Garden Guide: 5 easy plants to start from seed (and 5 that aren’t worth it)
It's an exciting milestone for gardeners when nurseries start to put seed packets on the shelf in early spring. A few dollars can buy hundreds of seeds, which is a huge money saver compared to buying live plants. Some plants grow stronger and healthier when the seeds are sown directly into the garden. In our climate, spring is too chilly to give some seedlings the boost they need to grow their best. Now that summer is halfway over, here are a few seed-grown plants that are performing well locally, and some plants that are not.
Easy plants to start from seed
Zinnia: Zinnia flowers are really easy to care for in general. Once they start blooming, these plants will not stop until the first freeze. Zinnia seeds require a lot of heat and sunshine to sprout, but once they do, they grow quickly and will start blooming about 2 months later. Unlike many newly sprouted seedings, most animals avoid eating Zinnia. Even deer will usually graze on other plants in the garden instead of these. Each Zinnia bloom lasts for a few weeks, which makes them great for putting in a vase.
Tomatoes: These are possibly one of the most recognizable fruits in the summer garden and are also one of the easiest to grow from seed. Any gardener that has left a few tomato fruits lying on the ground have probably seen new tomato plants sprout in that spot the following spring. They are that easy! Tomatoes grown from seed might be slower than the seedlings purchased at the nursery early in the season, but they catch up by the middle of summer. Learn more about growing tomatoes in the video below:
Nasturtiums: This plant isn't often seen at nurseries because they grow so quickly from seed. These plants don't like being disturbed so it is best to sow the seeds in their permanent spot for the season. The seeds are about the size of a tic-tac which makes it very easy to keep track of them. Some Nasturtium varieties grow as vines while others are a bushy annual.
Vinca: Also known as Madagascar Periwinkle, this annual is easy to start from seed. Vinca plants grow much taller from seed than the seedlings at the nurseries. These need to be started indoors before the last freeze of the season in order for the plant to be old enough to bloom by late spring. Once they start to bloom, Vinca continue to produce flowers for the rest of the season.
Sunflowers: These are perhaps the happiest flower, and most well-known! Besides being tasty, sunflower seeds are incredibly easy to sprout. Unfortunately, these sprouts are also tasty for animals so gardeners should protect young plants until they are old enough to be less appetizing. Sunflower seedlings are not available at local nurseries too often, and usually blooming plants at the nursery are already at their "prime" and won't look as nice after a few weeks. Some sunflowers bloom once, while others produce many buds along the stem and will bloom for several weeks. Planting sunflower seeds every few weeks will keep a sunflower patch colorful and in bloom all summer long!
ANOTHER TIP: Squash plants and other fast vines like watermelon are almost always best to grow from seed. They sprout very quickly and prefer not to have their roots disturbed. Squash plants offered for sale at nurseries are usually only a few weeks old. It is not a big time-saver to buy seedlings, and it is more expensive. Check out more tips on growing watermelons in the video below:
These plants do not perform as well from seed:
Eggplant: These fruits sprout very easily from seed, but they require several months to reach maturity. In hot climates with a long growing season, eggplants are very easy to start from seed. In our climate, cooler spring weather makes these a challenge to get fruit prior to late summer. Eggplant should be started indoors in February.
Peppers: these are not a difficult plant to start from seed, but they have to be started indoors in our climate. Peppers are actually not annuals and can live for several years. These can be brought inside for the winter as houseplants. They won't fruit in the house, but the plants will be much larger and more productive when they go back outside the following year.
Summer garden flowers (Geraniums, Impatients, Begonias, and Petunia): Although we consider many of these plants "annuals" because they only survive during the summertime, the life cycle of these plants is longer than a year. The seedlings sold at nurseries are usually a few months old. They can take a year or more to start flowering from seed! Geraniums and begonias make great houseplants. Learn how to choose the best pots and soil to help your flowering plants grow in the video below:
Fruiting trees: Apples, pears, cherries, and citrus are just a few common grocery store fruits loaded with seeds. As fun as they are to try to grow, these plants will disappoint gardeners that try to grow them from seed. Fruit trees that aren't tropical usually need to have their seeds chilled for a few weeks in the freezer. The technique is called "cold stratification". These trees have a natural defense mechanism that prevents trees from sprouting until after winter passes. Citrus sprout very easily from seed, but the trees take years to start producing. When they eventually do fruit, it probably won't look for taste anything like the parent tree.
Berry shrubs: Just like fruit trees, berries -- like blueberries -- take several years to produce fruit when grown from seed. Although strawberries and blackberries are not "true" berries (berries are defined as fruits with a fleshy pulp that surrounds the seeds), they also take more than a year to start producing fruit from seeds. Learn more about growing berries in the video below: