Which flowers are easy to grow from seed? Here are several I like.

Gardens don’t have to be expensive. Here are several flowers to grow from seed. All can be sown directly outdoors too. Many of them come from cottage gardens or your grandmother’s garden, and there’s a good reason. They are almost all self-sowing and easy to grow. If you have decent soil and can scratch a little of it away to plant your seeds, they’re that easy. If you want to know more about starting seeds indoors, please visit my other blog, The 20-30 Something Garden Guide because I’ve posted a lot about indoor seed sowing there. These seeds are in no particular order as to favorites. I like them all and plant them every year. These flowers are also high in nectar and pollen if you plant older varieties. That means your garden will be full of butterflies and other pollinators too.

Is there any more complicated a flower structure than the center of a sunflower?
Is there any more complicated flower structure than the center of a sunflower?

1. Sunflowers–when my children were little, one of the spring projects every year was to sow a sunflower seed in a cup. All of those concentrating and hopeful little faces as kids stuck their fingers in the soil and gently dropped a sunflower seed. Then, they took a handful of soil to cover their “babies.” Later, those same faces became less hopeful when their mothers transplanted young sunflowers into the garden. Either from lack of water or transplant shock, their once robust plants often died soon after. Sunflowers don’t like transplanting. Sow them directly into the soil where they will grow with abandon. As young plants, they are easy to damage. I know a few of these small sunflowers survived, but many didn’t, and it was a first garden attempt and failure.

Let’s scatter sunflower seeds outdoors for our children, grandchildren and ourselves. Maybe even make Sunflower Houses like I did with my children when they were small. Where do I buy my sunflower seeds? Burpee has Strawberry Blonde hybrid seeds, Renee’s Garden Seeds has beautiful mixes of sunflower seeds. I like Sun Samba. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds carries heirloom varieties–Evening Sun anyone? Botanical Interests also has great sunflower seed collections including their Elves Blend that would be excellent for a container garden. Or, how about beautiful yellow ‘Mammoth,’ or diminutive ‘Teddy Bear?’ All sunflowers are great. You will probably get some bugs on them though. Some butterflies, like the Silvery Checkerspot will eat them alive. You may need to use a bit of Bt  or your fingers to squish some of the caterpillars if you want to save your sunflowers. Or, you can simply relocate any caterpillars to one sunflower as a trap plant. Just watch out for them. Later, when the sunflowers are larger and tougher, caterpillars aren’t a problem.

Pink zinnias against a purple fence in Tucson, AZ
Pink zinnias against a purple fence in Tucson, AZ

2. Zinnias–another great plant that just wants a little soil, water and sun is the zinnia. From stately Z. elegans to the smaller ‘Liliput’ and finallly the trailing Z. haageana ‘Aztec Sunset’ ones, zinnias couldn’t be easier to grow. Do they get mildew? Yes, many of the taller cultivars do especially in wetter climates. Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and parts of Arizona can enjoy zinnias all summer long. To hide mildew, I plant something in front of the taller varieties–the same thing I do for roses that get blackspot. The garden doesn’t have to perfect. All I ask is for is for it to be fruitful. Zinnias accomplish that with aplomb. Note the Dreamland Series has excellent disease resistance as does the Zahara and Profusion series. Swallowtail Seeds has 104 varieties of zinnias. Try to choose just one.

3. Amaranth–I know, you’re thinking, that’s a grain. Yes, indeed, it is. It also has flowers before the seeds (grains) come. Grow this for yourself and for the birds. I’ve had great luck with Autumn Palette from Botanical Interests. I also love Amaranthus tricolor which is a whole different animal. You can start these indoors for an earlier start or simply plant them outside. They will cross and reseed with other amaranth.

4. Morning gloriesIpomoea purpurea–I have ‘Grandpa Otts,’ but I really like the true ‘Heavenly Blue’ not to be confused with another weed we have in Oklahoma, bindweed. For something different, why not try Venice Pink or Venice Blue?

5. Cosmos–Taller varieties sometimes fall over on windy days, so I’m going with a shorter variety, ‘Cosimo Purple Red-White.’ That’s not three colors. It’s just a triple play on one bloom. Below is the hybridizer’s photo.

Cosmos bipinnatus 'Cosimo Purple Red White
Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Cosimo Purple Red White

6. Four o’clocksMirabilis jalapa–I grew ‘Salmon Sunset‘ last year, and I did start these inside because it takes them awhile to get off from the starting line. They were beautiful in photos, but rather lackluster in the actual garden. I think I would rather grow Marbles Yellow-Red this year.

Mirabilis jalapa, four o'clocks 'Salmon Sunset'
Mirabilis jalapa, four o’clocks ‘Salmon Sunset’

7. Bachelor’s ButtonsCentaurea cyanus–have the most beautiful silvery foliage I would grow them for that alone. The other plus is you can get ones like ‘Blue Boy’ that are a blue as pure as the Oklahoma sky. But, don’t limit yourself to just blue. Try ‘Black Ball’ for something different. So easy to plant and so worthy of a place in your garden. Hard to take a photo of though. Next to it is Rudbeckia hirta ‘Irish Eyes’ another easy direct sow beauty. You can also start them indoors for a head start on summer.

