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Knowing the Degree of Difficulty When Starting Flowering Plants from Seed: A Beginner's Reference

By Larry Rettig (LarryRJanuary 30, 2013
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So you've decided to take the plunge and try growing some of your bedding plants on your own from seed. Or perhaps you're already among the initiated, but have had some disappointing failures. I've found that instructions from seed sellers can vary considerably regarding the appropriate germination and growing conditions of a particular plant.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 20, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

The image on the right is of Meconopsis betonicifolia, considered the Holy Grail of Poppydom.  Who could resist its fabulous blue color?  Certainly not I.
Finding no source for live plants, I was determined to grow it from seed.  Neophyte that I was at that time, I ordered a packet of seeds from the first vendor I came across on the Internet.  There were no instructions as to how to germinate and grow this plant.  No matter.  I was hooked.
When the seeds arrived, my heart sank as I read the instructions on the packet.  Not only was this one of the most difficult plants to propagate from seed, the only climate it could thrive in was the Pacific Northwest.  I live in Iowa.

                The famous Himalayan Blue Poppy

If you've been purchasing your spring bedding plants and hardy perennials at garden centers or via mail order in the past, why not try your hand at starting a few varieties from seed indoors this year?  It's fun to get a head start on the upcoming garden season and will lift your spirits when you see those seedlings you've been nurturing poke their little green heads up through the soil.  In these times of difficult economic circumstances, the fact that plants grown from seed can be much less expensive than those in bought in stores might be another  motivator to try growing plants from seed.  However, as my experience above illustrates, there are pitfalls that can trip you up.  Growing seedlings indoors requires high quality seeds, a well-drained, disease-free growing medium, containers, proper temperature and moisture conditions, and adequate light.

The aim of this article is to arm you with knowledge about the ease of growing various varieties and to provide links (located at the end of this article) to helpful seed-starting resources.

In Table 1 below, I've listed flowering plants alphabetically and categorized them as (1) easy-to-grow, (2) some experience necessary, and (3) not worth the bother.  With the category (1) plants, you simply sow the seed at room temperature, provide appropriate light, and don't let the seeding medium dry out.  Category (2) plants bear seed that may be very tiny, difficult to handle, and often require cold treatment in order to germinate.  The third category lists seeds that may not come true to the mother plant, may require a complicated temperature treatment (perhaps multiple shifts from cold to warm temperatures), may require skilled light treatment, may take an unusually long time to germinate (up to a year or more), or may not reach flowering size for many years (peony seed, for example, takes about five years).

                                                                                   TABLE 1

Degree of Difficulty

Botanical Name

Common Name

                        EASY

 

Achillea

Yarrow

 

Alcea

Hollyhock

 

Alyssum

Perennial Alyssum

 

Anthemis

Perennial Marguerite

 

Aquilegia

Columbine

 

Arabis

Wall Cress

 

Armeria

Thrift

 

Aster

Aster

 

Aubrieta

Rock Cress

 

Aurinia

Basket-of-Gold

 

Bellis

English Daisy

 

Campanula carpatica

Carpathian Bellflower

 

Campanula persicifolia

Bellflower

 

Catananche

Cupid's Dart

 

Centaurea

Cornflower

 

Centranthus

Red Valerian

 

Cerastium

Snow-in-Summer

 

Coreopsis

Tickseed

 

Cynara

Cardoon/ Globe Artichoke

 

Dianthus

Pinks/ Carnations/Sweet William

 

Digitalis

Foxglove

 

Doronicum

Leopard's Bane

 

Echinacea purpurea

Purple Coneflower

 

Echinops

Globe Thistle

 

Erigeron

Fleabane Daisy

 

Erysimum allionii

Siberian Wallflower

 

Gaillardia

Blanket Flower

 

Geum

Geum

 

Gypsophila

Baby's-Breath

 

Helenium

Helen's Flower

 

Hesperis

Dame's Rocket

 

Heuchera

Old-fashioned Coral Bells

 

Kniphofia

Torchlily

 

Leucanthemum

Shasta Daisy

 

Liatris

Blazingstar

 

Limonium

Sea Lavender

 

Linum perenne

Blue Flax

 

Lunaria

Money Plant

 

Lupinus

Lupine

 

Lychnis

Campion

 

Malva

Mallow

 

Monarda

Beebalm

 

Myosotis sylvatica

Forget-me-not

 

Origanum

Oregano

 

Papaver

Poppy

 

Physostegia

Obedient Plant

 

Polemonium

Jacob's Ladder

 

Potentilla

Cinquefoil

 

Rudbeckia hirta

Gloriosa Daisy

 

Salvia (Perennial)

Sage

 

Stachys

Lamb's Ears

 

Tanacetum

Painted Daisy, Feverfew

 

Thymus serpyllum

Mother-of-Thyme

 

Verbascum

Mullein

 

Verbena

Verbena

 

Veronica

Veronica, Speedwell

 

Viola

Winter Pansy

           MORE DIFFICULT

 

Acanthus

Bear's-Breeches

 

Aconitum

Monkshood

 

Alchemilla

Lady's Mantle

 

