Growing your own perennials from seed

Growing your own perennials from seed

Many gardeners start growing vegetables, annual flowers and herbs from seed, either indoors or directly in the garden. However, have you ever thought about growing your own perennials from seeds?

Perennials are defined as plants that live for more than two growing seasons. Perennials may only live three years while other perennials come back every year, sometimes for decades.

The leaves of perennial herbaceous plants die back in winter, but the roots remain in the ground, often having shoots or stems at or just below ground level. When conditions are ideal, the plant sends up new shoots and its growth cycle begins again.

Photography by Amy Simon
The seed packet will include information identifying the plant as a perennial, its bloom time, mature size, and light preferences.

Typically, perennials are purchased as established plants in various container sizes from nurseries or garden centers. Or you may be lucky enough to receive plant sections from friends or neighbors. These roots should be bare to avoid the spread of jumping worm.

What if you want 25 black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) to fill a large, pollinator-friendly perennial bed? The advantages of starting your own plants from seed are certainly economic. The cost of purchasing one packet of seeds and some growing media is much lower than purchasing several plants.

Another benefit of growing your own plants is knowing the origin of the plant you are putting in your garden. Given the pressures of pests and diseases that have recently plagued our gardens, this is a real peace of mind.

As you browse seed racks at garden centers, pay close attention to the information on each seed packet. It will indicate whether the plant is a perennial and will provide all information regarding the plant’s desired light conditions, mature height, planting distances, flowering times and any special germination tips.

Columbine (Aquilegia spp.), Pink (Dianthus spp.), Mint (Nepeta spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea spp.), Beard’s Tongue (Penstemon spp.), Delphinium (Delphinium spp.), Yarrow (Achillea spp.) And tick seeds (Coreopsis spp.) are just some examples of perennial seeds you may find.

Photography by Amy Simon.  Many types of perennials are easy to start indoors from seed.
Photography by Amy Simon
Many types of perennials are easy to start indoors from seed.

The seed packet also contains information about time frames for sowing seeds indoors and outdoors, as well as a recommended method. If starting seeds indoors, keep in mind that the seedlings will need to be transplanted as they grow. You should also make sure that your light source can cover all of the plants as that area expands.

When sowing seeds directly into the garden, it is helpful to enter a plant tag with the name of the plant and the planting date. Protecting the area with a physical barrier such as a floating row cover can give young seedlings a chance against little critters in your garden looking for a snack. You can remove the protection once the plants become larger and stronger.

Keep in mind that those seedlings that started as tiny seeds will become mature-sized plants, within two or three years. So, when planting your starts or direct sowing seeds, space them to accommodate their future growth.

With a little patience and a lot less money, you can enjoy an area of ​​perennials for years to come.

(Amy Simon is a master horticulturist at the University of Vermont from South Burlington.)

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