Panicum 'Northwind', 'Blue Boy' bachelor's buttons, Rudbeckia 'Irish Eyes'
Panicum ‘Northwind’, ‘Blue Boy’ bachelor’s buttons, Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes’

8. Cleome–spider flower–You can go with the tall traditional ones, or you can now get seeds from Swallowtail Seeds for the smaller cleomes in the Sparkler series. Guess which ones I’ll be planting this year. It’s Sparkler Blush for me, or wait, maybe the combo. I love that rose shade too.

This flowerbed is one I experiment with each year. In 2013, I used a lot of the seeds I'd started indoors in this bed.
This flowerbed facing the street is one I experiment with each year. In 2013, I used a lot of the seeds I’d started indoors in this bed. Those tall punctuation marks are ornamental millet I started indoors. I grew both ‘Jester’ and ‘Purple Majesty.’ The large, dark grass is ‘Princess Caroline.’

9. Gomphrena globosa–also sometimes called bachelor buttons–can be started inside or planted directly outdoors. Last year, I started QIS Purple and Pink inside and transplanted because I wanted blocks of specific colors. You can simply sow them outside if you aren’t as much of a control freak.This year, I’m starting ‘Fireworks’ inside because you don’t get many seeds to take chances. Sometimes, Bustani Plant Farm has the plants, but not always.

Gomphrena globosa at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, probably 'Strawberry Fields', but I'm not sure.
Gomphrena globosa at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, probably ‘Strawberry Fields’, but I’m not sure.

10. Calendula. Sow outdoors very early because they like cool weather. However, they are wonderful in the vegetable garden. Eat petals in salads and other vegetable dishes.

Darling calendulas in my potager.
Darling calendulas in my potager.

I hope this post will help you start some seeds this year. If you do, please comment and tell me which you will grow.


  1. Rhiannon says:

    I was sad to read that sunflowers don’t like to be transplanted. I just had some start to sprout today in my seedling tray. I’m still going to try for it and see if they’ll take off, but if not I still have my zinnias, marigolds, and bachelor buttons to fall back on. (I really wanted the height of sunflowers though…)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Rhiannon, if you transplant them very carefully and make sure they get plenty of water, I think they will be fine.

  2. Theresa says:

    I had the Blue Picotee Morning Glories last year. Would they drop seed and come back up, or do I need to get new seeds? I think I would like to add some Grandpa Ott and Heavenly Blue to the mix.

  3. Robin L says:

    I’ve tried most of these except Bachelor’s Buttons, so now I need to get some of those too. My favorite zinnia is Queen Red Lime, but the seeds are hard to find, so if you want to try them, get them NOW.

  4. I like the informality and cheerfulness of these plants. And of these examples, the pink zinnias by a purple fence is my favourite. (Apologies that you may have half a comment and a wrong email address from me as well. My laptop is having a delayed reaction to the keys and that’s making typing odd and difficult and resulting in mistakes.)

    1. Dee Nash says:

      I like that about them too. The purple fence certainly set off those amazing flowers. Love it. Wish it were mine.

  5. Hey Dee,
    My new cutflower obsession is the pollenless 3-4″ sunflower ‘Moulin Rouge’ with dark burgundy petals with an ebony center. And have to pass on Johnny’s has 16, count ’em 16, separate colors of Benary zinnias. Enough choices for you, Dee?

  6. Hey, I really like those cosmos and need to find them and give them a try. (They are a bit gaudy so will fit in nicely in my garden:-) I grew and love Jester millet, but Purple Majesty pooped out.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Ray, I think ‘Jester’ is stronger than ‘Purple Majesty,’ but I managed to get both of them to live. It was touch and go for awhile though starting them inside.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Last year I planted pink zinnias from seed and they did so well! Since we had a pretty mild summer and a decent amount of rain, I was able to make bouquets for indoors using my zinnias, pink rose of sharon, very dark maroon hollyhocks and pink roses.

    This year I want to try poppies… I’m not very optimistic though. Do you have much luck with poppies in Oklahoma?

    Per the recommendation in your 20-30 book, I’ve planted lettuce seeds in a container and they’ve already sprouted.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Jennifer, I have only had luck with annual poppies sown in very early spring–like February. However, I have a friend who has tremendous luck with perennial poppies. She always throws the seed down right when the pods begin to pop, and she swears this is the way to do it. I need to run by her house and get some seed. I’ve tried ordering seed from places, and never had any luck.

  8. Amy says:

    Hi, Dee. I’m starting millet indoors this year also. Is yours perennial, or does it reseed? Looks like mine should be an annual but of course sometimes they survive in spite of things.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Mine are all annual. I hope yours do well. They need lots of light to stop flopping.

  9. Terrific and informative post. I am going to try the Bachelors Buttons this year, I think. My only problem with starting from seed is that I have no grow lights so have to start them all outside in March or April. They do fine, but half the summer is over by the time they start flowering. I hate delayed gratification!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Sarah, our summers are so long that my bachelor’s buttons go through their growth cycle by late sumer. I then scatter the seeds in place for next year. I can see how this might not work that way in your garden which is a bummer.

