Any low, wet area in the yard where rainwater runoff collects after a storm has the potential to be a spectacular, flower-filled rain garden. Maintaining these landscape reservoirs as beneficial gardens rather than stressed turf will save time and headaches and improve your yard’s looks—as long as you plant the right plants and create a design for all-season bloom.
A well-planned vegetable garden will sustain your family with a variety of fresh produce from spring to late fall. Serious gardeners will even cold-frame garden into the winter months for a steady stream of fresh greens and root vegetables. Sustenance vegetable gardens save money and ensure produce is organically grown. Careful planning and timing are essential for season-long garden-fresh produce for eating, canning, freezing, and drying.
Vegetables are divided by their best season of culture. Cool season crops are ideal for the spring and fall months, while warm-season crops are suited for summer growing. Some vegetables can be grown at almost in the growing season. Fruits are almost purely seasonal. Planning the garden with a well-rounded collection of vegetables is essential. Consider your proteins (legumes and brassicas), carbohydrates/starches (root vegetables, corn, and squash), greens, fruits, and flavorful herbs when planning for each season. The broader array of healthful edibles you grow, the better.
Soil Preparation and Plot Design
Two key ingredients for good garden planning are soil preparation and plot design. Nourish your soils with OMRI Listed® amendments, like Fafard Garden Manure Blend and Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, to encourage deep rooting and maximize growth and production. Then feed the ground with a multi-purpose fertilizer formulated for vegetables. Design your garden plots in tidy rows or blocks, planning for spring, summer, and fall, and be sure that you know exactly where your vegetables will go. Rotation is essential for crops that are heavy feeders and suffer from soil-borne diseases and pests. Tomatoes, potatoes, and cucumbers are three crops that always require yearly rotation.
Here are some season-by-season vegetable suggestions and their benefits.
Spring Garden Sustenance Edibles
Protein: Legumes are the main providers of needed protein from the garden. Good candidates for the spring include crisp snap peas, snow peas, and shelling peas (click here to learn more about growing peas). All are grown similarly and thrive in the cool weather. Brassicas, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kohlrabi are also good protein sources (click here to read more about growing brassicas). Choose fast-growing brassicas (50-60 harvest days) for spring growing. Each year I like to grow crisp and productive ‘Super Sugar Snap’ peas (60 days), fast-growing ‘Gypsy’ broccoli (58 days), and sweet, purple ‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi (45 days).
Carbohydrates: Root crops are made for the cool weather of spring and are rich in starch and nutrients. This is when they grow most rapidly and taste the best. Choose fast-growing beets, carrots, radishes, and turnips and plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. This is also the time to plant early potatoes, onions, and leeks. Asparagus is a perennial spring vegetable that is also high in carbohydrates. Of these, try the candy-striped ‘Chioggia’ beet (55 days), crisp, sweet ‘Yaya’ carrot (56 days), and ‘D’Avignon’ French radish (21 days).
Greens: Most garden greens taste and grow best in cool weather. This is the time to plant arugula, lettuce, endive, and spinach. Swiss chard is also best planted in spring and will remain productive well into late fall. (Learn how to grow several cool-season greens by clicking here.) The spicy ‘Sylvetta’ arugula (45 days), Salanova® green butter lettuce (55 days), and ‘Dragoon’ mini romaine lettuce (43 days) are all great choices.
Herbs: Cool season herbs may be annual or perennial. Recommended perennials for spring are chives, sorrel, tarragon, and thyme. Borage, chervil, cilantro, parsley, and dill are all superb annual herbs for spring. All are nutritious and very flavorful. The flavorful, slow-to-bolt cilantro ‘Calypso’ (50 days) is a high performer.
Fruit: Perennial late-spring “fruits” for the garden include rhubarb and strawberries—both being very high in vitamin C. (Click here to learn more about growing strawberries). Can them as jam or freeze them for use later in the season. I like to grow everbearing strawberries that will produce fruits through the growing months.
