Growing your own perennials from seed

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Many gardeners start vegetables, annual flowers and herbs from seeds, either indoors or directly in the garden. However, have you ever considered growing your own perennials from seed?

Perennial plants are defined as plants that live for more than two growing seasons. Tender perennials may live only three years while other perennials return each year, sometimes for decades.

The leaves of herbaceous perennials die back in winter, but the roots remain in the ground, often with buds or stems at or just below ground level. When the conditions are optimal, the plant sends out new shoots and its growth cycle begins again.

Typically, perennials are purchased as established plants in various container sizes from nurseries or garden centers. Or you may be lucky enough to receive plant divisions from friends or neighbors. These should be bare-rooted to avoid the spread of jumping worm.

What if you wanted 25 black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.) to fill in a large pollinator-friendly perennial bed? Advantages of starting your own plants from seed are certainly economic. The cost of purchasing one packet of seeds and some growing medium is far less than purchasing that many plants.

The seed packet will include information identifying the plant as a perennial, its bloom time, mature size and light preferences. Photo by Amy Simone

Yet another benefit of growing your own is knowing the origin of the plant that you are putting in your garden. Given the pest and disease pressures that have afflicted our gardens recently, that is true peace of mind.

As you peruse the racks of seeds in the garden centers, pay close attention to the information on each seed packet. It will indicate if the plant is a perennial and will provide all the information regarding the plant’s desired light conditions, mature height, planting distances, bloom times and any special germination tips.

Columbine (Aquilegia spp.), pinks (Dianthus spp.), catmint (Nepeta spp.), purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.), Beardtongue (Penstemon spp.), delphinium (Delphinium spp.), yarrow (Achillea spp.) and tickseed (Coreopsis spp.) are just some examples of perennial seeds that you may find.

The seed packet also contains information on timeframes for sowing seeds inside and outside, as well as the recommended method. If starting seeds inside, consider that the seedlings will need to be transplanted as they grow. You should also ensure that your light source can cover all of the plants as that area expands.

When sowing seeds directly in the garden, it is helpful to insert a plant marker with the plant name and planting date. Protecting the area with a physical barrier such as a floating row cover can give the tender young seedlings a chance against the little creatures in your yard looking for a snack. You can remove the protection once the plants get bigger and stronger.

Keep in mind that those seedlings that began as tiny seeds will become mature-sized plants, many within two or three years. Therefore, when transplanting your starts or sowing seeds directly, space them to accommodate their future growth.

With a little patience and considerably less money, you can enjoy a yard’s worth of perennial plants for years to come.

by Amy Simone, Extension Master Gardener, UVM

Featured photo: Several varieties of perennial plants are easy to start indoors from seed. Photo by Amy Simone

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