Alstroemeria

Peruvian Lily

 

Anemone

Windflower

 

Angelica

Angelica

 

Arum

Arum

 

Aruncus

Goat's Beard

 

Asarum

Wild Ginger

 

Asclepias

Milkweed

 

Astrantia

Masterwort

 

Baptisia

False Indigo

 

Bergenia

Bergenia

 

Buddleia

Butterfly Bush

 

Caltha

Marsh Marigold

 

Caryopteris

Bluebeard

 

Chelone

Turtlehead

 

Chrysogonum

Golden Star

 

Cimicifuga

Bugbane

 

Clematis

Clematis

 

Corydalis

Fumitory

 

Crambe

Sea Kale

 

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

 

Delphinium

Delphinium

 

Dicentra

Bleeding Heart

 

Dictamnus

Gas Plant

 

Dodecatheon

Shooting Star

 

Eremurus

Foxtail Lily

 

Eryngium

Sea Holly

 

Eupatorium

Boneset/Joe Pye Weed

 

Euphorbia

Spurge

 

Filipendula

Meadowsweet

 

Fuchsia

Fuchsia

 

Gaura

Butterfly Gaura

 

Gentiana

Gentian

 

Geranium species

Cranesbill

 

Goniolimon

German Statice

 

Gunnera

Gunnera

 

Helianthemum

Rock Rose

 

Helianthus

Perennial Sunflower

 

Heliopsis

False Sunflower

 

Helleborus

Christmas- & Lenten Rose

 

Heuchera hybrids

Fancy-leaf Coral Bells

 

Hibiscus

Hardy Hibiscus

 

Hypericum

St. John's-Wort

 

Iberis

Perennial Candytuft

 

Incarvillea

Hardy Gloxinia

 

Iris species

Iris species

 

Jasione

Shepherd's Bit

 

Kirengeshoma

Waxbells

 

Knautia

Crimson Scabious

 

Lathyrus

Perennial Sweet Pea

 

Lavandula

Lavender

 

Lavatera

Tree Mallow

 

Leontopodium

Edelweiss

 

Lewisia

Lewisia

 

Ligularia

Ligularia

 

Lobelia

Lobelia

 

Lysimachia

Loosestrife

 

Macleaya

Plume Poppy

 

Mazus

Creeping Mazus

 

Mertensia

Virginia Bluebells

 

Myrrhis odorata

Sweet Cicely

 

Nepeta

Catmint

 

Oenothera

Evening Primrose

 

Omphalodes

Naval-Seed

 

Penstemon

Beard-tongue

 

Perovskia

Russian Sage

 

Persicaria

Fleeceflower

 

Phlomis

Jerusalem Sage

 

Phlox (all types)

Phlox

 

Physalis

Chinese Lantern

 

Platycodon

Balloon Flower

 

Podophyllum

May Apple

 

Primula

Primrose

 

Pulsatilla

Pasque-flower

 

Ranunculus

Buttercup

 

Ratibida

Prairie Coneflower

 

Rheum

Rhubarb

 

Rodgersia

Rodgers Flower

 

Rosmarinus

Rosemary

 

Rudbeckia

Black-eyed Susan

 

Rumex sanguineus

Bloody Dock

 

Sanguinaria

Bloodroot

 

Sanguisorba

Burnet

 

Saponaria

Soapwort

 

Saxifraga

Saxifrage

 

Scabiosa

Pincushion Flower

 

Sedum

Stonecrop

 

Sempervivum

Hen-and-Chicks

 

Sidalcea

Prairie Mallow

 

Silene

Campion

 

Sisyrinchium

Blue-eyed Grass

 

Stokesia

Stokes' Aster

 

Teucrium

Germander

 

Thalictrum

Meadow-rue

 

Tiarella

Foamflower

 

Tradescantia

Spiderwort

 

Tricyrtis

Toad-lily

 

Trollius

Globeflower

 

Vernonia

Ironweed

 

Veronica

Speedwell

 

Veronicastrum

Culver's Root

 

Viola species types

Violets

 

Waldsteinia

Barren Strawberry

 

Zantedeschia

Calla Lily

    NOT WORTH THE EFFORT

 

Artemisia

Artemisia

 

Astilbe

Astilbe

 

Brunnera

Siberian Bugloss

 

Convallaria

Lily-of-the-Valley

 

Crocosmia

Montbretia

 

Darmera

Umbrella Plant

 

Epimedium

Barrenwort

 

Galium

Sweet Woodruff

 

Geranium (named selections)

Cranesbill

 

Hemerocallis (named selections)

Daylily

 

Hosta (named selections)

Plantain Lily

 

Houttuynia cordata

Chameleon Plant

 

Humulus lupulus 'Aureus'

Golden Hops

 

Iris (named hybrids of

Iris

 

Bearded

 

 

Siberian

 

 

Japanese Iris)

 

 

Kalimeris

Japanese Aster

 

Lamiastrum

False Lamium

 

Lamium maculatum

Creeping Lamium

 

Lilium (species and hybrids)

Lily

 

Liriope

Lily-turf

 

Lithodora

Lithospermum

 

Meconopsis

Himalayan Blue Poppy

 

Ophiopogon

Mondo Grass

 

Pachysandra

Japanese Spurge

 

Paeonia (all kinds)

Peony

 

Polygonatum

Solomon's Seal

 

Pulmonaria

Lungwort

 

Sagina

Irish and Scotch Moss

 

Solidago (named selections)

Goldenrod

 

Symphytum

Comfrey

 

Thymus (named selections)

Thyme

 

Vinca minor

Periwinkle

 Thanks to Heritage Perennials for supplying the plant names in this table

Table 2 below, which lists requirements and other pertinent data related to germinating the seed of common annuals, gives you an idea of the kind of information needed to grow plants from seed.

