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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Learn With Us: October 2023

Forage Mushrooms Without Dying 
October 7, 9am-11am
Learn all four seasons of the easiest to ID and best tasting wild, edible mushrooms—12 in all with expert & author Frank Hyman. Plus, learn important skills for foraging, cooking and preserving your finds. Slideshow and Q&A. Fee. Details at www.frankhyman.com on the “Classes” page.

Foodscaping with Brie

October 7, Lecture 10am–12pm

October 14, Tour at Brie’s 2pm–5pm

Brie Arthur will cover all the basics, including soil preparation, organic fertilizer, pest management, plant selection, and gorgeous combinations. The garden tour and yard-to-table tasting will include a guided tour through Brie’s home foodscape where attendees can literally get their hands dirty, ask in-the-moment questions, and taste the fruits of Brie’s foodscaping efforts. Fee, pre-register. JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh. jcra.ncsu.edu/calendar.

Not Tonight Deer

October 7, 2pm-4pm

With the right kind of fences, plants and deterrents you can consistently keep the deer away from your garden. Slideshow class with Q&A with horticulturist and designer Frank Hyman. Fee. Details at www.frankhyman.com on the “Classes” page.

Harvest Festival

October 8, 1pm-4pm

Celebrate the bounty of autumn with a festival of activities, music, demonstrations and more, led by Duke Gardens and other local groups in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden. Free drop-in activities for adults and children together; all ages. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Free; no registration required. 919-668-1707, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, 27705. gardenseducation@duke.edu.

Triangle Orchid Society

October 9, 7:30 pm

Do you grow Cattleyas? Come meet the expert. Art Chadwick of Richmond VA, author, speaker, TV guest, has the distinction of naming his Cattleya hybrids after the wives of the last six U.S. Presidents and personally presenting the flowers to most of the honored recipients. Free and open to the public. JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh. www.triangleorchidsociety.org.

Margaret Reid Garden Overview

October 10, 7:30pm

Gardeners of Wake County, JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh. gardenersofwakecounty.weebly.com.

Photography Walk-Top Tips for Photographing Fall Color

October 12, 10am–12pm

Mary Louise Ravese will explain her tips for how to best capture the color of the season from what photography equipment to use, to successful techniques, and advice on where and when to go to locations convenient to the Triangle area. Fee, pre-registration. JC Raulston Arboretu, Raleigh. jcra.ncsu.edu/calendar.

Virtual Lunchbox Talk: Okra and Collards

October 12, 12pm-1pm

This class uses okra and collards to explore crop trialing, seed saving, culinary evaluations, regional and community seed work, climate adaptation, and crop development. The class aims to showcase the importance of regional seed saving as a simple and accessible technology. Virtual via Zoom. Free, preregistration. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill. ncbg.unc.edu.

Open House Weekend

October 13-15

Camellia Forest Nursery, Chapel Hill, NC. camforest.com.

Art and Yoga Retreat

October 14, 8:30am-3:30pm

Embody the meaning of peace in your mind, body, and heart at this semi-annual yoga and art retreat. The beautiful Autumn background invites us to reflect on a time of transition and letting go. Fee; preregistration. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill. ncbg.unc.edu.

PlantFest 2023

October 14, 9am-2pm

Orange County Master Gardener volunteers plant sale,kids’ activities, gardening exhibits, tool sharpening, a nature-themed art sale and food vendors. Rain date: Oct. 21. Bonnie B. Davis Environment and Agricultural Center, Hillsborough. www.plantfestnc.org.

Native Southeastern Medicinal Plants

October 14, 9:30am-12:30pm

Using the expansive resources of the NCBG display gardens and the Piedmont Nature Trails behind the Garden, students take in the abundant medicine that our local flora has to offer. Topics include field identification, ethical gathering and harvesting, history and lore of each plant, therapeutic and medicinal uses, and preparations. No prerequisites. Fee; preregistration. North Carolina Botanical Garden, Chapel Hill. ncbg.unc.edu.

Open House Weekend

October 20-22

Camellia Forest Nursery, Chapel Hill, NC. camforest.com.

Sustainable Gardening Seminar

October 21, 8am-11am

Learn the basics of sustainable gardening through the example in Bee Better Naturally’s teaching garden with Helen Yoest. Learn waterwise, mulching, and plants to sustain your garden fully. Fee. Register at beebetternaturally.com. The Bee Better Teaching Garden, won the City of Raleigh’s Sustainable Garden Award in 2015.

Lasting Impressions’ Garage Gallery & Plant Sale

October 21, 9am-1pm

Our handmade concrete leaves and hypertufa troughs will be 20% off for this event. Shop for yourself and gardening friends!

Fall planting is the best! Find natives, shrubs, perennials and dwarf conifers locally grown for your garden! Lasting Impressions,4904 Hermitage Dr., Raleigh.

Bahama Ruritan Club: Bahama Day.

October 28, 2023

A street fair and fundraiser for Bahama Ruritan Club, Bahama Fire Dept Auxilary, and other nonprofit organizations that benefit the Bahama community.

Bahama Day

Botany Spotlight: Oaks

October 26, 2pm-5pm

Eastern North Carolina’s rich array of native oaks is second only to those of Mexico. Learn more about this fascinating and important group of plants, including their biology, how to identify and distinguish them, and how they impact and interact with their environment. For a review of the oak tree of life and current research, register for the virtual session on October 24. Fee; registration is required at https://rsvp.duke.edu/g1nKqO. 919-668-1707, gardenseducation@duke.edu. Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham, 27705. gardenseducation@duke.edu.

Fall Tea for All

October 29, 10 am-4 pm

Join us to celebrate the end of our 2023 harvest. There will be tours of the tea gardens throughout the day and fresh tea samples for tasting. Suggested donation. Camellia Forest Nursery & Tea Gardens, Chapel Hill. teaflowergardens.com.