

If you want to make it easier to transplant

Common milkweed: Common milkweed's taproot makes it hard to transplant, so it is best to direct-sow seed where you want to grow it.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Why grow common milkweed from seed?

Some plants grow best in the same spot and don’t like to be transplanted. Common milkweed is one of those because it grows a long taproot. It is best to plant the seed direct in the ground where you want them to stay.

Tips for starting common milkweed from seed

To direct sow in fall, simply scatter seed over soil that has been loosened, rake lightly and water in. But if you are like me and forget to plant the seeds you collected, you can also do it in early spring. First, soak milkweed seeds in water overnight, then spread them out on a damp paper towel, roll it up and place in a plastic bag. Set this in the refrigerator for at least 30 days at 33 to 38 degrees F to give the seeds a cold stratification period (which would happen naturally if you planted them outside in the fall). After the stratification time is up, sow the seeds directly in a prepared bed.

More plants to start from seed

  • Bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  • Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

Related Articles:
How to Sow Seeds Outdoors in Winter
How to Harden Off New or Overwintered Plants
7 Easy Plants to Start from Seed

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