Our gardens look gray and dreary these days, and nursery and bedding plants are in short supply at many retailers. Luckily, many garden centers have a colorful display of seed packets tucked away somewhere, offering gardeners some beautiful flowers that can be easily grown from seed and directly sown into our bare garden beds and containers. Here are five that can be started now, the sooner the better!

Alyssum

This flower carries a delicate scent and produces clouds of white, purple, or pink flowers. Sow the seeds carefully; they are quite small. Prepare your planting area and gently press them into the soil. Be careful that watering doesn’t wash them away. Alyssum enjoys full to part sun and will bloom until it gets too hot in the summer. It also attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Nasturtiums

These are peppery edible flowers that come in a range of reds, oranges, yellows, purples and a multitude of patterns. Plant nasturtiums where they can trail over an edge for a cascading effect. Nasturtiums enjoy full to part sun and love being planted just about everywhere. The seeds are fairly large, making them ideal for children to plant. Bees also love them!

Larkspur

This one is a beautiful, old cottage-garden flower that comes in 1- or 2-foot-tall spires of purple, pink and white. They enjoy full to part sun and moist, well-drained soil. Prepare a planting area and lightly cover the seeds with a sprinkling of soil. Again, take care in watering so as not to wash them away. Plant them 4 inches apart and avoid mulching them. They enjoy being planted in large groups, which creates a beautiful massed effect. Larkspur will die after flowering, but you can collect the seeds and save them for next spring.

Violas

These flowers can be easily purchased as a bedding plant in small pots, but they are easy to grow from seed. The seeds are very small. Sow them lightly in the garden and water carefully so as not to wash them away. A good trick for these and other small seeds is to mix them with coarse sand, which helps to spread them when planting so they aren’t crowded. A light sprinkling of pine straw over the seedbed can help prevent the seeds from being moved unintentionally. Thin viola seedlings when they reach an inch in height so they are 3 to 4 inches apart. Seedlings that have been thinned can be carefully transplanted to other areas of the garden. In general, violas are very forgiving and resilient. Violas come in a ton of colors and color combinations, and provide cheery faces in any garden. They thrive in beds and containers and will last until the summertime.

Poppies

These flowers should also be sown by mixing the seeds with some coarse sand to prevent planting them too close together. Do not cover the seeds, but scratch them lightly into the surface of the soil. Thin the seedlings once they reach an inch or so high so that they are at least 6 inches apart. Poppies can be a stunning visual statement in the garden and come in several colors, including the traditional red, as well as white, violet shades, and oranges or yellow. Wild and cultivated types are available in different colors and heights. Poppies enjoy full to partial sun and should be in well-draining soil.

Give these beauties a spot in your garden, you won’t be disappointed. Growing something from seed to seedling to flower is rewarding and a real treat. For more information on gardening tasks, advice, and free PDFs, please www.lsuagcenter.com. You can have all of your garden questions answered by emailing them to AGCenter@theadvocate.com. To sign up for the GNO Gardening Newsletter, please email GNOGardening@agcenter.lsu.edu.

I recently purchased some anemone bulbs from the nursery store and was wondering which side of the bulb is up? The bulbs are round with only one obvious opening, and smooth on the opposite side. Help! – Anxious Gardener

Not to worry! Anemone sprouts can find their way to the sun, so they can be planted every which way safely. In general, if there is a pointier end of the bulb, that side is where the roots will eventually emerge, but anemones are not picky about being planted on their heads. – Anna Timmerman

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are LSU AgCenter extension agents. Questions? Email agcenter@theadvocate.com.

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