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Starting from Seed

Students plant seeds in rows at the UF Community Garden.
Photo by Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS.

At the beginning of each growing season gardeners are faced with an important choice: sow seeds or use transplants? Many crops, like corn, carrots, and radishes are traditionally sown directly into the soil. Some, like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumber, transplant easily. Others, like Irish and sweet potatoes, are started from plant parts, not seeds. Below is a table listing the transplant ability of a number of common vegetable crops.

One advantage to starting from seed is the wide selection of varieties available through seed catalogs. Another good reason to sow is that it is almost always the more economical option; seeds are cheaper to buy than transplants. Direct sowing does come with a certain amount of uncertainty, though. Over-seed and you’ll be thinning for a long time. Or, if the seeds struggle, you may end up with fewer plants than you hoped.

Transplant Ability of Common Vegetable Crops*

Easily Survives Transplanting¹ Sow or Transplant with Care² Sow seeds or transplants with strong root systems³
Arugula Chinese cabbage Lettuce Carrots Beans Peas
Beets Collard Peppers Celery Cantaloupes Pumpkin
Broccoli Eggplant Sweet potatoes Mustard Corn Radish
Brussels sprouts Endive/escarole Strawberries Potatoes (Irish) Cucumbers Squashes
Cabbage Kale Swiss chard Spinach Okra Turnips
Cauliflower Kohlrabi Tomatoes Onions Watermelon

*Transplant ability is the ability of a seedling to be successfully transplanted. 1: easily survives transplanting; 2: survives transplanting with care; 3: only plant seeds or containerized transplants with developed root systems. (Credit: Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, Table 1)

Below are dos, don’ts, and troubleshooting steps for direct sowing in your garden.

DO start with good seed from trusted sources

Success or failure often comes down to the quality of the seed. When possible, buy from a reliable dealer. If the quality of the seed is in doubt, you can check the germination rates by sowing some in a wet paper towel a few weeks before you would sow outdoors.

Seed packets from a local library seed-exchange program. UF/IFAS photo.

Seed exchanges allow gardeners to swap seed locally, for free. Many Florida libraries have “seed libraries” on site, stocked with heirloom varieties that do well locally. While the quality of exchanged seeds is a wild card, these seed banks do offer an economical way for gardeners to branch out.

Sometimes you can save seed from your own garden, but proper seed storage makes all the difference. Learn more about seed saving to increase your likelihood of success. Remember, seeds saved from hybrid crops will not be “true” next season.

DON’T guess on timing, variety, depth, or spacing

The Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide can take the guesswork out of many of your seed-sowing questions. At the bottom of the document you’ll find a table giving the planting dates, spacing, depth, ease of transplant, and more for each of the most common vegetable crops.

One of the most important choices you’ll make as a vegetable gardener is your choice of varieties. Vegetable varieties that perform well elsewhere in the U.S. don’t always have the same success in the Sunshine State. Table 2 of the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide lists suggested varieties for Florida. The varieties listed in these tables are more resistant to Florida pests and tolerant of adverse conditions than others of the same crop.

Florida is a long state, spanning USDA Hardiness Zones 8a-11a. There is a lot of variation among the 67 counties: temperature, weather, and even soil. If you’ve consulted the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide and you still have questions, contact your county Extension office. The extension agents and Master Gardener Volunteers there are experts in the local climate and crops.

Sowing the Seed

Planting date, depth, and spacing aside, some guidelines are the same for all seed:

Furrows can help you sow seeds in a straight line and at a uniform depth. UF/IFAS photo.

  • Sow your seeds in straight rows. This will make it easier to weed and cultivate. Mark off your rows using a string or cord stretched between two stakes. Make furrows (shallow ditches to plant seeds in) along the string.
  • Follow the instructions for planting depth and spacing. Seeds planted too deeply may not be able to reach the surface. Seeds planted too shallowly may be washed away by the rain. If your seed packet does not specify depth and spacing, consult the Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.
  • Smaller seeds — Make a furrow as deep as the recommended planting depth. Use a finger or the handle of hoe or rake. You can also broadcast (scatter) the seeds over the soil surface and sprinkle soil on top to cover them.
  • Larger seeds — Space larger seeds out evenly and drop them into the furrow by hand. A hoe can help you make a deeper furrow.
  • After the seed is dropped or placed in the furrow, use your hoe, rake, or hands to fill the furrow and cover the seed with soil. Leave the ground level or slightly mounded above the seed.
  • When in doubt, sow more seed, not less. You can thin plants to the correct spacing after they sprout.

What went wrong?

Here are some of the most common reasons seeds don’t sprout:

    Some seeds are low quality and weak. For better germination (the ability to sprout) and vigor (the ability to grwo stronger), choose tested varieties from reliable sources.

For some crops it is simpler to begin with transplanted seedlings than to sow seed directly into the garden. UF/IFAS photo.

For more answers to your vegetable gardening questions, contact your county Extension office.

How To Plant Wildflowers In The Fall Or Winter

1. Identify The Correct Planting Time For Your Area
In cool climates, plant just after hard frosts. In warm climates, plant just before the rainy season.

2. Prepare Your Site For Seeding
Choose a site with a minimum of 6 hours of sun. Prepare your soil by removing all existing growth. Better soil preparation = more flowers!

3. Sow Your Wildflower Seeds
Mix seeds with sand for even distribution. Be sure to follow the correct coverage rate, as wildflowers do not like crowded conditions.

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil
Walk directly on top of the planting area, or use a seed roller. They need sun – do not bury or cover wildflower seeds with soil.

5. Wait For Growth & Blooms
Unlike planting in spring, fall planting does not require intensive watering. Depending on your climate, blooms will appear in spring or early summer.

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It’s As Simple As Plan, Plant, Grow!

Watch: How to Plant Wildflower Seeds in Fall

In this two-part video, our resident wildflower expert, Mike “The Seed Man” Lizotte, shows how to plant a wildflower meadow. Watch for tips preparing your land, sowing the seeds, and taking care of your planting as it grows and matures.

