If you like to have a big, colorful floral display in your garden and change it up each year, there is nothing better than annual flowers. While it's easy to find annuals in local garden centers in six packs or flats of 24, many annuals are easy to grow from seed, which can stretch your budget and give you greater variety of plant choices.
Several annuals are super easy to grow from seed, either by direct seeding in the garden or by starting indoors under lights. All annuals benefit from a sunny spot. While some like a rich soil, others, such as nasturtiums, actually grow better in poor soils.
Here are five of the easiest annuals for start from seed:
-- Zinnias are among the easiest annuals to grow from seed. I usually start a few indoors under lights and then add more seed to the garden to stagger the bloom. Many times zinnias will bloom well into fall. Start the seeds in a good seed-starting mix under lights about 4 to 5 weeks before the last frost date. (As a general rule, Minnesotans can use May 15 -- though up north it may be May 30.) Keep young plants well watered but not soggy. Zinnias do not like being transplanted, so put them in the garden before they get too large. Peat pots that can be planted with the zinnias are a good idea. Just be sure the top of the pot is below the soil line and crack the pot in a couple of places to make sure the roots can get into the soil. For bushier plants, pinch out the center growing tip when the plants are still young.
Nasturtium -- If Claude Monet loved nasturiums, so do I. (Photo was taken at Monet's garden in Giverny, France.) Nasturtiums also can be planted directly in their pots or the garden, or given a 4 to 6 week head start indoors. Like zinnias, they are not crazy about being transplanted, so handle very gently. Nasturtiums come in dozens of colors and can be allowed to spread along the ground or trained up a trellis. They do best in poor soils, so don't lavish on the fertilizer.
Morning glories -- These plants are almost too easy to grow! If you ever have planted the famous (or infamous) variety Grandpa Ott's morning glories, you know what I mean. Plant them once and you and your neighbors will have morning glories for years to come! Soak seeds in water for 24 hours to soften the hard outer shell, or nick it slightly with a nail file. These climbing annuals will need a trellis for support.
Marigolds -- Marigolds add rich hues of yellow, red and orange to the summer and fall landscape, and are a very easy annual to start from seed. Marigolds are natives of Mexico, so you will want to start them indoors under lights in Minnesota. (Here's a helpful video on planting the seeds.) You can plant the marigolds out when they are just a few inches tall or give them more time under lights for earlier bloom.
Sunflowers -- If you have a little one at your house, try growing sunflowers from seed. They grow fast, and come in a variety of heights and bloom types, from giant 6 or 7 footers to small ones with fluffy head. Birds and bees will appreciate it if you grow the traditional sunflower with a center of black seeds. Birds love the seeds and it's fun to watch them bobbing atop the flower head as they harvest seeds from the bloom.
These are just a few of the easiest annuals to start from seed. Others to consider would be snapdragons, alyssum, ageratum, cosmos and salvia. At only $2 or $3 a package, you can start a whole garden full of annuals.