03255-PK-P1_1 Conventional wisdom tells us that most perennial seeds like to be sown outdoors in fall, so they can vernalize (get their “chill time”) during winter and then pop up in spring. Or, if they are sown in spring, they probably will not flower the first year, but will “find their feet” and be ready for blooms by Year Two.

But did you know that many perennials defy the odds and flower magnificently the first year from an early (late winter or early spring) sowing? Some types do this naturally, while others have only a few — usually fairly new — varieties that can accomplish this. Here are some great ones to sow indoors in late winter, for a big show of color in summer:

51829-pk-p1_2Russian Sage

New from seed this season, Blue Steel blooms the very first summer if begun early indoors. The seed germinates in just a couple days, and the plants grow readily, becoming very bushy with a little pinching from you! Fragrant and beautiful for months on end, this perennial has the impact of a shrub, and is just as long-lived!

Hummingbird Mint

51021-pk-p1_2Huge improvements are being made in the Agastache (Hyssop) family right now. The foliage is becoming more compact and the flowers more numerous. And best of all, there is now a variety that blooms the first year from seed: gorgeous lavender-peach Arizona Sunset!

The blooms are charming, but it may be the licorice-scented foliage or the pollinator magnetism that really convinces you of the value of this beautiful, unusual perennial. Add it to your sunny garden or patio pot this season, and watch butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds flock to these softly-colored tubular blooms all summer!

Coneflower

So many breeding breakthroughs have occurred in the Echinacea family in recent years! Most of us notice the color changes, the double-flowered forms, and the bigger blooms. But there is also a revolution going on in germination and growth rate! Here are two newcomers to sow right now for summer flowers:

PowWow Wild Berry51231-pk-p1_2

The fastest to go from seed to bloom, this gorgeous Coneflower needs just 20 weeks to start opening its buds! And since it’s one of the most free-flowering varieties ever grown, you will enjoy armloads of long-lasting blooms for many summers to come. (Just remember to save a few for the garden. Bees and butterflies are nonstop visitors during summer, and then birds feast on the seeds in the big central cone in fall!)

Cheyenne Spirit

Get this one in the Bio Dome as soon as you can! It takes 23 to 24 weeks to bloom, and is it ever a fabulous experience! Cheyenne Spirit is a mix, so you won’t know what you’re getting until the buds begin to sport long, slender petals of red, pink, purple, orange, yellow, gold, or cream!

03289-pk-p1Blanket Flower

Every garden deserves this rough-and-ready, super-adaptable native perennial. And now the Arizona family is leading the way in first-year blooms! Try all of the stunning colors:

Arizona Apricot

Winner of an All-America Selection, this beautiful golden-apricot mix doesn’t need to be rushed. Sow it now in the Bio Dome and plant it out when the soil warms up in spring. It will reward you with masses of breathtaking 3- to 3 1/2-inch blooms all summer and into fall.

Arizona Red Shades

Four inches wide and often tipped in yellow, these blooms will wow you. And they will begin in late spring from an early sowing!

Arizona Sun

This is the variety that started it all. Lovely traditional gold-and-burgundy Blanket Flower look, but oh, the flower power and the get-up-and-grow vigor of this first-year bloomer!00992-pk-p1

Happy Lights Hollyhock

No more Hollyhock envy from those of us who forget to sow the seeds outdoors in fall and aren’t lucky enough to have established plants that can do the (self) sowing for us! This big-time award winner flowers the first year if begun right now!

51654-pk-p1Rudbeckia

One of the most exciting plants of the new season is Kelvedon Star, which will flower heavily the first year if begun early. It follows in the footsteps of Ruby Gold, a gorgeous burgundy-and-yellow mix that dazzled gardeners for the first time last season. These are short-lived perennials or biennials, and will reward an early indoor sowing with a profuse showing the first season! Pick or deadhead the flowers quickly and you will get new buds even faster!

Elise Lewisia

Many of us have never grown Lewisia 51431-pk-p1from seed, even though it’s a native perennial. One reason is that it needs a dry, sunny location (it is native to the cliffsides of the Far West), but another is that until Elise came along, it was a challenge to start from seed. That’s why we’re so delighted with this mix of brilliant colors. It has won awards for its ability to bloom the first year — it’s the only Lewisia able to do so! — but we are more entranced with its improved germination ability. If you have been frustrated by Lewisia seeds before, Elise is out to win you over! Blooms in 4 to 5 months from seed.03184-PK-P1_1

Joe-Pye Weed

We have to include this beloved native species because you might not expect that it could bloom the first year from seed. Joe-Pye is a magnificent perennial with the impact and longevity of a shrub. It flowers in late summer, and when the plant is fully grown, it is simply a showstopper: 5 to 7 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide, with a naturally arched habit, like a living garden gate. It’s native to the eastern US, but should be grown by any gardener with a patch of sunshine.

Luna Hibiscus

The only Rose Mallow to bloom from seed the first year, Luna is a special delight for hummingbird lovers. These huge, tropical blooms just won’t quit. Luna Pink Swirl led the way, and this season we’re proud to introduce the mix of all the Luna colors.51115-pk-p1

White Breeze Shasta Daisy

Leucanthemum joins the ranks of first-year bloomers with the arrival of White Breeze, which swept the seeds awards in Europe when it arrived on the scene. No sunny perennial border is complete without its complement of merry daisies, and White Breeze gets you there the first year from seed!

Camelot Foxglove

Lots of happily-ever-aftering with Camelot! Though other Foxgloves offer some blooms the first year, Camelot goes to town. It’s just a more vigorous plant to begin with, and the blooms come earlier and more profusely. With three glorious colors to choose from, you can find a Camelot that fits perfectly with any design scheme!

00070-pk-p1Compacta Alyssum

Not to be confused with the annual plant Sweet Alyssum, this long-lived perennial attracts honeybees and butterflies, cascades anywhere you want it to, and often reblooms in late season! Sow it now for years of groundcover bliss!

Origami Columbine

Though it is hardly new, Origami still has the power to astound with its brilliant long-spurred blooms in jewel-bright colors. When it was introduced, it was the first in its family to bloom the first year from seed. We still think it’s a marvel, and so will you, once this spring bloomer makes its home in your garden!03741-pk-p1

Esprit Mix Penstemon

Native to the Great Plains, P. grandiflorus never looked so good or bloomed so heavily the first year until Esprit came along! A pollinator magnet, it puts up with a lot of hardship, even including periods of drought.

51839-pk-p1Hardy Garden Phlox Mix

It sounds too good to be true — long-lived Phlox paniculata hybrids that start flowering in late summer from a late-winter indoor sowing! But that’s just what this new mix offers. The color range is spectacular too, going well beyond the expected pinks and lavenders to include bicolors and rich deep carmines and violets. Start this one by early January to get the plants nice and plump by transplant time!

Southern Charm Verbascum

Mullein can look a bit weedy, but Southern Charm elevates the family with bigger, more colorful blooms, a refusal to set seed (no more unwanted volunteers!), and first-year blooms. Expect to see the flowers in late summer or early fall the first year; thereafter, you will get spring and fall blooms, with a rest during summer to let other bloomers have their day.01701-pk-p1

Freelander Mix Prunella

Where has this plant been hiding? Known as “selfheal,” Prunella is an herb with a groundcover habit. The Freelander family takes it to an ornamental level, delighting us with jewel-bright blooms in rich colors. Sow it now, transplant it into the garden in spring, and admire the first blooms this fall!

About Sappho Charney

Sappho Charney is a garden writer living in Lubbock, Texas.

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