1. Identify The Correct Planting Time For Your Area

Fall is a perfect time to sow wildflower seeds. This timing follows the same approach as Mother Nature: wildflowers naturally drop their seeds in fall to take advantage of the freezing, thawing, and/or extra moisture that winter delivers. This weather helps to crack open their hard, outer seed cases.

Fall Planting Wildflower Seed in Colder Climates

  • Fall seeding is a good choice if you live in an area that experiences cold or freezing winters, and the ground freezes for more than 60 days. Though you have a shorter growing season, you’ll get a jump start on spring growth, and should see color 2-4 weeks earlier than with spring planting.
  • The best strategy is to plant after at least one or two killing frosts. See our Frost Date Chartfor frost dates in your area. You want to make sure that seeds lay dormant over the winter, and that there is no chance for germination. Yes, that’s right…You definitely don’t want the seed to begin to sprout! Otherwise, those tiny wildflower shoots will simply die off as soon freezing temperatures arrive.
  • In cool climates, average ground temperatures for fall planting wildflower seeds need to be below 45 degrees. The biggest mistake people make with fall planting in cooler climates is sowing seed too soon. It takes time for soil temperatures to drop, even after air temperatures cool – especially if you’ve had a warm summer. Soil cools down and warms up gradually, like a large body of water does.
  • See A Soil Temperature Map Here.

Fall Planting Wildflower Seed In Warmer Climates

  • In warmer climates, sowing wildflowers in fall allows you to take advantage of your rainy season and the natural precipitation that winter often brings to the warmest zones. Your seeds will also germinate in optimal temperatures for growth. Young plants that avoid early stress will develop into strong adult plants that are more resilient to stressful weather events in the future. (Spring plantings can be challenging in warm climates, where spring and summer heat requires lots of watering and can cause stress to young seedlings.)
  • If you live in a warm winter climate, you may choose to winter sow your wildflowers. Even though the ground doesn’t freeze and harden, you can still take advantage of the dormant season by sowing seeds in January or February. You can expect your seed to germinate 2-4 weeks after planting. This is a great way to take advantage of the natural precipitation that winter often brings to the warmest zones.
  • If you live in a warm climate that experiences frosts, you can plant perennial wildflowers about 60-90 days before the first frost arrives.This will give perennials an opportunity to establish root systems that will endure over winter. Consult our Frost Date Chartfor frost dates in your area.

Have questions about getting the timing right? We’re here to help! Contact Us.

2. Preparation Is The Key To Success

Better preparation = more wildflowers! Use a tractor or rototiller, hand tools, solarization/smothering, or organic herbicides to clear your soil of weeds, grasses, and other plants (roots and all), to make room for your wildflowers to grow and thrive.

A note for climates with winter freeze: You should plan on working the soil to remove other plant life before the ground freezes. Ideally, you’ll be sowing your wildflower seeds about 2-3 weeks after you’ve tilled the planting site, after a few hard frosts. This schedule means that the seed will just lay dormant (sleeping) through the winter season and begin to germinate once the ground warms next spring.

Why Is Soil Preparation Important?

  • Your seeds will germinate better in a site without competing plants shading them out and stealing resources like nutrients and water.
  • Grasses and weeds are vigorous growers that can out-compete wildflower seedlings, so removing them gives your wildflowers the best chance to thrive.
  • Soil that has been loosened makes root growth much easier for thriving plants.
  • Seeds need good contact with soil and plenty of sunlight to germinate and establish healthy roots.
  • Without the stress of competition early on, your young wildflowers will be better suited to compete with weeds and grasses that might try to grow back.

We don’t recommend just throwing the seed out in the field or into grass; anyone who’s tried scattering seed without removing other plants has been sorely disappointed when their wildflowers don’t come up.

  • For details, see our helpful guide: 4 Ways To Prepare Your Site For Planting Wildflowers

Tips For Choosing A Site For Wildflowers

  • Your soil is probably already perfect for wildflowers. The test is simple: If anything is growing in the area — even if it’s just grasses or weeds — the area should support wildflowers without concern.
  • Wildflowers do not need fertilizer to grow well. Wildflowers, as we see on every roadside, are extremely adaptable and do well in poor soils.
  • Full sun is a must for most wildflower varieties. Choose a sunny spot that receives 6+ hours of sun. (For areas with 4+ hours of sun, our Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a great option.)
  • Good drainage is a requirement. Choose a place where water does not stand for longer than one hour after a rainfall. (For wet areas, try our Wet Area Wildflower Seed Mix.)

Tips For Choosing A Site For Your Wildflower Planting

  • Full sun is a must. Choose a sunny spot with 6+ hours of sun. One exception is our Partial Shade Mixture, which only needs 4 hours of sun.
  • Seed Man’s Planting Tip:A minimum of 6 hours of sunlight is necessary for wildflowers to grow.
  • Your soil is probably already perfect for wildflowers! Unless your soil is actually sterile, which is rare, it’s recommended that you use your soil just as you find it. Wildflowers, as we see on every roadside, are extremely adaptable and do well in poor soils. Of course, if yours is heavy clay , you can till in sand or peat moss to loosen it. And if it’s sandy , you can till in humus or compost to make it heavier and more moisture-retentive. But the test is simple: If anything is growing in the area — even if it’s just grasses or weeds — the area should support wildflowers without concern.
  • The only absolute requirement is good drainage. Choose a place where water does not stand for longer than one hour after a rainfall.
  • Wildflowers do not demand fertilizer to grow well. Just take a look at the healthy wildflower plants found along most country roads – no one fertilizes there. Wildflowers are famous for growing in poor soils.
  • Seed Man’s Planting Tip: If you can grow weeds, you can grow wildflowers!

Prepare Your Site: Better Soil Prep= More Flowers!

Preparing the planting area is a task that many people tend to overlook or cut short. Maybe it’s the thought of having to fire up the roto-tiller or work the ground with a spade for a few hours that doesn’t appeal to most folks but trust us, it’s the most critical step for success.

No matter if you’re sowing 5 acres or 5 square feet, the more time you spend prepping the area before seeding, the better results you’ll have.

