When to Start Perennial Flowers From Seed

by landocheese

Knowing when to start your perennial flowers from seed so that they have the best chance of survival is an important factor for the do-it-yourself gardener.

Why Does Timing Matter?

Knowing when to start your perennial flowers from seed so that they have the best chance of survival is an important factor for the do-it-yourself gardener.  You can save a lot of money by starting your own perennials from seed vs. going to the local nursery, but it does no good if you don't set them out in the garden at the right time.

Unlike annual flowers started from seed, which are best started in late Winter or early Spring so that they can be planted after the last frost, perennials do well when planted outdoors all season long, so you have more flexibility when planting perennials from seed than you do with annuals.

Starting your new perennials from seed at the right time is the best way to have the healthiest plants possible.  What you want is to get them to just the right size at the exact time of year that you want to set them out in the garden.  This prevents stress from the alternative, where the plants end up being in a pot too small to support their root system or getting too leggy due to a prolonged indoor growing season.

To save money and be ready for spring, you need to know how to grow plants from seed indoors. Starting your own plants indoors to plant in the garden is fun and easy.

When Can I Plant Perennials?

Perennials are hardy and, unlike annuals, they will not die as easily when the temperatures are cold.  Because of this, the planting season for perennials is longer and extends from mid-Spring to mid-Fall.

Planting perennials is much like planting trees in that a Spring or Fall planting is usually best.  That is when the temperatures are not as brutal and they can spend more time growing roots instead of trying to survive in the middle of Summer.  Having said that, a perennial may be planted all Summer long if you are committed to watering it quite a bit at first. 

If you want to choose the very best times to plant perennials, you want to aim for late Spring and early Fall.

When Should I Start the Seeds?

Now that you know you are shooting for late Spring or early Fall to plant your perennials it is easy to figure out when to start them from seed.

To do that, just look at the seed packet.  Most seed packets will tell you how many weeks before the last frost the seeds may be planted indoors.  Take that timing seriously.  It is there for a reason.  Cutting that down will mean very small transplants and it would be better to direct seed than to transplant tiny seedlings.  Extending that timeframe will mean leggy or sun deprived plants that will not be as healthy as they could be had they been set out at the proper time.

Let's take an example.  Suppose you have some perennial seeds and on that seed packet it suggests that you start the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date, but you want to plant them in the early Fall, or September 1st.  Simply subtract 7 weeks (let's split the difference between 6 and 8) from September 1st and you sholud be starting these seeds around July 14th.

What Next?

Now that you know you can plant throughout the growing season and you know how to back up from the best planting dates to the seed starting dates, all you have to do now is to figure out which perennial you want to add to your garden next.  Then, buy the seeds and get planting!


Updated: 05/08/2012, landocheese
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cazort on 10/26/2013

It's definitely valuable to read the instructions on seed packets, because different plants have very different growing conditions!

I like to grow plants from seeds I gather in the wild or from other gardens, and in these cases I don't have a seed packet to look at. Fortunately, there are a lot of good books and online resources on seed germination.

Some plants are quirky...for example, I've been trying to grow asters from seed and apparently the germination rate is very low for certain asters, like New England aster, in part because only a small portion of seeds contain live embryos...so the books have told me to gather much more seed than I'd expect to need, and then sow it thickly, relative to what I'm used to for other plants. We'll see what happens!

landocheese on 07/30/2012

In my neck of the woods this year is a fine example of why planting perennials from seed in fall is a great option. We went from one week of spring to 3 months of hot summer. Perennials will love to be planted in late summer or early fall and have the less stressful temperatures of fall to set roots.

Rose on 07/29/2012

I've always planted in spring, have never tried Fall. Might give the autumn planting a go this year and see if they thrive any better (or not)

mivvy on 07/25/2011

Now I know why my perennials were never any good. I planted them at the wrong time of year

landocheese on 07/24/2011

Thanks for the comment. I love perennials because they come back next year, making my job easier.

sheilamarie on 07/24/2011

Good advice! Perennials are always a good bet for garden.

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