5 Direct-Sow Annuals

Graham Rice’s picks for best direct-sow annuals

March 18, 2014

Fashions in flowers come and go. Who’d have thought 20 years ago, or even 10, that dahlias would again have become such favorites. So let’s hear it for another group of plants coming back into fashion—hardy annuals, the seed-propagated flowers that give you the very best value for your hard-earned pennies. You’ll find them far less expensive than filling the same area with transplants of petunias or impatiens from the nursery.

Sow them in spring where you’d like them to flower. It’s as simple as that. Many can also be sown in fall in some areas to flower even more prolifically the following year.


'Valentine' Sunflower

Helianthus annuus 'Valentine'
A sunflower with subtlety and style, ‘Valentine’ has soft, creamy white rays that become a richer yellow shade close to the deep black centers. The 6-inch flowers are not too large—just right for the size of the plant. Sunflowers are easy to grow in a sunny place, though be sure to protect the young seedlings from slugs.
Height: 5 feet

Baby Blue-Eyes

Nemophila menziesii
This low and spreading California native tolerates wetter soil and a little more shade than most direct-sow annuals. The white-eyed, sky blue flowers open over a long season. Spent blooms usually drop seeds to produce more plants for the following year; it may even self-sow in cracks in shady paving.
Height: 8 inches

‘Miss Jekyll’ Love-in-a-Mist

Nigella damascena 'Miss Jekyll'
Justifiably one of the most popular of all direct-sow annuals, Nigella is a lovely plant from soon after germination until its seed heads dry in fall. Repeatedly divided leaves make an attractive rosette from which spring vertical stems carrying sky blue flowers followed by inflated seedpods. Both flowers and seed pods can be cut for bouquets.
Height: 18 inches

White Lace Flower

Orlaya grandiflora
Lace flower combines well with other annuals and perennials and is bright and cheerful in its own right. Prettily divided foliage backs the large pure white heads that have small central florets surrounded by a ring of much larger ones—like a lacecap hydrangea. Good in dry soil, and a fine cut flower, too.
Height: 18 to 24 inches

‘Empress of India’ Nasturtium

Tropaeolum majus 'Empress of India'
A compact, bushy heirloom nasturtium from the 1800s, ‘Empress of India’ looks lovely planted in gravel or a small container. Its small, dark blue-green leaves make the perfect background for the sultry, deep scarlet flowers, which keep coming well into fall. Sow the large seeds after the last frost in your area. Best in full sun and soil that is not rich.
Height: 12 inches

Photos: © Gardenphotos.com

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