While we wish we could tell people to “just throw the seed out in the field,” we know that to be terrible advice. Anyone who’s ever tried scattering seed without removing other plants has been sorely disappointed when their wildflowers don’t come up.

You’ll need to get rid of weeds, grasses, and other plants (roots and all) to make plenty of room for your wildflowers to grow and thrive. There’s a set amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight available in every planting space and it’s your job to remove any plants that will compete with your wildflowers before sowing your seeds.

What could be a thick, lush planting of wildflowers will struggle to grow if it’s left to compete with existing root structures in the soil. The better you prep the area, the more easily two very important things will happen:

  • Your seeds will germinate quicker and stronger without competing plants shading them out and ‘stealing’ available food and water
  • Without the stress of competition early on, your young wildflowers will be better suited to compete with weeds and grasses that might try to grow back.

Seed Man’s Planting Tip: Take your time and be thorough. After your hard work is over, you’ll get years of low-maintenance enjoyment from your planting!

4 Ways To Clear The Ground Before Planting Wildflowers

While you have a few choices to consider around how to clear your soil, there are two factors that will help you to decide which one is the best for you: Size and Lead Time.

Size: Large spaces are more apt to require equipment like rototillers (or even tractors if you’re planting 1/2 acre or more), while hand tools will be just fine for prepping small gardens and containers.

Lead Time: With a few weeks, a few months, or even an entire season ahead of your planting date, you may be able to prep your soil using labor-saving, cost-effective and/or eco-friendly methods. Here are some soil prep approaches that work with different schedules:

  • Planting Immediately: If you’re looking to sow your wildflower seeds within a week’s time, you’re usually limited to tilling or using hand tools to remove plant growth and existing roots. Some people rent or borrow equipment if they don’t own it, while others are happy to prep their soil by hand to keep their planting budget-friendly.
  • Planting in 3 months: If you have a few months ahead of you, you can make use of natural herbicides and weed killers. This approach reduces physical labor, and also allows time for the chemicals to dissipate before they can do any harm to your wildflower planting. Alternately, this time frame means that the soil can be worked with a tiller or hand tools multiple times, allowing for weed seeds to be repeatedly brought to the top of the soil and killed off, diminishing their overall appearance in your meadow.
  • Planting in 6+ months: With a good amount of time to spare, you have the eco-friendly option of using plastic sheeting or other materials to kill off weeds by smothering them out. This technique is very effective, does not require much physical effort, and costs very little.

Roto-tilling:

For larger areas, a rototiller can be used to break up the ground and soften the soil. These are often very affordable to rent if you don’t own one. It’s important to “till” only as deep as necessary to remove old roots. 4 to 6 inches deep should do the trick.

The deeper you till, the more dormant weed seeds you’ll turn up near the surface where they can sprout along with your wildflowers. If your area has been an old field that has grown and seeded itself for years, expect plenty of weed seeds in the soil.

If you’re tilling a lawn that’s been mowed for years, chances are your weed seed count will be low. Careful rototilling works well for three reasons: It opens the soil and allows a “soft” space for emerging flower plants; It creates a good seedbed for germination and promotes good “seed-to-soil” contact; And, of course, it removes almost all the existing grasses and weeds which would otherwise compete with your seedlings.

A very thorough approach for tilling is to plan to take 2-3 passes over the soil, all spaced a few weeks apart. The first tilling can be done at a depth of 4-6”, with each consecutive tilling being done at a shallower depth. This allows you to intentionally bring weed seeds up, have them germinate, and then kill them off in your next tilling. Your first two passes will be aimed at cleaning weeds out of the soil, while the final pass is meant to correctly prep the soil for your upcoming planting.

Solarization and Smothering:

Both of these methods are aimed at killing weeds by laying materials over your planting site.

Solarizing Weeds: Lay clear plastic, like a painting drop cloth, over your soil. The sun will shine down on the plastic, trapping an excessive amount of heat and moisture underneath, which will kill any existing plant life.

An added benefit of solarization is that some weed seeds may be encouraged to germinate in the sunlight before the heat kills them off.

Smothering Weeds: (also called ‘occultation’) Lay a heavy tarp, blanket, or sheets over the planting site for 4-6 weeks. This cuts plant life off from available sunlight and also introduces a whole lot of warmth. Weed seeds that germinate in darkness will sprout under the heavy fabric, but will then die off from lack of sunlight.

An added benefit of smothering is that it creates the perfect environment for earthworms and other soil life to eat the decaying plant growth and loosen up the soil.

Hand Tools:

For a small area, the project is the same as preparing for a new vegetable garden, and a shovel or spade and rake is usually all that’s needed.

Simply dig out everything that’s growing there, turn the soil, and rake the area flat and free from rocks and roots. (By the way, here’s one advantage of meadow gardening over vegetable gardening. A few rocks and some uneven spots won’t bother a wildflower planting, so there’s usually less to do.)

Old grass roots are especially important — be sure to remove them or they’ll grow back along with your new wildflower plants. If necessary, use a pickaxe – or the smaller, handheld version called a mattock, or even a sharp spade.

Natural Herbicides:

Those who are really struggling to remove tough weeds may choose to turn to chemical applications. Organic (non-synthetic) herbicides are available at most hardware stores and garden centers. When working with any weed killer, gardeners should be aware that they are ‘non-selective’ which means that they will harm any broadleaf plant or tree that they make contact with. To prevent damaging the plants you’ve chosen for your landscape, apply herbicides carefully on wind-free days.

If seeing grasses growing among your wildflowers is maddening to you, and you’d like to reach for a natural herbicide spray – be sure to choose one that is intended to control ‘monocots’, or single-blade plants (like grasses). Herbicides intended to kill ‘dicots’ (also called broadleaf plants) will likely kill off part of your intended planting.

Shop Regional Wildflower Seed Mixes

All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is 100% pure, non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free, and guaranteed to grow.

This favorite wildflower mixture is comprised of 27 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that will thrive in the Western region of the country. The West Wildflower See.