SummerGarden Sustenance Edibles
Protein: Beans of all kinds provide summer protein from the garden (click here to learn more about growing beans). Vining beans offer the highest yields because they produce more for longer. Heat-loving beans like Chinese noodle beans, Roma beans, and lima beans are tasty and very nutritious and protein-packed. Colorful beans for drying are also essential for winter storage and good eating. Okra is another high-protein vegetable that thrives in heat and is very easy to grow. The meaty ‘Musica’ Roma pole beans (55 days) and ‘Maxibel’ slender bush beans (50 days) are always good choices as is the compact, spineless ‘Annie Oakley’ okra (50 days)
Greens: Heat-tolerant greens are limited because many of the best greens are adapted to cool weather, but Swiss chard will provide a needed supply of tasty leaves through summer. Choose Rainbow Mix Swiss chard, which tastes great and comes in colorful shades of white, yellow, red, orange, and pink. Malabar Spinach (Basella rubra) is a vining green with a spinach-like taste that bursts forth with loads of edible foliage when summer is at its hottest. (Click here to read more about heat-tolerant greens.
Protein: Few protein-rich vegetables grow at this time, but this is when shelling beans dry for harvest and winter storage. Choose a variety of flavorful shelling beans that you can enjoy all winter long like the red soup beans ‘Vermont Cranberry’ or classic white ‘Cannellini ‘ beans. You should also replant brassicas in late summer to they can sweeten up with the fall frost. Broccoli, broccoli rabe, and cauliflower are all great choices
Carbohydrates: Beets, carrots, radishes, turnips should be planted by early fall for late-fall harvest. (Click here to learn more about growing late-season root vegetables) Choose winter carrot varieties and extra sweet beets that will remain harvestable after frost. Leeks should also be ready to harvest after the first light frost of the season. This is when they taste their sweetest. Nutritious winter squash and pumpkins should also be fully mature by early to mid-fall.
Greens: Replant the same cool-season greens of spring and consider throwing in a few kales and collard greens. Kales of all colors and sizes are pretty in the garden and delicious, and collards are reliable producers with large leaves and high yields. Both grow sweeter with frost. I like the flavor of blue-green ‘Lacinato’ kale
Herbs: Annual cool-season herbs are also back on the menu. Evergreen sage and rosemary are also available for favorite fall dishes. Sage pairs particularly well with winter squash.
Fruit: Apples, pears, and persimmons are the fruits of fall. Small-space gardeners should consider planting dwarf trees for home gardening. (Click here to read more about growing dwarf apples.) This is also when hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts can be culled from the ground and roasted. (Click on the links to read more about growing hazelnuts and pecans.)
Winter Garden Sustenance Edibles
Assuming you don’t live in the American South or Southwest, there are only a handful of garden edibles suitable for cold-frame growing in winter. (Read more about high-desert vegetable gardening.) These consist of cool-season greens, root vegetables, and herbs. Then, after the cold of winter wanes, it will be time to start planning and planting your sustenance vegetable garden once again.
VegetablePlanting Time Season Seeding Bush Beans Spring, Summer Warm Outdoor Pole Beans Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor Beets Spring to Fall Warm/Cool Outdoor Broccoli Spring, Summer Cool Indoor Cabbage Spring, Summer Cool Indoor Carrots Spring, to Fall Warm /Cool Outdoor Corn Late Spring Warm Outdoor Cucumbers Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor Eggplant Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor Kale Spring, Summer Cool Indoor Kohlrabi Spring Cool Indoor Leeks Spring Cool Indoor Lettuce Spring, Summer Cool Indoor Melons Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor Okra Late Spring Warm Outdoor Onion Sets Mid-Spring Warm Outdoor Onion(Spring) Early Spring Cool Indoor Peas Early Spring, Summer Cool Outdoor Peppers Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor Potato Sets Spring Cool Outdoor Pumpkins Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor Radishes Early Spring Cool Outdoor Spinach Early Spring Cool Indoor Zucchini/Squash Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Outdoor Sweet Potatoes Late Spring Warm Outdoor Swiss Chard Early Spring Cool/Warm Indoor Tomatoes Mid-Spring (after frost) Warm Indoor Turnips Early Spring Cool Outdoor
Some of the most brilliant fall shrubs come in small packages and have the added benefit of being native. This sets them apart from the many non-native, ecological troublemakers sold in most garden centers, which are seasonally beautiful but noxiously invasive. Landscape favorites like dwarf Burning bush (Euonymus alatus) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are among the worst weedy offenders.
