Every year I grow several types of annual flowers. The types of plants I grow always changes, but there are a several annuals that are staples in my gardens. For those annual flowers, I collect the seeds every fall, and sow the seeds each spring. I thought it would be fun to write a top five list of annuals that are easy to grow from seed. There’s no order to this list, but I chose these five because they are some of the easiest annuals to grow from seed. It’s also easy to collect the seeds, which means no extra money out of your pocket.
Zinnias make a wonderful addition to the gardens. They add tons of color and make great cut flowers. Butterflies and hummingbirds love them too.
Zinnia seeds aren’t in pods, they are in the middle of the flower head, attached to the end of the flower petals. Once the flower fades, the flower head will eventually turn brown. The petals will usually fall off the head, but sometimes they won’t. If the birds are eating your zinnia seeds, you can remove the flower head from the plant and allow it to dry inside. To collect the seeds, break apart the flower head and pull out the seeds.
Retrieving zinnia seeds is a bit messy. Spreading the bits of the flower head over a piece of paper or paper plate makes it easier to find the seeds. There will be a lot of chaff (seed pod pieces and other plant debris) mixed in with the seeds. The chaff pieces have a similar shape and at first it can be difficult to spot the seeds. Zinnia seeds look like arrow heads or flat sunflower seeds. They are harder and slightly darker than other parts of the flower head. Once you start to see them, it’ll be easy to separate them from the chaff. Zinnia seeds can be winter sown in early spring or direct sown, but the seedlings must be protected from frost. The best method for starting these seeds is indoor sowing.
Marigolds aren’t only beautiful, they are great for keeping away pests in the garden. They also attract beneficial insects, and are beautiful in flower arrangements. Orange is one of my favorite colors, and I can’t have enough of it in the garden!
Marigold seeds are attached to the end of the flower petals. Allow the flower heads to dry on the plant, eventually the flower petals will drop off. Once the petals drop off, a pod formed by the bottom of the flower is left. The pod is open at the top and you can see the tips of the seeds sticking out. Marigold seeds are easy to collect and create very little chaff.
You can collect the seeds by breaking open the pod and separating out the seeds. Or simply squeeze the base of the pod and roll it between your fingers, the seeds will fall out. Marigold seeds are long and skinny. They are black with a light colored top. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and a few seeds will sow themselves. But to be sure you have plenty of marigolds in your garden, it’s best to start the seeds yourself. Marigold seeds can be winter sown, started indoors or direct sown.
3. Morning glory
Morning glories are annual climbing vines. I love them because they grow fast and will quickly cover a trellis. I also like to plant them with sunflowers and allow them to climb up their stems. It makes a beautiful color combination. In the fall, once the foliage and flowers die back and the vines are dried out, the seed pods are easy to spot.
They are round brown balls that form after the flower has dropped off. Allow the pods to dry completely before collecting the seeds. Once the pods are dry, they will fall apart easily and the seeds will fall out. The easiest way to collect the seeds is to pinch off the seed pod and drop it into a container. Be sure your container is under the pods you’re pinching, otherwise the seeds can get away quickly. If the seed pods are hard and don’t break apart easily, that means they aren’t ready to be harvested.
The seeds have a similar shape to an orange wedge. They are almost black and hard, like little stones. It’s easy to separate the seeds from the chaff. Spread the seeds and chaff on a paper plate or hard surface. Then lightly blow over the pile. The chaff is very light and will fly off the plate. Morning glory reseeds itself or could be direct sown in the garden. But in my opinion, winter sowing is the easiest method to reliably start morning glory seeds. Of course, they could also be sown indoors, but you have to be sure to nick each seed, and then soak them overnight in order to be successful with this method. You don’t need to do this with winter sowing.
Coleus plants add a pop of color to shady spots in the garden. They also do very well in containers. The foliage is what stands out on this plant. The flowers are small and not very interesting to us, but the bees love them. In the fall, you can take cutting of coleus to overwinter inside, but I find it easier to start them from seed every year.
Coleus seed pods are very small, as are the seeds. Once the flowers drop off, each flower spike will have circular clusters of seed pods left. I like to wait to collect the seeds until after frost has killed the foliage and the spikes have dried out. Coleus seeds are a bit more challenging to collect and start from seed than others because they are so small. The easiest way to collect the seed is to clip the entire flower spike and drop it a clean plastic bucket.
Gently shake the bucket to extract the seeds from the pods. If you try to collect the tiny seeds individually from the tiny seed pods, you’ll go crazy! It’s difficult to get rid of all the chaff with coleus seeds. It’s fine to leave some chaff, it won’t affect the seeds ability to germinate. You could also use a colander or screen to help separate the seeds from the chaff. Coleus seeds can be direct sown in the spring, but since they are so tiny, they could easily wash away when it rains. They do best if started indoors.
Cosmos also add bright color to the gardens. They grow quickly and explode with flowers in the late summer. They don’t stop blooming until frost. Beneficial pollinators love the flowers too. Cosmos seeds aren’t in pods, the seeds stick out around the flower head. They actually kind of look like flowers petals themselves. Once the flower heads dry out, it’s easy to spot the seeds sticking out. Snip the dried flower heads off the stem and drop them into a bag or bucket.
To collect the seeds, gently pinch around the flower head and the seeds will fall out. There will be some chaff, but it’s easy to separate the seeds from the chaff. The seeds are long and curved, they have the shape of a banana and are dark in color. Cosmos seeds will self sow or could be direct sown or sown indoors. This is another seed that does great with the winter sowing method, which is the method I prefer to use with cosmos seeds.
Collecting seeds and starting annuals from seeds is fun and free. If you love to grow annuals, why not save yourself money by collecting seeds rather than buying them new every year. You’ll have so many seeds, you could share them with your friends too. Once you collect your seeds, you’ll need a way to store them for the winter. Read this post on how to store seeds.