The Southwest Wildflower Mix is comprised of 26 different wildflowers that will thrive in the Southwest region of the country. Designed to create show-stopping color all season long.

Containing 26 different wildflowers that thrive when planted in the Southeastern US, the Southeast Wildflower Seed Mix brings steady color to the landscape throughout the summer seas.

This favorite wildflower mixture is comprised of 28 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that will thrive in the Pacific Northwest region of the country. The Pacific N.

The Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix contains 27 different annual and perennial wildflowers that thrive when planted in the Northeast. Exceptionally easy to grow, this mix brings a dyna.

The Midwest Wildflower Seed Mix is comprised of 28 different wildflower species, all perfect for planting in the Heartland of the USA. Designed to provide nonstop season-long color, .

3. Scatter Your Wildflower Seeds

  1. Separate your seed into roughly two equal parts. Put each half into a bucket, bowl, bin, or large bag with plenty of extra room.
  2. Mix sand & seeds. Add roughly eight parts dry sand to one part seed, and mix well. (For example: 8 cups sand to 1 cup seed.) Sand helps you spread seed more evenly, and since it is lighter than the soil, you’ll be able to see where you’ve sown seeds. Always make sure that your sand is dry, especially if it has been stored outdoors. Wet sand has a tendency to clump and can cause your seed to be applied unevenly. If possible, starting with new sand helps prevent contamination.
  3. Test out your sowing technique. Your goal is to lay your seed down as evenly as possible, and you’re likely to be surprised by how quickly it leaves your hand or the spreader. When using a seed spreader, always do a practice run first. This will help you get comfortable with sowing, by understanding how much seed comes out how fast.
  4. For even application, scatter your seeds in two sowings. Take the first half of your seeds and sow them as evenly as possible, while walking across your site from north to south. Then take the other half and apply in a similar manner, this time walking in the opposite direction.

How Much Seed Do I Need?

Be sure to use the right amount of seed as recommended for your mix or individual species – more seed does not always mean more blooms! While it may be very tempting to throw extra seed down, but this usually brings the opposite effect you were looking for. Seeds sown too densely can create competition among seedlings, causing them to become leggy or strangle one another out.

  • Our guide shows how to calculate square footage in 3 easy steps: How Much Seed Do I Need?

Wildflower Seeds and Their Application Rates

After timing, the most important consideration when seeding your site is to know and follow the application rate – meaning how much seed, by weight, should be placed over a square foot of soil.

While it may be very tempting to throw some extra seed down, this usually brings the opposite effect you were looking for. Instead of more blooms and more color, you’ll actually be packing young seedlings in so tight together, that they strangle one another out – leaving you with fewer flowers overall.

Additionally, those flowers that survive often become tall and spindly from struggling to reach for the sun through a thick patch of neighboring plants. Tall and spindly flowers have a hard time making it through the season, as their stems are often too fragile to withstand wind and rain.

Application rates are listed on seed packaging, as well as on our website.

How to Scatter Seeds with a Seed Spreader or by Hand:

As soon as you’ve given your soil a final ‘roughing up’, it’s time to plant. Your goal is to scatter the seed evenly over the entire planting area. To make this as easy as possible, many people will use a plastic hand-crank seed spreader, which is commonly used for sowing grass seed.

Another option is to divide your seed into two equal parts. You’ll then toss one portion of the seed over your planting area while walking back and forth in a north-to-south direction. Next, take the remaining portion, and sow those seeds while walking in an east-to-west direction.

When scattering wildflowers by hand, it’s really helpful to add dry ‘play sand’ or ‘sandbox sand’ to your seeds first. Other sands can absorb moisture and become wet, forming clumps with your seed and making it difficult to spread. The light color of the sand will allow you to see exactly where your seed has landed, which will alert you to bare spots and areas of uneven application.

The Split & Sand Method

  • Separate the seed you’re planting, no matter the amount, into roughly two equal parts.
  • Put the first half in a clean bucket (or coffee can, or anything else handy)
  • Then add in roughly eight parts of dry sand to one part of seed. (For example: 8 cups sand to 1 cup seed.) Always make sure that your sand is dry, especially if it has been stored outdoors. Wet sand has a tendency to clump and can cause your seed to be applied unevenly. If possible, starting with new sand can help prevent contamination.
  • Once you have the sand and seed evenly mixed in your bucket, test out your sowing technique. Your goal is to lay your seed down as evenly as possible, and you’re likely to be surprised by how quickly it leaves your hand or the spreader.
  • You’ll have the best chance of an even application if you scatter your seeds in two sowings.
  • Take the container with one-half of your seeds and sow them as evenly as possible while walking across your site from north to south.
  • Then take the other half and apply in a similar manner, this time walking from east to west.

4. Compress Seeds Into The Soil

After you’ve scattered your seed, it’s very important that you make certain the seed is making good contact with the soil.

  • For small-sized patches, you can use your feet to compress seeds into the soil, either barefoot or in shoes.
  • For medium-sized gardens and beds, lay a piece of cardboard or plywood over the soil and walk all over it; this will evenly distribute your weight across the soil.
  • For large, plantings, you can use a seed roller, either as a tractor attachment or as a walk-behind tool.

Why Is Compression Important?

  • Good seed-to-soil contact helps to speed up germination
  • It ensures that moisture and nutrients make their way to your seeds
  • It prevents wind, water, and natural occurrences from moving seeds around, and helps to anchor your wildflowers’ root systems in a good spot

Your Planting Questions, Answered!

“Should Wildflower Seeds Be Left Covered Or Uncovered?”

No matter if you’re planting in spring or fall, there is generally no need to cover the seed. Wildflower seeds are often very tiny, and many require light to germinate. Unlike veggie seeds, which are typically planted in holes and buried within the soil, wildflower seeds are scattered on top of the soil and left exposed.

There are two exceptions to this rule – and in both cases, we recommend covering your seeds with straw (not soil):

  • Seeding a slope or steep bank, where rain can easily carry seeds downhill and reposition them or clump them all together.
  • Seeding an area exposed to strong winds, which can also move seeds around.
“Will Birds and Wildlife Eat My Wildflower Seeds?”