But, with so many small, tidy, vibrant North American options, there’s no need to grow weeds. Our favorite “Small” native shrubs grow no more than 4-feet high, with a comparable spread. All fit well in small-space gardens, along low borders, or in large containers. Many are cultivated varieties selected for their size and beauty, and each is adaptable and easy care.
Small Native Shrubs for Fall
When planting with fall in mind, choose from these standout beauties that nurture the environment. Many also have winter attractive berries that feed songbirds and other wildlife in the cold months.
Dwarf Black Chokeberry
Proven Winner’s Low Scape Mound™ black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa Low Scape Mound™, 1-2 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-9, eastern North America) is a truly small shrub that starts the season with medium-green leaves and clusters of pinkish-white May flowers that attract bees. Clusters of purple-black berries feed birds in summer, and bright crimson and orange leaves light up the fall landscape. These shrubs are best planted along border edges or in large pots. They will also tolerate moist soil conditions.
Don’t underestimate bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera, 3 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-7, eastern North America). The yellow and/or orange-red summer flowers of this underplanted native shrub are a favorite of bumblebees, and it’s crisp green foliage turns from yellow to red in fall. It will withstand partial sun and dry, rocky soils, though its fall leaf color is prettiest when specimens are planted in full sun.
There are many wonderful cultivated varieties of dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, 2-4 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 5-8, southeastern United States) available. One of the best is ‘Blue Mist’, which grows to 3 feet and bears ivory bottlebrush blooms in early spring followed by blue-green summer foliage. In fall, the leaves turn riotous shades of orange, gold, and red.
Dwarf Oakleaf Hydrangea
Standard oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, full to partial sun, Zones 5-9, southeastern United States) are very large shrubs but lots of superb dwarf varieties have been bred. The 3- to 4-foot ‘Ruby Slippers’ bears lots of large, rosy flower panicles in late spring, and its green oak-shaped leaves turn, mahogany red in fall. Another colorful beauty is the gold-leaved ‘Little Honey’, which grows to 3-4 feet, bears white flower panicles in summer, and has deep red fall leaves.
Dwarf Virginia Sweetspire
Named for its drooping spires of fragrant, early summer flowers, Scentlandia® Virginia sweetspire (Iteavirginica Scentlandia®, 2-3 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 5-9, southeastern United States) has the added bonus of spectacular fall foliage. A single plant may have a mix of purple, red, orange, and gold fall leaves at once. The soil-adaptable shrubs grow well in average to boggy ground.
Compact Fragrant Sumac
If you need a tough shrub with great fall looks, try compact fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro Low’, 2-3 feet, full to partial sun, Zones 3-9, mid-western and eastern North America). This low, spreading shrub grows well in rugged, dry roadside plantings as well as home landscapes, and its three-parted leaves turn hot hues in fall.
Dwarf Witherod Viburnum
Proven Winner’s Lil’ Ditty witherod viburnum (Viburnumcassinoides Lil’ Ditty®, 1-2 feet, full sun to partial shade, Zones 3-8, eastern North America) is truly a tuffet of a miniature shrub. From late spring to midsummer it bears rounded clusters of white flowers with a mild honey-like fragrance, which bees like. In fall, its glossy leaves turn various shades of red, from the leaf edges inward.
Compact Cranberry Viburnum
In fall, the brilliant red fruits of the American cranberry viburnum (Viburnumopulus var. americanum, full sun to partial shade, Zones 2-7, northern North America) glisten among its bright red and gold leaves. There are several compact varieties of this super hardy shrub from which to choose. The smallest is the soon-to-be-released ‘Jewell’ or ‘Jewell Box‘, which reaches a maximum of 2 feet and has reliable burgundy red fall color. The larger ‘Compactum’ grows to a height of 4-6 feet and bears copious red fruits that remain into winter until they are consumed by birds.
