Starting plants from seed can be a fun activity for all ages, but the seeds should suit the sower. For young children and people with impaired vision or dexterity, tiny seeds can be especially frustrating. Beginner seed starters might be daunted by the seemingly long odds of the impossibly small, too. Happily, several annuals boast relatively big, easy-to-see seeds. These also happen to be widely available and endowed with cheer-inducing flowers to reward their sowers. Here are five options that are easy to sow and generally simple to sprout and grow.
Nasturtiums catch the eye with their large, textural flowers in a range of warm colors, but their big, circular leaves are nearly as enchanting. These plants can be bushy, trailing or climbing. I’ve found that plants from the same seed packet (labeled bush nasturtium) can take on different habits according to their situation. Plants beneath a tuteur climbed it; plants in the ground formed compact mounds; plants in a large pot cascaded over its edge. Nasturtium is a whimsical plant indeed.
Sowing: Each seed is about a quarter-of-an-inch around and reminiscent of a bicycle helmet or the organ it protects. Sow the seeds outside about an inch deep after your last frost date. Warm soil speeds germination. They can be started indoors four weeks earlier, but use biodegradable pots that can be planted into the garden come the time, because nasturtiums can falter with root disturbance.
Growing: Benign neglect suits nasturtiums. They need sun, but can cope with part shade, and some afternoon shade can be beneficial in regions with intense heat. Avoid fertilizing nasturtiums, because feeding them tends to result in more leaves at the expense of flowers. Give them a drink during dry spells and trim off leaves that yellow with age.
2. Sweet pea
A cottage-garden classic, sweet peas provide masses of fragrant, often bicolored blooms in a during the cool days of spring. Some climb, demanding a trellis to which they’ll cling with twining tendrils, while others remain decidedly bushy.
Sowing: Dark brown, round seeds are easy to roll right into planting holes poked about a half-inch deep. Use nail clippers to nick the seed coat first. Similar to nasturtium, sweet peas should be sown in biodegradable pots if they’re started inside. Indoor sowing should occur six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Direct sowing takes place about four weeks before the last frost date in USDA Zone 6 and colder. Fall is the best time in warmer regions.
Growing: Sweet peas need fertile soil, even moisture and full sun. Most thrive in the cooler temperatures of spring, although cultivars have been developed to cope with heat.
Rugged sunflowers are easy to grow. The biggest challenge may be to protect them from animals big and small. Deer like their tender new leaves, while rabbits, chipmunks and their ilk may chomp right through a sunflower seedling’s stem. In country frequented by these creatures, don’t forget to deploy your favored sprays or physical barriers on your sunflower plants.
Sowing: Sink the unmistakable seeds one to two inches deep just after the last frost. It’s that simple with sunflowers.
Growing: Full sun is the main requirement. Sunflowers can withstand dry periods, but will flower best with even, deep watering, especially in the weeks just before and during their bloom. Tie tall types to sturdy stakes, especially where they are subject to winds.
4. Pot marigold
Calendula officinalis cvs.
Pot marigolds are easy to grow, and their tolerance of frost sees them flowering well into fall, with orange and yellow flowers that fit the season. Their edible flowers make a bright garnish. These, like the foliage, possess a spicy flavor.
Sowing: Calendula seeds resemble small, light-colored half-hoop earrings. They’re easy to sprout, with no special treatment needed. Start them indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost or outdoors a couple of weeks before the last frost. A midsummer sowing will result in fresh plants blooming in fall.
Growing: Pot marigolds prefer the cool temperatures of spring and fall. Should the plants deteriorate in the heat of summer, try shearing them back to a few sets of leaves. This should refresh them for autumn bloom. Calendula can be planted in full or part sun.
5. French marigold
Tagetes patula cvs.
Hot-colored flowers and frilly foliage are the familiar hallmarks of this garden classic. Growing them from seed brings options miles away from the dumpy representatives found for sale in six packs. Try mixing orange marigolds with lime-leaved companions, or yellow marigolds with blue-flowered neighbors, and don’t be afraid to plant them closely for a dense display.
Sowing: French marigold seeds are pointed and skinny, but they have a long, light-colored tail that helps in gripping them and seeing them against dark soil. Sow them indoors four to six weeks before the last frost, or outdoors just after the last frost. They sprout quickly in warm soil.
Growing: Full sun is preferred, but this annual can take a couple of hours of shade and still bloom quite well. Deadhead spent flowers and pinch stems back to promote branching for the best shape. Heat and short dry spells do not trouble French marigolds.
Image credit: Amanda Slater / CC BY-SA 2.0