Notice that we didn’t mention covering your seed to protect against marauding birds and critters! In 35+ years of business, we’ve learned that this just isn’t as big a problem as one might think. Maybe that’s because our wildflower seed mixes average 250,000 seeds per pound!

Generally speaking, in cool climates, you’ll be seeding in fall after a few hard frosts. From there, snow and ice should make an appearance and protect your seeds from wildlife. Additionally, many of the seeds in our mixes just aren’t appealing to birds and animals, who are selective about the seeds they choose for food.

In warmer areas (or when sowing wildflowers in spring up north), your seeds will germinate and begin to grow within 2-3 weeks of being planted. This just doesn’t give local wildlife much time to make a big enough dent in your future wildflower patch.

If for some reason you know your area to be a true exception to this rule, with above-average wildlife pressure (barn full of crows next door?), feel free to place a thin layer of straw on top of your seeding as a safeguard.

5. When to Look for Fall-Planted Wildflowers in the Spring

So, you’ve seeded your wildflowers in the fall and are anxiously awaiting their appearance. You will see wildflower sprouts after your soil has reached or surpassed 55F. Even though the air may be warm and balmy for weeks, you’ll need the soil to warm up enough for your seeds to sprout. You can check your current soil temperatures here.

When will they bloom?

Annual wildflowers bloom within 6-12 weeks. Most Perennial wildflowers require a full season of growth to establish root systems, before blooming in their second year, and returning in successive seasons. Biennial wildflowers typically bloom just in the second season.

  • Learn more in our guide: The Importance of Annual and Perennial Wildflowers

Wildflowers vs. Weeds

Another question that arises when gardeners are looking at their planting site in spring, is: “Are those wildflowers or weeds?”. This is really tough, as many young seedlings are hard to identify. We have some advice for you:

  • Get a Wildflower Identification book. This should give you solid ID information on many of the wildflowers that you’ve planted.
  • Learn about your local weeds – and get to know them at every stage of growth. Most gardeners struggle with 5-10 aggressive weeds on their property. Getting to know what they look like as seedlings, teenagers and adult plants will make it easier to spot them within your plantings – so you can pull them without mercy whenever you see them!
  • Grow a wildflower ‘cheat sheet’! Using an egg carton filled with soil or a tray with small planting cells, sow some seeds from your wildflower planting. As they grow, you’ll have an example of exactly what to look for!
  • “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best. We’ve talked a lot of customers out of ripping up their wildflowers after suspecting that their planting sites were filled with young weeds. When in doubt – do not pull your plants. If you give your seedlings some time to grow, you’re likely to find that they were wildflowers all along!

Enjoying Your Wildflowers

After wildflowers are up and growing, many people mow a charming, curving path through their meadow area, so everything can be observed up close. Next, usually comes bird feeding stations, birdbaths, and perhaps a bench somewhere along the path to enjoy your wildflowers!

Choosing the Best Wildflower Seed For Your Planting

With the correct timing, site prep, and planting instructions taken care of, we’re finally at the fun part – choosing your wildflower seed!

We carry the best selection of wildflower seed mixes and individual species for you to plant. Color, height, and bloom time will all help you to narrow things down; however, the most important point to consider is whether or not the flowers you choose will grow and thrive in your area.

We recommend shopping for wildflower seeds by region in order to have the most success with your planting. Simply find your state on our map, and make your selection based upon the recommendations for your area.

Popular Wildflower Seed Mixes and Regional Wildflower Mixes

One of the easiest ways to get gorgeous color from wildflowers that look great together is to plant a seed mix. This is a blend of seeds that an expert (like our very own Seed Man) has created, taking height, color, bloom time, and more into account so that the resulting meadow looks as pleasant as possible throughout the entire season.

What’s the difference between a wildflower seed mix from an industry expert like American Meadows, compared to one that you find in a Big Box Store? Our mixes are made of 100% pure non-GMO seed, without any fillers. Many home improvement centers stock wildflower mixes that contain less than 20% seed. Additionally, we guarantee that all of our seeds and plants will grow in your garden.

Shop Our Most Popular Wildflower Seed Mixes

This favorite wildflower mixture is comprised of 27 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that will thrive in the Western region of the country. The West Wildflower See.

Our exclusive Spring Into Summer Wildflower Seed Mix is our most popular and colorful mix of the season – available for a limited time only! We packed in 45 easy-to-grow species, i.

The Southwest Wildflower Mix is comprised of 26 different wildflowers that will thrive in the Southwest region of the country. Designed to create show-stopping color all season long.

Containing 26 different wildflowers that thrive when planted in the Southeastern US, the Southeast Wildflower Seed Mix brings steady color to the landscape throughout the summer seas.

Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a colorful, varied mix of 26 annual and perennial wildflowers. A complementary color palette of pinks, reds, blues, and golds will brighten up an.

This favorite wildflower mixture is comprised of 28 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that will thrive in the Pacific Northwest region of the country. The Pacific N.

The Northeast Wildflower Seed Mix contains 27 different annual and perennial wildflowers that thrive when planted in the Northeast. Exceptionally easy to grow, this mix brings a dyna.

The Midwest Wildflower Seed Mix is comprised of 28 different wildflower species, all perfect for planting in the Heartland of the USA. Designed to provide nonstop season-long color, .

The Honey Bee Wildflower Mix features 19 nectar-rich wildflowers and clovers adored by bees. Easy to grow across much of the country (zones 1 – 8), this pollinator-friendly mix inclu.

Our Dry Area Mix is perfect for areas that are out of the way or regions that have water restrictions. It contains 25 different wildflowers, both annuals and perennials, that are dro.

On our site, you’ll find wildflower mixes for planting in shade, dry soil, deer resistance, and even in single-color blends, such as blue and pink. You can also choose mixes made up entirely of annual wildflowers (for fast-color and single-season plantings) or perennial wildflowers (for blooms that reappear every year).