Planting Shrubs in Fall
Thankfully all of the shrubs on this list are quite hardy, making them good candidates for fall planting. Before planting any shrub, be sure you have a smart planting plan and consider your plant’s needs with respect to light, soil, and elevation. When planting a shrub, dig a hole that’s roughly twice the diameter of its root ball. Dig the hole deep enough so the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Before planting, gently loosen your shrub’s roots if they are densely intertwined (root bound). Then enrich the excavated soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. When planting, pack the soil around the root ball to remove any air pockets and cover all roots. Finally, lightly mulch around the shrub and water it well. If fall weather remains dry, continue to provide supplementary water to encourage good establishment. Come spring, your new shrubs should shine through the season!
Tall sedums (Sedum spectabile hybrids) provide mounds of lush, blue-green foliage through summer, but late summer and fall are when they really shine. Their sturdy stems support rosy-pink blooms that glow in the late-season sun. New varieties make growing and designing with these tried-and-true perennials even more gratifying and fun.
Bold Tall Sedums & Planting Combos
New tall sedums have broken the mold of the old-fashioned, dusky pink ‘Autumn Joy’ of grandmother’s garden. Extra bright flowers and unique foliage colors, like bronze, purple and near-black, mark some of the newer varieties. Some are extra tall while others are very compact and more densely flowered.
Take the ‘Thunderhead’ introduction by Terra Nova Nurseries, its giant, bright, rose-red flower heads stand on strong, 18-inch stems above bronzy green foliage. For a great combo, plant it in swaths alongside soft, mounding, blue-green ‘Blue Zinger’ sedge and bright yellow-flowered Helianthus ‘Low Down’, which only grows to 2 feet high.
Sedum ‘Dark Magic’
One for outstanding foliage as well as flowers is the 2015 introduction ‘Dark Magic’, which has deepest burgundy foliage all season and large heads of burgundy pink flowers in late summer and fall. The compact plants only reach 12-inches high, making this a great plant for border edges. Its upright habit complements lower, mounded grasses and perennials like evergreen, lavender-flowered germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) or tidy thyme (Thymus spp.) plants.
Sedum ‘Crystal Pink’
For a lighter more silver-pink flower try the compact ‘Crystal Pink’, which becomes completely covered with clouds of palest green and pink flowers in late summer or fall. Plants reach no more than 12-inches, and their light flowers complement taller, darker-colored annuals and perennials.
Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ and ‘Autumn Delight’
Another cheerful sedum is the cool ‘Frosty Morn’. This variegated counterpart to ‘Autumn Joy’ is surprisingly vigorous. Its bright mounds of foliage complement darker-leaved plants and are best planted in clumps of five to seven plants to show off the effect of the ivory-edged leaves. Late in the season, they become topped with subtle, dusty pink flowers. A bolder variegated sedum is ‘Autumn Delight’, which sports chartreuse and blue-green variegated leaves and bright rose flowers.
Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’
Gardeners looking for classic tall sedum looks but more exciting flowers might consider ‘Autumn Fire’. Their flattened clusters of rose-pink flowers are rich rosy pink, and the plants themselves have a significant presence in the landscape with their dense stems that reach 2 to 3 feet high.
Growing Tall Sedums
Growing Tall Sedums
Tall sedums prefer drier feet, but they aren’t as drought tolerant as some of the short, spreading Sedum species able to withstand really high heat and drought. Plant tall sedums in porous, mineral-rich soil with added organic matter, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost, for perfect rooting.
All sedums attract bees and butterflies, making them perfect for pollinator gardens. After fall flowering, the seedheads should be left until they are no longer ornamental. In early winter, they hold up moderately well before being flattened by snow. Cut them back on a dry midwinter’s day, and wait until the soils warm in spring and their rosettes of fleshy leaves begin to grow again.
