Starting Perennial Flowers From Seed

How to grow perennial flowers

While annuals are often easy to grow from seed, their blooms are unfortunately short-lived. Perennials, however, are a garden stalwart returning year after year to provide color and fragrance without starting from scratch. From planting the seeds to seeing your new flowers in bloom, starting perennial flowers can be a more lengthy and challenging process, but the time and work are worth it when you can enjoy their beauty each blooming season.

Starting Perennial Flowers From Seed

Growing perennials from seed can be challenging because the seeds often need to experience specific conditions prior to germination. Some varieties require a cold spell, while others need warmth to germinate. The first step is choosing the right seeds for your garden zone and growing conditions. If it's your first time starting perennial flowers from seed, you may want to select a variety that's easier to grow and doesn't require a cold treatment, like 'PowWow Wild Berry' echinacea or 'Alaska' Shasta daisies.

Planting Seeds

When planting seeds for perennial flowers, you need growing containers, a good potting mix and a warm area to germinate the seeds. You can start them in small cells, but you may need to transplant them into small pots before planting them in the garden. Choose a potting mix made for seed starting and sow the seeds according to seed packet directions. Cover the seeds with plastic wrap to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate.

Some perennials can be sown directly in the ground, but the timing will vary based on the seeds and your growing zone.

Understanding the Germination Process

It can take three to five weeks to germinate most perennial seeds, so be patient. Some of the seeds from the same variety may germinate faster than others, so you may have a few plants up and growing while others are still dormant. Place the seedlings in good lighting and let them grow. If you're starting your seeds indoors, you may want to use a grow light if you don't have a direct light source.

Don't expect all the seeds to germinate. For perennials, the germination rate can be as low as 50% in some varieties, compared to almost 95% of annual seeds that will grow. Follow seed packet directions for the best results. For many perennials, you can increase the germination rate by chilling or soaking the seeds before you sow them.

When a seed does germinate, the first leaves will be simple and some true leaves will follow. The early leaves don't always look like the mature leaf, so don't worry if they look different. The seedlings will grow slower than most annuals, and you'll need to account for that by starting the seeds as much as 10 to 12 weeks before your last frost date.

Planning Your Garden

When the seedlings are large enough to transplant, treat them as any other seedling by hardening them off for a few days and ensuring they get enough water every day. Where you plant your perennial flowers will depend on the amount of sunlight required for each specific variety, but most will need full sun and well-draining soil. Mark your plants with tags so you can easily identify them until they finally bloom.

If you're trying to decide how to plant annuals and perennials together, keep in mind that it can take up to a year before plants bloom when starting perennial flowers from seed. Once the perennials bloom, however, incorporating them among your annual beds ensures you'll enjoy more extended periods of color throughout the season.

Growing perennials from seed requires a bit of patience, but the result is well worth the wait in the long run.

For more tips on growing these beautiful garden staples, check out Burpee's guide to perennials.

Written by Shahrzad Warkentin

Shahrzad Warkentin is a writer and seasoned gardener, with over 12 years of experience.  Besides her own home garden, she helps manage her kids' school garden.

May 13, 2021
©2020 W.Atlee Burpee & Co