If you’re planting an area that will be seeded for the first time, we recommend browsing our proven regional mixtures. These are popular with fellow wildflower enthusiasts for a couple of reasons:

  • Regional Mixes provide the “best bang for your buck”. Most contain over 25 different species, and will introduce you to a large variety of different wildflowers.
  • Regional Mixes are a nice mix of both annuals for first year color, and perennials for the second year and successive seasons. This means that they bloom within their first season, and will provide lasting color for years to come.
  • Regional Mixes are a great way to learn about the different life cycles of the wildflowers that you’re planting, especially if you’re new to wildflower gardening.

Within our selection of Regional Mixes, you’ll find a few different options. In addition to our classic blend of annuals and perennials, we’ve also created wildflower seed mixes specific to your area that will attract your local pollinators, and that includes a variety of native seeds.

Planting Individual Wildflower Species

If you already have an established wildflower planting, you may be looking to supplement your meadow or patch with additional varieties. Planting individual species can help you bring in more color during a certain month, or can just be a fun way to add flowers that catch your eye to your landscape.

We offer over 225 individual species to choose from, including both annuals and perennials, and provide a wealth of information and planting instructions for each.

Maintaining Your Wildflower Planting

In-Season Meadow Maintenance

During the growing season itself, your meadow will actually be quite self-sufficient (especially beginning in its second year). The work you do during this time can help to reduce the growth of aggressive weeds and can also encourage your flowers to bloom more frequently.

Controlling Weeds That Are Growing Among Your Wildflowers

Part of the attraction of wildflowers is their ease of care; however, when weeds begin to take over your planting (usually an outcome of skimping on-site prep work, or overseeding) it can be difficult to pull the weeds without damaging flower roots and disturbing the overall feel of your planting. The easiest way we’ve come up with to restore balance to your meadow is to cut your weeds with scissors. Just lean in and snip – as low down on the weed plant as you can. A few passes with your scissors every other week will greatly reduce the threat of weeds and put your wildflowers back on top as the dominant species in your meadow. This is especially effective in smaller spaces.

Adding More Wildflowers to an Existing Meadow in Fall

The easiest and most effective way to add more seed is to take a steel rake and rough up small areas, or “pockets,” throughout the planting site. You can then sprinkle the seed directly over these roughed-up areas, giving it a quick compression with your foot to ensure good seed-to-soil contact.

A common mistake that people make, is that they’ll just take more seed and throw it out into an established area. This approach is somewhat doomed, as very few seeds will actually make it to an open area on the ground, and those that do will have a better chance if they’re pressed firmly into the soil.

Although you may be hesitant to remove or disturb any of your existing wildflowers, you will need to create some space for additional plants to take hold. In the end, this is the path to more vibrant color in your meadow!

End of Season Meadow Maintenance

A hard frost signals the end of the season for many flowers, but there is no one perfect time to mow your wildflower meadow. You can determine a mowing schedule that works for you.

Many gardeners will mow once a year. Wait until late fall, until all your flowers have ripened and dropped their seeds. Then with a weed trimmer or your mower set on a high setting, mow the whole area. (This can be accomplished with a mower, brush hog, or even a weed wacker. It can be cut to 3” or 8” and both accomplish the same end result.) Be sure to leave the clippings in place to break down and feed the soil. This way, it will be primed to come up green and new the following spring. If possible, in spring, rake the clippings and debris away then to open up the ground to some much-needed sunlight.

You may prefer to leave your meadow standing as important habitat for local wildlife and pollinators. In this case, you can adopt a looser mowing schedule. Some mow every other year, alternating which half of the meadow they leave standing as undisturbed habitat. Others mow 1/3 of their meadows every third year so that each section is only trimmed back every nine years.

Winter Sowing Seeds: A Quick-Start Guide

Winter sowing is fun and easy! In this quick-start guide, I cover everything from the benefits and when to begin, all the way through to maintenance and transplanting. Plus I’ll give you detailed step-by-step instructions to show you exactly how to winter sow your seeds.

If you enjoy growing seeds, then you definitely need to give winter sowing a try. It’s a really fun method to use, and has even been a game-changer for some gardeners.

With the winter sowing method, you put your seeds outside so they don’t take up any space in the house. Plus, you don’t have to buy any expensive equipment, or fuss over tender seedlings for months on end.

There are lots of other benefits too, which I will list out below (I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here). I will also tell you all the details you need to know in order to get started, and give you step-by-step instructions too.

Here’s what you’ll find in this quick-start winter sowing guide…

Table of Contents

What Is Winter Sowing?

Winter sowing is a fun and easy way to start seeds outside during the winter. You plant your seeds in miniature greenhouses made from recycled plastic containers, and then put them outside in the snow and freezing cold.

Once the weather starts to warm up in the spring, the seeds will germinate at their own pace, just as in nature. Sounds cool, right? It gets better…

Benefits Of Winter Seed Sowing

For me, the biggest benefit of winter sowing is space. Since they go outside, they don’t take up any space in the house. That is HUGE!

But there are lots of other BIG benefits of winter sowing too…

  • You don’t need to buy any special equipment or grow lights
  • There’s no need to sterilize seedling trays
  • There’s no risk of the seedlings damping off
  • Winter sown seedlings don’t need to be hardened off, they are already growing outside
  • The seedlings are hardier, and more robust, which means they have a much higher survival rate
  • You can start planting your seeds much earlier

When Can You Start?

One of the things I love the best about winter sowing is that there is no set schedule you need to worry about. You don’t have to think about your last frost dates, or time your plantings to avoid leggy seedlings.

You can winter sow seeds outdoors at your own convenience, and whenever you have time. The only rule you need to follow is to wait until freezing temperatures are here to stay. Learn exactly when to begin here.

How To Winter Sow Seeds

Winter sowing is easy. There’s no fancy technique, or any complicated equipment setup required. You only need a few supplies to get started.

But, there are are couple of things you need to understand before you begin. So, first let’s talk about the three main things you’ll need… soil, containers, and seeds.

