Perennials that are easy-to-grow from seed

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Aww, what a cute new seedling Bethlehem sage (Pulmonaria saccharata)! Few aspects of gardening are more thrilling than watching seed you sowed emerge and grow. Yet failure with seeds can be a sad frustration, and likely if you sow seeds of species like Pulmonaria indoors -- the seed may not sprout for you although it germinates readily in a garden where winter has provided the requisite cold/warm cycle. The list of easy-from-seed perennials in this article helps you avoid such disappointment. 

Hi Janet & Steve,

Can you name some perennials that are simple to grow from seed? I don't want to fuss with freezing seed or waiting around forever, just want to have some fun and grow some from seed. Which do you suggest? - J. J. -


We decided to ask professional growers for their recommendations, and came up with the list of easy-grow from seed perennials, below. (We've also added this list to our perennial lists page where you'll find other aids for choosing perennials.)

Thanks for asking, J.J., because this project was fun at every turn, starting with the reminiscing involved. It took us and te growers we polled right back to our first years of growing, because it turned out there is no better way to recall the simplest than to think back on what we first had in abundance in our own gardens. Those tended to be the species that had started so readily we'd ended up with extras. Since no one who grows from seed can bear to throw away a seedling every extra or unsold plantlet goes out into the grower's own garden.

The growers

We polled this group and compiled one list  from their responses:

We asked:

"Can you name four or five easy-seed perennials we can list in an article on" All of these folks could quickly name four or five. We'd expected that, and to hear some repetition between them. However, we didn't imagine we'd have a nearly-unanimous number one pick: Coreopsis.

Cheryl Bennerup sums up our joint perspective on this topic: "Your question was an excellent one and I had a lot of fun with it. I wrote down my own list and then asked Pierre (Bennerup)..., our grower Sarah, our grower and propagation manager Jan... and wow, what a list we created"

Karen Bovio also contributed lots of practical how-to for seed starting in Growing Perennials from Seed. Her Specialty Growers website is chock full of this kind of help; we're very glad to be able to feature her here, too. Many thanks for that "extra", Karen!

The growers' picks for easy-to-grow perennial seed

The perennials below are quick to germinate (usually within 2 weeks) and do not require stratification (alternate freeze and thaw) or scarification (manual breaking of a hard seed coat, such as by abrasion, sanding, or nicking). We include notes regarding preferred site and hardiness: Sun, part shade, whether EDR (excellent drainage required) and USDA hardiness zone number.

For more about an individual perennial including use and care advice, follow the link from the plant's picture or name, or type its scientific name into our Search field for more articles.

(We're still creating all the individual perennials' pages,
and forging these links as we go. Bear with us --
tell us which you most want to see, perhaps by
Sponsoring that page!)

Below: Right to left, aster, balloon flower, bee balm, blackeye Susan

AsterBtrfly1779.jpg BalloonflwrFlwr0358.jpg Monarda1453.jpg Rudbeckia1456.jpg

Below: Left to right, Blanket flower, butterfly weed, catmint, perennial bachelor button, columbine.

Gaillardia1613.jpg Butflywd8848.jpg Nepeta2099.jpg CentaureaMontFl0619s.jpg Columbine0099.jpg

  • Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea); Part shade to sun, Z3. Note: All the new varieties with colorful leaves are not only complex hybrids but patent protected, yet we still love the delightful green-leaf, red flowered species, do-able from seed. *tiny
  • Coreopsis. Lanceleaf tickseed (C. lanceolata) mouse ear tickseed (C. auriculata) and others. ; Sun, Z4. Many hybrids and varieties sold at garden centers can't be grown from seed but for each of those there are a half dozen tried and true varieties that can be seed grown.
  • Daisy (Leucanthemum species); Sun, Z3
  • Delphinium (tall Delphinium elatum); Sun, Z5
  • English daisy (Bellis perennis); Sun to part shade, Z4 (not pictured here)
  • False indigo (Baptisia australis); Sun, EDR, Z3

Below: Left to right, coral bells, Coreopsis, daisy, delphinium, false indigo.

Heuchera8566.jpg Coreops1445.jpg Daisy0840.jpg Delphin1476.jpg Baptisia0850.jpg

Below: Left to right, foxglove, gayfeather, goldenrod, hollyhock, leopardsbane, leopardplant.

Digitalis1929.jpg Liatris3860.jpg SolidagoFlwrs3437.jpg Hollyhock8520.jpg DoronicumFlwrs7245.jpg Ligularia9144.jpg

  • Lychnis species (such as Maltese cross L. chalcedonica or scarlet campion L. coronaria); Sun, Z3
  • Meadow rue (Thalictrum species); Part shade to sun, Z4
  • Mullein (Verbascum species); Sun, EDR, Z5, *tiny
  • Mum, especially Chrysanthemum species; Sun, Z5
  • Pansy, other violets (Viola x wittrockiana is the traditional "pansy" but many other Viola species are fun and easy to grow from seed); Part shade to sun, Z5

Below: Left to right, scarlet campion, meadow rue, mullein, mum, downy violet.

 Lychnis1130.jpg ThalictRob5988.jpg VerbasYellw2855.jpg OrangeMum9561.jpg Violet2590.jpg

  • Pigsqueak (Bergenia species); Sun to part shade, Z3
  • Pinks (Dianthus species, especially sweet William/D. barbatus); Sun to part shade, EDR, Z4, *tiny
  • Poppies (Papaver species); Sun, EDR, Z3
  • Primrose/Cowslip (Primula species); Part shade to sun, Z5, some Z3
  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); Sun to part shade, Z3

Below: Left to right, pigsqueak, pinks, oriental poppy, primrose, purple coneflower.

Bergenia3049.jpg DianthusRed9898.jpg Poppy2810.jpg Primula3617.jpg Echina3315.jpg

Below: Left to right, sage, shooting star, swamp milkweed.

Salvia1442.jpg Dodecatheon9870.jpg SwampMilk3296.jpg

        * Tiny indicates tiny seed. Although it germinates quickly it can be tricky to handle. See Karen Bovio's advice for sowing Dianthus for help sowing tiny seeds.

Cheryl Bennerup adds: "...once (perennial seeds are) germinated or nearly all germinated they should be... kept on the cooler side not the warmer side. Not too cold where you end up having to deal with botrytis but not necessarily super warm like many think it would be." One way to accomplish this is to move the flat of just-emerged seedlings outdoors into a cold frame such as shown below.

Below: Some of grower Barry Glick's cold frames at Sunshine Farm & Garden in Renick in the zone 5 hills of West Virginia. Covered with glass or plastic but without supplemental heat (heating cables or manure would make it a hot bed)  a cold frame holds enough warmth from the ground to keep seedlings from freezing -- even in March or April -- but allows them full sun. The result: stocky, vigorous young plants. 



More seed-starting information in these related articles:

Growing Concerns 555: Simple seed sowing, great for kids in late winter

Growing Concerns 505: Special tricks for seed starting, Norman Deno's fine book

Growing Concerns 504: Poppy from seed, as an example of cold stratification needed

What's Coming Up 159 pp. 7-8: The straight scoop on growing hardy hibiscus from seed: Go for it!

What's Coming Up 79: Notes about seed germination requirements, and learning about Tom Clothier's great seed information website