Planting flowers from purchased seeds is like experiencing the joy that comes from watching new life unfold. What better time to do that than in spring, when the New England landscape experiences a rebirth? In our ever faster and more challenging lives, something special happens when we cut open a flower seed packet and dream of introducing flowers to our gardens as lovely as the image on the packet cover. It does take more time and more effort than buying a plant at the nearest nursery, but immeasurable satisfaction comes of watching sunflowers stretch their necks high to the sun or waking to morning glories wrapping themselves around a trellis because you personally poked your finger in some soil and tucked a tiny seed into that personal indentation.
Since most of Connecticut falls into USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6, with some of the southern coast now even warmer and falling into Zone 7, timing of the seed planting becomes key. Estimate when you want the flower to bloom in your garden. For example, a beautiful carpet of forget-me-not seeds started in early spring just might give you flowers by fall. However, if you sow the seeds in the fall, then the plants will bloom the next spring. Sunflower seeds do best when planted directly into the garden after the threat of frost is definitely gone and the soil temperature averages around 60 degrees.
For smaller flowers, give yourself at least one to two months to start seedlings indoors. Depending on how big you want these seedlings to be before transplanting them, you can start as early as February and March and have pretty large plants for transplanting or start some as late as May to still get them ready for the late summer garden. The best part of starting flowers from seeds is that you do it inside your home, where the temperature is at least 65 to 70 degrees. The chill of March or April can still bite a bit, but your little seeds will germinate in a comfy cozy tray or flat of good potting soil, moistened with a regular sprinkling of water. Put them in a sunny spot and they will soon peek through with their little green stems.
If you stagger the planting so that the first batch of seedlings is ready to go out in mid-May and the next group late in May or even in June, you will have a continual burst of flowers in your garden instead of having them all bloom at the same time. Be sure to follow the directions on the seed packet. Since each variety of flower has its own needs, you will want to follow directions closely. If you don’t follow instructions, don’t be surprised if your seedlings turn out weak or leggy. If you allow the soil to dry up, your seedlings will die. A good gardener is a good plant caregiver.
Once you have your seeds planted indoors, watch for the first three or four leaves. The first two leaves are not enough. You want to wait until there are at least three or four before you can start putting them into little pots.
When the danger of frost is completely gone and the average temperature is at least 65 degrees, you can start the hardening-off process. You can’t just take these seedlings and stick them outside. Take the plants outside during the day when it’s nice and warm. Then bring them in at night. The hardening-off process takes about a week. As long as the temperature is around 60 to 65 degrees, it’s fine to leave them out overnight by the end of the week. You will want to transplant them at least one inch from each other. You don’t want to cram them too close to each other. Let them have space to grow.
One piece of advice that will serve you well is to remember to transplant seedlings by holding them by their leaves. You don’t want to snap their stems. If a leaf breaks off, it’s no big thing. Other leaves will grow. If you snap the stem, the plant is dead.
Some seeds have very hard shells. Directions for these types of seeds usually say to soak them for at least 24 to 48 hours before putting them into soil. This is the case for morning glory and moonflower seeds. Moonflower seeds can be started indoors up to two months before the ground temperature has risen outside. A good rule of thumb is to plant moonflowers outdoors when the temperature is consistently 60 degrees or more. In Connecticut, these exotic flowers that have a wonderful perfume can be grown only as annuals. In warm climates, they are perennials. Like morning glories, they like to climb.
Growing flowers from seeds is such a rewarding experience that teachers and parents like to do this with young children. There is such a huge variety of seeds that the choices are nearly endless. Seeds are also a lot less expensive than garden nursery plants. Whether it’s a packet of zinnias or daisies, or sunflowers or morning glories, starting flowers from seeds is like watching life begin.