The Best Soil To Use

The best type of soil to use is an all-purpose potting soil. I’ve also used a seed starting potting mix, which works just fine. But those can be a little bit more expensive.

Just make sure you buy a quality potting mix. Cheap dirt is too heavy, and could be full of weed seeds.

Also, always use fresh, sterile potting soil, and never, use garden soil in any of your containers. Read about the best soil to use (and which ones to avoid) here.

Filling a milk jug with soil

Choosing Containers

There are tons of different types of containers you can use to make your mini greenhouses for winter sowing. They can be made out of items you throw out every day.

Things like milk jugs, 2 liter bottles, restaurant/deli/bakery food storage, ice cream buckets…etc. The shape and size doesn’t matter, but it must be made of transparent plastic.

It should also be deep enough to hold 3-4 inches of soil in the bottom, and tall enough to allow a few inches of headspace for the seedlings to grow. Read all about how to choose the best containers here.

Types Of Seeds To Plant

It’s important to use the correct types of seeds, because you can’t just use anything. The best ones to use for winter sowing are cold hardy annuals, herbs and cold crop vegetables, or plants that are perennial in your zone.

If you’re unsure, check the seed packets. Look for terms like “self-sowing”, “direct sow outside in the fall”, “direct sow outside in early spring” or “cold stratification”.

Keywords like these are good indicators of seeds that will work well for winter sowing. Learn all about how to choose the best seeds to use here.

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before getting started, be sure to clean your containers. You can simply rinse them out if there’s no residue in them.

Otherwise, if they’re dirty, then be sure to wash them first. Here’s how to clean your containers.

Supplies Needed:

  1. Containers
  2. Drill or old metal knife
  3. Seeds or duct tape (optional)
  4. Pencil, permanent marker or paint pen

Step 1: Choose your containers – Raid your recycling bin to find the perfect mini greenhouses, or ask your family and friends to save them for you.

It may take some time to build up a good selection, so be sure to start hunting for them a few weeks before you plan to begin winter sowing.

Different types of containers to use for winter sowing

Step 2: Prepare the mini greenhouses – If you’re using a tall, narrow container, like a 2 liter bottle or milk jug, first cut it in half using a pair of scissors.

Then poke holes in the bottom for drainage, and also in the top for ventilation. Use a drill to make the holes, or a hot knife to melt them into the plastic. Learn exactly how to prepare winter sowing containers here.

Making drainage holes in milk jug greenhouse

Step 3: Add the soil – Fill the bottom of your mini greenhouse with 3-4 inches of potting soil or a seedling mix. If the soil is really dry, you may want to wet it down a bit before planting the seeds.

Step 4: Plant the seeds – The number of seeds you add to each container is up to you.

But I prefer to space them out a bit to make it easier to transplant the seedlings later on. If they’re sown too thick, it will be difficult to separate the seedlings.

Planting seeds in winter sowing containers

Step 5: Label your winter sowing – When you plant seeds in the dead of winter, you will forget what’s in the containers by spring – trust me on this one! So you’ll definitely want to label them.

There are a few ways you could do that. Some people write on masking or duct tape, and others write directly on the top of the container.

However, if you use a permanent marker on top, the writing will fade in the sun, and could be unreadable by spring.

I recommend using a paint pen to write on the top. If you use tape, put it on the bottom of the container so the writing won’t fade.

My preferred method for labeling my winter sown seed containers is to use plastic plant markers, and writing on them with a pencil. Then I push the marker into the soil, and I have never had one of them fade.

Step 6: Water the soil – After you’re done planting the seeds, water the soil thoroughly, and allow it to drain before moving them outside.

I give mine a light shower with the sprayer in my kitchen sink because it won’t disrupt the soil or displace the seeds. If the soil is really dry, then water it a few times to make sure it’s evenly moist.

Watering seeds after winter sowing in milk jugs

Step 7: Put the lids on – The details for this step depend on what type of container you used. If the lid snaps on and fits tight, then you’re done.

If you used something tall that you had to cut in half (i.e.: milk jug, 2 liter bottle… etc), then you can use duct tape (or other heavy duty tape) to attach the lid back on (but leave the caps off).

You can tape any of the lids on if they don’t fit tightly. Just make sure you don’t completely cover the transparent parts of the container, or the holes you made back in step 2.

Step 8: Move them outside – Move your winter sown containers outside to a spot where they are protected from heavy wind, but will get moisture and full sun.

If you have pets or children, put your containers on a table, or other spot where they will be out of reach.

Step 9: Forget about them until spring – Once they’re moved outside, you can pretty much forget about them until spring. Don’t worry, it’s OK if they’re completely covered by snow for a few months. Just leave them be.

Winter sown seeds outside in the snow

How Long Do Winter Sown Seeds Take To Grow?

The seeds will start growing at their own pace, and the timing can be different for each one.

Some may start germinating before the snow even melts off the containers. While others won’t start growing until the weather gets warmer in the spring.

On average, my winter sown seeds start germinating in early March… but I’m in Minneapolis zone 4b.

Warmer zones will start to see sprouts much earlier. Oh, and it can also vary year to year, depending on the weather.

The best thing to do is to make sure you check regularly for any signs of sprouts. Start checking them as the weather begins to warm up in the late winter/early spring. The hardiest seeds will germinate first.

Winter sown seeds growing in the spring

Monitoring & Maintaining Your Containers

The only maintenance you have to do in the spring is to make sure your seedlings don’t overheat, and that the soil doesn’t dry out.

Those mini greenhouses can get pretty hot inside in the sun, so you may need to vent them more. You can vent them by cracking the lids open, or making the holes in the top larger.

Once the seedlings get tall enough that they are touching the top of the inside of the container, it’s time to remove the lids.

The soil can dry out pretty quickly once you take the lids off, so check them at least once a day, and water if necessary.

Once the lids are off, keep an eye on the weather report. If there is a chance for freezing temperatures, cover your seedlings with a sheet or blanket overnight.

Planting The Seedlings Into The Garden

Once the seedlings are tall enough, and have grown their first few sets of true leaves, it’s time to plant them into the garden.

