Ten Tips for Direct Sowing Cool Season Spring Flowers. Start Now!

by Marcia Kirinus, EMGV

All photos by Marcia Kirinus

 I never thought that I could grow flowers like Delphinium or foxglove in my hot, humid, USDA zone 7b garden but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years that give me lush early spring blooms every time.  And though the garden looks Monet expensive, it costs me the price of a few seed packets. Here are my top 10 tips for an abundant early spring flower garden.

Directly seeded Orlaya grandiflora, California poppy (Eschscholzia California), Saponaria officialis.

These tips are also helpful when sowing seeds at other times of the year or when planting cool-season greens like kale, mustards, lettuce, spinach, parsley, or Swiss chard, which complement cool-season flowers beautifully in the garden. 

The beauty of kale, parsley and mustards lend themselves to partnering with early spring flowers. Directly sow seeds in the fall.
  1. Prepare A Fluffy Seed Bed: To ensure success, it’s crucial that your seeds make full contact with fresh, loose soil. Remove any debris that might hinder seeds from resting directly on a smooth soil bed. Temporarily pull back any mulch and gently loosen the top few inches of soil. If your soil is rocky or clayey, incorporate plenty of organic matter and rake it until it’s fine. The goal is to achieve excellent seed-soil contact. I like to think of the final surface akin to the smooth finish of a chocolate cake—no lumps or bumps and the soil should be fluffy.  
freshly prepared flower bed with fluffy soil.
Prepare the flower bed in the fall.

Strong germinators for direct sowing include: 

  • Poppies, Papaver sp.
  • California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  • Atriplex sp.
  • Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis,
  • Bachelor’s buttons, Centurea cyanus
  • Chinese forget-me-nots, Firmament cynoglossum
  • Soapwort, Saponaria sp.
  • Dill, Anethum graveolens  
  • Love-in-a-mist, Nigella sp.
  • Corn cockle, Agrostemma githago
  • Larkspur, Delphinium consolida
  • Orlaya grandiflora. 
  1. Consider Seed Germination Preferences: Be mindful of a seed’s germination preference regarding soil depth. Some seeds require darkness to germinate, while others need light. Follow directions on the seed package. If light is needed, you will sprinkle seed on your newly prepared bed, water and walk away. If darkness is needed, you will lightly cover the seed with soil. Seeds that prefer light to germinate are: 
  • Poppies, Papaver nudicaule
  • California poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  • Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis,
  • Chinese forget-me-nots, Firmament cynoglossum
  • Orlaya grandiflora.  
  1. Sow at the Right Time and Under Favorable Conditions: Most cool-weather flowers thrive when sown during cool air temperatures while the soil remains warm. Look for nights with consistent temperatures between 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit for two weeks or more. Watch the weather and avoid sowing during high winds or heavy downpours. Before a gentle rain is an ideal time to sow seeds.
  1. Regular Weeding is Crucial: In addition to your sown flower seeds, cool season weed seeds like chickweed can outcompete your desired flowers and their seeds are already in the soil giving them a head start. Regular weeding gives your intended seeds a fighting chance. After your seedlings emerge, lightly disturb the top inch of soil around your plants with a hoe to dislodge any weed seeds that have taken hold. Start the weeding process 10-14 days after sowing and continue every 10-14 days.
  1. Don’t Sow Too Sparingly: When directly seeding, be generous with the amount of seed you sow. Instead of spacing seeds every six inches as the seed packet might suggest, aim to drop a few seeds every inch or so.  Thicker planting results in less weed competition and you can always thin them out later. 
  1. Keep Beds Moist During Germination: Young plants require consistent moisture for growth. Initially, water your bed gently every day or every other day until your plants emerge. Don’t flood your garden, just keep it consistently moist. Hand watering with a watering wand is the preferred method to avoid washing away small seeds or covering seeds that need light to germinate.
  1. Avoid Walking on Beds: Remember that your seeds are in the ground, so avoid stomping them down and compacting the soil that took you so long to  fluff up. Steppingstones are not just decorative, they serve a functional purpose in the garden, preventing unnecessary soil compression.
  1. Reseed if Germination Doesn’t Occur: Consult your seed packet for the expected germination timeframe and mark it on your calendar. If, for any reason, germination doesn’t occur within the expected window, don’t hesitate to reseed. The window for direct sowing is limited, so it’s better to act sooner rather than later.
  1. Avoid Early Thinning: Nature can be unpredictable, especially over the winter. If thinning is necessary, do it in the very early spring when you observe new growth. In our USDA zone 7b area, this typically occurs from mid-February through mid-March. 

It’s the abundance of the blossoms in the spring that make me forget the work that happened six months before.  The spring garden never ceases to fill me with giddy joy. It ignites in me a desire to get outside and start working on the summer garden. 


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