What makes a fast-growing shade tree exceptional? First, it must be strong-wooded and long lived. Second, it must be attractive, providing desirable seasonal characteristics to make your yard look great. Those that are native, disease resistant, and well-adapted to a given region are also optimal. Finally, they should have minimal messy fruits to reduce the hassle of seasonal clean up. Continue reading “Top 10 Tough Fast-Growing Shade Trees”
Few rose diseases are more dreaded than rose rosette disease. This disfiguring, deadly pathogen can take a perfectly lovely rose from glory to ruin in just a season or two. It’s very easy to identify, but trickier to manage. Thankfully, there are solutions for ardent rose growers. Continue reading “Rose Rosette Disease Solutions”
Wands of fragrant purple blooms dance in the wind, feeding bees, and shining cheerfully on even the hottest summer days. These are the flowers of lavender, a plant beloved for its aroma and ability to grow well in tough Mediterranean climates. This aromatic evergreen perennial has been used in perfumes, poultices and potpourris for centuries, giving it high value in the herb garden. And, many diverse varieties exist, so there’s lavender to satisfy almost every gardener. Continue reading “The Prettiest Garden Lavenders”
Nothing is prettier than a field of red, windblown poppies. The delicate blooms rise from slender stems, and their colorful petals resemble crushed tissue paper—giving these classic garden flowers lasting appeal. Poppies are diverse, and can be grown in practically any garden. Some are long-lived perennials while others are fleeting annuals the bloom spectacularly for a short time before setting seed. Continue reading “Favorite Garden Poppies”
Everyone loves butterflies, and the threat to monarch populations has spurred increased interest in butterfly gardening. When planning a smart butterfly garden, you want to include plants that feed both adult butterflies and their caterpillars. This is essential because butterfly caterpillars are species specific, meaning they only feed on specific plants.
Color, design, and site conditions are important when creating butterfly gardens. To make the job easy for new pollinator gardeners, we created two designs that are colorful and appeal to black swallowtail and monarch butterflies. Most butterfly plants are sun-loving, so these gardens are all adapted to sunny garden spaces.
Black Swallowtail Garden Plants
The caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies feed on many plants in the carrot family, Apiaceae. These eastern North American butterflies have many native host plants, but none are attractive enough for ornamental gardening. Thankfully, quite a few cultivated flowers also feed them. These include bronze fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, lace flower, and dill. When mixed with colorful, compact Magellan zinnias and Sonata coreopsis, which feed adult butterflies, a wild, lacy flower garden is created. Black Swallowtail Garden Design: This simple design shows a traditional rectangular flower border, but it can be adapted to fit any garden shape. Just be sure to keep the taller plants towards the center or back of the border. Most of these flowers are annuals, meaning they need to be planted year after year.
Monarch Garden Plants
All milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) feed monarchs. These colorful perennials contain protective chemicals that the caterpillars feed on, which render both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unpalatable to birds. The prettiest of all milkweeds include the orange-flowered butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa (USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9)), pink-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata (USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9), and orange-red flowered Mexican milkweed (Asclepias curassavica (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10)), which self sows yearly. Monarch adults feed on all manner of butterfly flowers. The best are fall-flowering species that support the butterflies as they head to Mexico late in the season, like goldenrod and asters. [Click here to read more about growing milkweeds for monarchs.] Monarch Garden Design: This border design includes three showy milkweed species and dwarf late-season asters (such as Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Lady-in-Blue’ (12-inches tall) or ‘Nesthäkchen’ (18-inches tall) and dwarf goldenrod (such as Solidago ‘Golden Baby’ (18-inches tall) or ‘Little Lemon’ (18-inches tall)) to feed migrating monarchs.
Planting your Butterfly Garden
These gardens are all designed for full-sun exposures. When planting them, feed the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to ensure the plants get a good start. You might also consider feeding them with a good flower fertilizer approved for organic gardening. Another important note is to avoid using insecticides, which will damage or kill visiting butterflies.
These simple gardens are pretty and sure to lure lots of beautiful butterflies to your yard. To learn more about pollinator conservation and gardening, visit the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation page.
Imagine a sweeping cottage garden of China pinks, petunias, and marigolds interspersed with a tangle of colorful sweet peas and lacy love-in-a-mist. Old fashioned flowers such as these remain in vogue for the same reason our grandmothers grew them. They are lovely, easily grown from seed, and their seeds can be collected from year to year—making them perfect for gardeners on a budget.
Choice heirloom flowers are brightly colored, long-blooming, and easy to manage. Quite a few have the added bonus of being highly fragrant, because fragrance was considered an important floral trait from Victorian times to the mid-nineteenth century.
The majority of these flowers are best started indoors from seed at the beginning of the growing season, but several can be started outdoors. Our favorites will be sure to add value to your flower garden and containers this season.
Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed
China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)
These highly fragrant, short-lived perennials thrive where summers are cool and have frilly blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Most reach a foot in height and are perfect for sunny border edges. Try the lovely Single Flowered Mix from Select seeds with single flowers in mixed colors. Start seeds indoors in February or March.
Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
These bushy, sun-loving bedding plants reach 2 to 3 feet and develop broad clusters of small, sweetly fragrant purple, lavender, or white flowers that attract butterflies. Remove old flower heads for repeat bloom all season. The very old variety ‘Amaretto‘ has pale violet flowers that smell of almonds. Start these from seed indoors in February.
Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
Sweet peas are some of the most fragrant cool-season flowers. The delicate, tendriled vines require light trellising. Long-stemmed clusters of sweet-smelling flowers appear by late spring and are perfect for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and more heat tolerant than most. Start sweet peas indoors from seed in February or March.
Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
The ever-blooming nature of this small, fragrant garden annual has made it one of the best for border and container edges. It blooms well in both hot and cool weather with clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers. Try the honey-scented Gulf Winds mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds, which has flowers of light pink, rose, lilac, and white. The seeds are very fine, so be sure not to accidentally plant too many when starting them indoors. Start these no later than March.
Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)
Loads of warm-hued heirloom marigolds are still available to brighten contemporary flower beds. These tough sun lovers shine through the most difficult summers, keeping gardens looking good through the swelter. For garden edges, choose the 1903 heirloom French Marigold ‘Legion of Honor’. Its fragrant flowers are dark orange with gold edges. Small-flowered signet marigolds are also uncommonly showy with their ferny foliage and bushy habits. Plant seeds in March for late-May planting.
Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
The white blooms of jasmine-scented tobacco are most fragrant at night and pollinated by moths. The tubular flowers appear on plants reaching 3 to 4 feet high. This heat tolerant annual will tolerate some shade and will bloom well into fall. High Mowing Organic Seeds sells seeds for this old-fashioned beauty. Cut back the old flower stalks to encourage flowering. Start the seeds indoors no later than March. (Image by Carl E. Lewis)
Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
Unusual lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist especially charming in the garden. The flowers may be violet-blue, purple, white, or pink. Once they have finished flowering, their dry seed pods are also visually interesting and useful in dried arrangements. They do tend to self-sow, so expect lots of seedlings to appear the following season. They flower best in cool weather and are short-lived, so they can be started both in early spring and late summer for two seasons of bloom.
Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)
Heirloom petunias tend have looser habits that require regular pruning, but they are also charming and free-flowering. One of the most unique of the seed-grown heirlooms is ‘Old-Fashioned Climbing‘. This pretty rambler has highly fragrant flowers in shades of purple, lavender, and white that bloom above the foliage. Start the seeds no later than March for summer enjoyment.
Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)
Older varieties of scarlet sage are taller and bushier but no less free flowering. The tall and elegant ‘Van Houttei’ is one of the earliest cultivated forms. The bushy 3- to 4-foot variety thrives in heat and becomes covered with spikes of deep red blooms that attract the hummingbirds. Pinch back spent flowering stems to encourage more flowers! Start the seeds in February or March.
Growing Heirlooms from Seed
Some heirlooms, such as love-in-a-mist, can be directly sown in the ground outdoors, but most are best started indoors. Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with six-pack flats, which give growing flowers enough space for root and shoot growth. Fill the flats with premium OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well. Moisten the mix before planting for easier watering after planting. If planting your new seedlings in containers, choose Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds flowers for up to 6 months.
Follow seed packet instructions for planting guidelines and expected germination times. Smaller seeds usually need to be lightly covered with mix while larger seeds require deeper planting. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to make sure you get at least one seedling per cell. You only want one seedling per cell, so pinch out the weakest seedlings that germinate and leave the largest. Seeds often sprout best in temperatures between 68-73º F. Warm-season annuals germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.
Good light is important for strong growth. You can either start your seeds in a sunny, south-facing window of beneath strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum bulbs. One shop light will supply light to two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings develop new leaves, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.
Before planting your tender heirloom flower starts outdoors, acclimate them to the natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows indoor-grown starts to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant in your garden or containers.