  10. Ann says:

    Is that Princess Caroline an annual? I love the salmon 4 o’clocks. I just have the pink, white and yellow. Love the list of seeds to plant!! Thanks.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Ann!

      ‘Princess Caroline’ is actually a day-sensitive tropical grass so it doesn’t bloom here in Oklahoma. I always chuckle a bit–maybe in horror–when I think of PC as a perennial. It would be like the grass that ate New York if so. It is so robust that a tiny plant will grow into this large clump in one season. It’s with a bit of relief that it dies back to the ground each year. You can save a sprig of it and try to overwinter it indoors or in a greenhouse. Thank goodness, it’s a tropical.

      1. Ann says:

        We bought a PC and was told it would die back to the ground but return. It was advertised as the only purple grass that was perennial. I don’t think with our winter I have any hope of finding out if true. And you are correct on how big and wide it is. I’ll let you know if ours comes back.

        1. Dee Nash says:

          Ann, I hope it does for you. I’ve grown it and its relatives for four years, and none have ever returned. I’d be a bit afraid of it if it did. 🙂

  11. Thanks, Dee, for the seed cheerleading! I’ve already got morning glories in the ground. You are reminding me I have amaranth, and want to try that. (I just saved seeds from some amaranth I bought in a bouquet at the farmer’s market last year.) And I always plant nasturtium, which I adore. I haven’t done sunflowers in awhile, but it’s early enough to get them started now!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Kathryn, I adore nasturtiums. I grow them ever year too. They don’t last long here, but are a welcome sight in spring and again, in fall if you sow more. I love amaranth in the garden. Those whispery plumes are just beautiful. I can’t wait to see your sunflowers this summer on your blog.

  12. Three of my particular favorites here — Cleomes, Cosmos, and Zinnias. And they have the added benefit of being excellent cut flowers that last in a vase or a floral arrangement for 1-2 weeks! I love Sunflowers, too. Great post!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Thank you PP! I think we should all remember to plant more seeds. We know these flowers are not sprayed with anything harmful. Plus, they are such great flowers.

  13. Thank you! I will certainly be making a note of quite a few of your suggestions.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Ronnie, you’re quite welcome! Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    This post makes me anxious to get into the garden to sow some seeds. It won’t be long now. Happy Spring.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Happy Spring to you too Lisa. It won’t be long now.

  15. Amber says:

    Thanks for some great new ideas! My favorite easy-to-grow flowers are Cosmos and Bachelor Buttons. Cosmos grow all over my mom’s garden – I had some of my senior pictures taken in the garden with the cosmos. She has the ones that are primarily pink but occasionally throw purple or white (incomplete dominance at work). We didn’t get Cosmos until we moved, so I was at least 9 before I learned about them. Bachelor Buttons and I go much further back. My grandma’s garden has Bachelor Buttons all over – in all the colors. I didn’t even realize some of the colors weren’t as common as others as far as selling the seed – but I knew that when I was younger, I loved running around picking the flowers and trying to get one of each color. I would squeal with excitement when I found a color I didn’t have yet. She has both the white outside with colored inside and colored outside with different colored inside, and same-colored inside and outside – she has variations I’ve never even seen for sale!

    Sunflowers are beautiful, but they can be pests too. For several years, I fed my rabbits black oil sunflower seeds as a supplement to help them have better condition. Inevitably, some of the seeds would find their way into the manure that we put in the garden. Mom’s garden is filled with sunflowers and they can be annoying because they shadow the things you want to grow and if you let them grow, their big stems and heavy roots make it hard to work the soil for the next year. And of course, they seed themselves down for the next year when the birds snack on them. But I must admit, I love the Goldfinches who come to snack on their seeds!

    One other flower I like to grow that is quite easy to grow around here from seed are Marigolds. You can save seed from one year to the next and to grow, I just mess the soil a little, scatter the seeds, water, and mess the soil again. They are beautiful (of course, orange is my favorite color), don’t require lots of water, and they can repel bad bugs and deer. I believe they are edible and can be used in essential oils, but I’ve never tried that.

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hey Amber! Yes, those “volunteer” sunflowers can really misbehave. Marigolds are also really underrated. Thanks!

  16. Patty says:

    We have been working on improving our garden here in OKC every year for the last 6-7 years… this will be the first year I add in flowers WITH our veggies, but I was wondering if I can grow sunflowers in with my tomatoes or peppers. I really want to grow some, but I’m not sure where else to put them this year so they get enough sunlight!

    1. Dee Nash says:

      Hi Patty, yes you definitely can. Sunflowers love full sun and will respond to it. If you want ones with smaller stature, choose one of the dwarf varieties. However, read on the packet what the “dwarf” size is. Some are shorter than others. If you want tall ones, you have loads of choices. Just be sure to plant the tall sunflowers on the north side of the bed so that they don’t shade your other plants. You can also use them as structures to grow beans and other climbing vegetables.~~Dee

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