                                                                    TABLE 2

 L = Light required, don't cover seeds with soil; D = Darkness required, cover seeds well with soil; L-D = Cover with soil, but just barely

Annual

Germination
Temperature
(Fahrenheit)

Lighting

Days to
Germination

Weeks Sowing
to Planting

Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum) 70-75L7-108
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) 70L7-148-10
Wax Begonia (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum)70-75L1410-12
Annual Aster (Callistephus chinensis)70L-D7-106-8
Vinca (Cathranthus roseus)70-75L-D 1410
Cockscomb (Cleosia spp.)70-75D 7-106-7
Bachelor's Button (Centaurea cyanus)65-70L-D 7-148
Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)70D5-74-6
Lisianthus (Eustoma grandiflorum)75L10-1414
Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa)70L-D147-8
Sunflower* (Helianthus annuus)70D5-73-4
Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum)70-75L-D7-106-8
Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)70-75L10-148-10
Annual Statice (Limonium sinuatum)70L-D7-108-10
Melampodium (Melampodium paludosum) 65-70L-D7-107
Four-O'Clock (Mirabilis jalapa)70D5-76-8
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)70-75L10-148
Geranium (Pelargonium x hortorum)70-75D7-2112
Petunia (Petunia x hybrida)75L7-108-10
Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora)75L7-1010
Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)70L-D7-1410
Red Salvia (Salvia splendens)70-75L10-148
Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea)70-75L10-148-9
Creeping Zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens)70D7-106-7
Coleus (Solenostemon spp.)70-75L10-148-10
Dahlberg Daisy (Thymophylla tenuiloba)65-70L148
Nasturtium* (Tropaeolum majus)65-70D10-145-6
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)70D5-75

 

                                            RESOURCES AND CREDITS

 

Additional Resources for
Growing Plants from Seed
(Click on resource name)

 Credits

Thompson & Morgan Seed Germination Database

The Himalayan Blue Poppy photo was taken by DG member ulfhocke.
Dave's Garden Plant FilesThe table of annuals immediately above appears in the Iowa State University's horticulture bulletin, "Horticulture and Home Pest News," February 25, 2000.
Seed Germination Equipment
Johnny's Selected Seeds (mail order Web site)

 

Image  The Watchdog at Dave's Garden

If you plan to order seeds for your germination project, the Watchdog is a great way to check out any mail order company.  Just click on the watchdog at the left.


Other Recent DG Articles that may be of Interest
(Click on title)

The Thrifty Gardener: Cheap tricks for seed starting

Botany for Gardeners - The Basics of Seeds

Banking on Diversity:  Have you saved a seed lately?

Storing Saved Seed

Seed Packets, What does it all mean?

Why did These Seeds Bloom Wrong?

Shake down your plants for free seed: an introduction to collecting seeds

Seed Starting 101: Seedling Heat Mats and Inexpensive Alternatives

Seed Starting 101: Setting up Light Shelves for Starting Plants from Seed Indoors, Without a Greenhouse

Seed Starting 101: Sowing Seeds and Clump Transplanting for Sturdy Seedlings

Seed Starting 101: Hardening off Seedlings Before Planting Out in Your Garden

 Questions? Comments?  Please scroll down to the form below.  I enjoy hearing from readers!

© Larry Rettig 2009

 


  About Larry Rettig  
Larry RettigAn enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and itís still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Although our garden is private, it's listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s. For more info: http://davesgarden.com/community/blogs/m/LarryR/. Photos that appear in my articles without credit are my own.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Thyme? ratlover1 0 0 May 2, 2013 9:55 AM
Blue Poppies are easy to grow from seed: Leehallfae 11 88 Sep 5, 2010 10:19 PM
Thank you! Plantedz 3 10 Mar 1, 2009 6:50 PM
blue poppy spiersy 1 18 Feb 26, 2009 1:51 AM
Not Worth the Effort? Cranesbill? Leehallfae 1 32 Feb 26, 2009 1:47 AM
Blue Poppy Debsroots 8 93 Feb 26, 2009 1:33 AM
nice article! onewish1 2 33 Feb 22, 2009 10:44 PM
Thanks... Sundownr 2 25 Feb 22, 2009 10:42 PM
Your article. leeflea51 1 24 Feb 22, 2009 10:39 PM
geraniums mothermole 1 30 Feb 22, 2009 10:34 PM
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