One of my greatest pleasures in life is planting seeds, seeing them germinate, and watching them grow. I also very much enjoy collecting seed and cleaning seed. Without seeds, we wouldn’t have plants. And without plants, we wouldn’t have an inhabitable planet.

The two main times of year that I plant seeds are spring and fall, but there are plenty of opportunities during the summertime for sowing heat tolerant flowers and vegetables too.

In my vegetable garden this spring I’ve direct seeded mustard and turnips which will be ready to pick soon, cilantro that I’m currently using for hot sauce, sweet corn, and cucumbers. The nights are still a bit too cool, but I’ll be planting okra and Southern peas this week since it’s finally dry enough to till my rows.

I also planted lots of warm-season wildflowers and native grasses in my pocket prairies and my pine savannas. My newest pocket prairie is on the old community picnic grounds and is about an acre in size. I burned a good portion of it to eliminate weeds and create good seed to soil contact. It doesn’t look like much now but will one day. I had indigo bunting in it this week! One small step for man…

I love scouting for small seedlings from plantings last fall and this spring. In addition to planting a plethora of hand harvested wildflower seed collected last year I also ordered and planted several different strains of little bluestem along with swamp sunflower and showy tickseed (bidens) all of which are beautiful each fall here in what very few areas that aren’t mowed.

I also thoroughly enjoy reseeding annuals such as bachelor buttons, bluebonnets, cleome, cockscomb, cosmos, larkspur, old-fashioned petunias, periwinkles, and poppies,

Harvesting, planting, and growing annuals from seed can be a bit intimidating for both beginners and experienced alike, so I thought I’d cover the basic definitions and instructions in this blog.

Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle (seed/cutting to death) within one year. This includes cool season annuals, warm season annuals, tropical annuals, and reseeding annuals. Most are produced from seed. Examples: marigolds, petunias, and impatiens.

Cool Season Annual: An annual that is planted and grown during the cooler months (fall, winter, and early spring). These often die with the onset of warm weather in the South. Examples: pansies, ornamental kale/cabbage, and dianthus.

Warm Season Annual: An annual that is planted and grown during the warmer months (late spring, summer, and early fall). These often die with the onset of freezing weather. Also includes most tropical annuals. Examples: begonias, impatiens, and periwinkles.

Tropical Annual: A heat loving plant (often shrubby) from the tropics which can be grown as an annual during the warm season (spring, summer, and fall) in the South. These often die with the onset of freezing weather however some are treated as tender perennials. They are mostly produced from cuttings. Examples: coleus, copper plant, and variegated tapioca.

Reseeding Annual: An annual that returns each year from self-sown seed without having to be replanted (includes both warm season and cool season types). Examples: larkspur, cleome, and old-fashioned petunias.

Some Reseeding Annuals for East Texas are: bachelor buttons, bluebonnets, cleome (spider flower), French hollyhocks, larkspur, old-fashioned petunias, periwinkles (vinca), poppies, rose moss, and tall branching cockscomb.

Note: It is imperative that less than attractive dying plants be left while seed ripens on reseeding annuals. This only lends itself to certain gardens (cottage gardens, meadows, mixed borders, natural areas, historic period gardens, and anyplace Greg lives!). Many of the best reseeding annuals are old-fashioned species or cultivars and not always available in the trade. Most have to be begged or swapped for.

Dead Head: To pick off dead, spent, or ugly flowers before seed is formed. This improves the appearance of the plant, prevents seed formation, and encourages rebloom.

Characteristics of Many Annuals: Short lived, showy, mostly low growing, inexpensive, often sold in cell packs, high maintenance, heavy feeders, and often seed grown (except tropicals).

Soil Requirement for Common Annuals: Ideal mix is 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 clean sand, with slow release fertilizer and drip irrigation in a raised bed. Dwarf, showy, “six-pack” annuals must have excellent drainage and high fertility. They very rarely perform well in existing “dirt.”

Some Warm Season Annuals for East Texas are: begonias, blue daze, cleome, coleus, copper plant, impatiens, lantana, marigolds, Mexican heather, periwinkles, purslane, and zinnias.

Perennial: A herbaceous plant that persists (returns) for more than two years, often much longer. Includes perennial bulbs and some root hardy tropicals as well. Examples: purple coneflower, daylily, and Turks cap.

Seed Propagation: Every seedling is genetically different. Great for local genetic improvements and cheap bulk increase. Seed must be completely mature and dry (brown seed pods) before harvest. Immature seeds in green pods are not physiologically mature and will not germinate.

Seed Treatments Include:

a. Maceration: Removing the fleshly fruit around the seed which contains germination inhibitors. This is done with dogwood, magnolia, and edible fruit.

b. Scarification: Physical abrasion of the hard seed coat to allow water absorption. Can be mechanical (file/grinder) or chemical (acid). Mechanical is too unpredictable and too labor intensive. Concentrated sulfuric acid is used most often by professionals. Used on bluebonnets, redbuds, and Texas Mountain Laurels. Every crop is different but treatment generally ranges from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. Tumbling, freezing, and soaking in water are ineffective.

c. Stratification: A cool, moist, treatment required by many temperate zone plants (particularly woodies such as dogwood, pawpaws, and peaches). Normally 2-3 months in the refrigerator in slightly moist sand, perlite, or vermiculite. Not needed on annuals or tropicals.

d. Storage: Store seeds cool and dry. Always make sure they are completely dry first. I use paper bags for several weeks. Then I use plastic zip lock bags and the freezer for storage. Germination rates go down with high humidity and high temperatures. Properly stored seed can last for years. I have an entire freezer full!