Hardy winter sown seedlings can be transplanted as soon as the soil is workable in early spring.

There’s no need to harden them off either, since they’re already growing outside! You can simply plant them directly into the garden.

Winter sown seedlings ready to transplant into the garden

Winter sowing is a great way to grow the seeds for your garden every year. You can do it at your own pace, and there’s minimal care involved. And, since you don’t have to harden winter sown seedlings, it makes transplanting them a breeze too!

Next Steps: If you want more help learning how to winter sow, pick up a copy of my Winter Sowing eBook. It’ll be your essential guide that will walk you through every step of the process in detail.

If you want learn how to easily grow all of your plants from seeds, then the Online Seed Starting Course would be perfect for you! It is an in-depth online training that will walk you through everything you need to know about growing all types of seeds, step-by-step.

More Posts About Winter Sowing

Other Winter Sowing Resources

Have you tried winter sowing yet? Share your tips or experiences in the comments section below.

About Amy Andrychowicz

I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants – you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.

Comments

How do you keep them from blowing arond the yard when the snow melts or during windy snow storm? I am in Colorado. We have bipolar weather.

Amy Andrychowicz says

In all the years I’ve been winter sowing, I’ve never had this issue before. The wet soil should be heavy enough to keep them from blowing around. But if that’s not enough, then you could move them to a more protected area, or maybe try putting a rock or something on top to weigh them down more.

Hi. I noticed that you’re watering with the sprayer from your kitchen sink, meaning you’re using tap water. Do you have any problems using tab water?. I’ve been using Brita water which is a royal pain and would love to use tap water. Are you using cold or a mix of hot and cold.
Thanks for your help
Carol

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yes, wetting down the soil with tap water before putting them outside for winter sowing won’t harm the seeds. I use lukewarm water or cold, don’t use hot.

anne mellow says

I have about 10 water bottles and assorted plastic containers filled with the most adorable little veggie seedlings i have ever seen in my life! Its been relatively warm lately and we have an unexpected frost and snow alert late this week so i might put them indoors to avoid heartbreak later on. This is my first year both gardening and winter sowing so i hope this is a success.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Oh how exciting, congrats on your success! It’s so fun when you see the seedlings growing after the long winter, isn’t it!? You sure can move them into the house if you want. But, as long as they are cold hardy plants, and you leave the tops on the containers, they should be fine staying outside during the short blast of cold and snow. That’s the beauty of winter sowing!

This is my first time I tried planting seeds in containers like this and I absolutely love it! I love this winter sowing idea and will be telling my planting friends to give it a try! I’ve planted six containers, all have sprouted and look really healthy! This has not occurred to me before and I’ve been trying for 2 years now. Thank you sooo much!

Amy Andrychowicz says

Awesome, so glad you’re having success and loving winter sowing!

It has been such a slow start to spring this year! It’s March 30th, and still cold and icy. I have sprouts in 3 of my containers though (last year they were all sprouting by now!)! I only have 24 containers this year but I may put some more out this week since winter does not want to release its icy grip just yet!

Amy Andrychowicz says

Same here! Last year I had my first winter sown seeds germinating on March 13. This year, everything is still covered by snow and ice. LOL, crazy!

Becky Whitney says

It’s March 5th and my plants haven’t come up yet but I am having lots of fun winter sowing! Dying to see some sprouts though!

Amy Andrychowicz says

It’s so hard to be patient, isn’t it? But it’s still really early for winter sown seeds to start growing, so give it more time.

This is my first go at winter sowing too. I am not as adventurous as some. I only have a total of 5 containers. I am sowing Shasta Daisies, Calendula, spinach and something else. I don’t remember what it is, so I guess I will find out in a few months. Note to self: mark the containers. Silly me, I thought I would just remember. The one thing I’ve found interesting, is that condensation has been forming on the inside of the lids and dripping onto the potting mix. So the containers are sort of self watering. Considering it hasn’t been above freezing much before yesterday in Mpls, I was surprised by this.

Amy Andrychowicz says

LOL, I learned the lesson about labeling my winter sowing containers the hard way as well!! Too funny! Yes, the condensation, and also the melting snow, are great because they water the seeds for you. Usually you don’t need to worry about watering them until you remove the tops after the seedlings start growing. Awesome, right?

Hi Amy!
I discovered winter sowing and 10 first containers are in the snow looking for spring. I’ve got a big garden and every early spring our house looked like storage, with boxes and seed trays everywhere. Now all of that will be outdoors, and we all like it!

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yes! I love that part about winter sowing too!

This will be our first year trying the winter sowing method. I’m a little nervous that our deck will get too much sun, especially as the spring goes on. What seeds can I start this early (February)? We do mostly vegetable gardening, I’m thinking I still need to wait a few weeks to get cucumbers, broccoli, and zucchini seeds started.

Amy Andrychowicz says

My deck gets full sun too. Once your seedlings start growing, you can move the containers to a spot where they will be protected from the hot afternoon sun. That’s what I do, and it works great. Here’s a list of seeds you can use.

I just checked my containers today and I HAVE SPROUTS (April 8th)!! Pansies, strawflower, broccoli, onion, and painted daisy. Hoping to start more seeds this weekend – tomatoes, blackeyed susan vine, cardinal vine, soap wort. THANK YOU!!

Amy Andrychowicz says

Woohoo, how exciting!! Congrats on all of your sprouting containers!

I just started winter sowing. Yesterday, I planted cherry tomatoes, beef tomatoes, basil, beetroot and daisies. I’m not quite sure if this is going to work. My husband laughs at me and says I can not plant anything when there is snow. Finding your website gives me hope. Do I have to take them in when snow comes or leave them out?

Amy Andrychowicz says

I was very nervous the first year I tried it too (my husband and friends also laughed at me) and started just as many seeds indoor as I did winter sowing (just in case it didn’t work) so you’re not alone! No, you don’t need to bring them in when it snows, just let them get buried. That is what makes this method so darn easy. You just put them outside in the snow and freezing cold, and forget about them until spring!