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How to plant seed in the fall for spring and summer flowers

Zinnia seed can be planted in the fall for flowers next summer.
Zinnia seed can be planted in the fall for flowers next summer.
Kim Willis

You may think the planting season is over when the leaves fall off the trees but there are some common garden flowers that drop their seeds in the fall. Those seeds need a period of cold to germinate and may need the freezing and thawing cycle to crack a hard seed coat and allow moisture in for germination. You may have some of the garden plants that require these conditions in your garden and they will self- seed for you if left alone. If you don’t have the plants and want them in your garden now may be the time, before the ground freezes solid, to sow some of those seeds.

Seeds that can be sown in the fall include: Bachelor's Button, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Echinacea, Flax, Larkspur, Moss Rose, Marigolds, Milkweeds, Morning glory, Nasturtium, Pansy, Poppy, Strawflower, Sweet pea, Verbena, Viola and Zinnia. Buy the seeds or collect dry seeds from friend’s plants if you don’t have them. Some of these may also be planted in early spring. Some wildflower and grass seed may also be suggested for fall planting. Check the label, plant description or a reference. Chances are if nature drops the seed in late fall it likes fall planting.

When you are collecting seed from the garden remember that seeds from hybrids like most marigolds and zinnias you purchased in a garden center last spring will not come true from seed. That is they will probably not look like their parent. But that said they are often just as pretty although you may get a range of sizes and colors. And you could get something unusual and exciting if you experiment.

What to do

Clear a spot in the garden of vegetation and loosen the soil. Sprinkle the seeds over the area. You may want to sprinkle them thickly as some will not germinate. You can thin in the spring. Very small seeds like poppy seed should not be covered but press them against the soil. Larger seeds like morning glory seed should have a loose layer of soil about a half inch thick placed over them. Don’t water the seeds; it tends to wash them into clumps or away from your prepared area. Nature should take care of the watering for you.

You can apply a very thin layer of mulch such as pine needles or chopped straw but don’t use leaves or anything that mats over the seeds and don’t make the mulch deeper than a half inch. (Poppies, larkspur and moss rose will germinate better if not mulched.) Make sure to mark the spots where you sow the seeds. Some may wait until warmer weather to emerge so don’t be in a big hurry in the spring to plant over them, thinking they didn’t sprout. If you have trouble with birds pecking at your seeds cover the area with netting.

It’s not too late to plant the seeds until the ground freezes solid. After all nature will still be dropping them, even after the snow falls in some cases. It’s an easy, inexpensive and effective way to get more plants into your garden.

Here are some additional garden articles you may want to read.

How to plant bulbs this fall for spring flowers

Winter protection for trees and shrubs


How to grow heritage garden flowers

You can contact the author or sign up for her free weekly garden newsletter by emailing her at

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