Fall Sowing


Leaves turning? Time to plant.

Many of us practice fall sowing for vegetables and garlic. I’ve noticed that even dedicated gardeners don’t often extend that practice to flowers. I think that’s a mistake, for a number of reasons. In my own case, time pressures in the spring are at the top of the list of reasons to sow in fall. No matter how fast I move, I can’t squeeze more than 24 hours out of a day. I will not short-cut my sleep time except in true emergencies. Not to mention that fall sowing is in many ways easier than spring sowing. Being a long-standing lazy gardener, I’m all about easy.

Snow will do the work of cold stratification.

Why Sow in Fall?
Among the reasons to sow flower seeds in fall: mimicking nature, cold stratification, weed pressure, insect populations, watering and root development. Nature spends spring and summer growing flowers, while fall is for spreading seeds. Rather than putting seeds in the fridge or freezer, let ol’ Ma Nature do the work of cold stratification. Many weed seeds don’t germinate in fall, so your seedlings can get a jump. Insects are less active in winter. Watering – again, let Ma Nature do the work with rain. Fall-planted seeds have plenty of time to develop strong roots. Another benefit is that fall-sown seeds often bloom considerably sooner than their spring-planted cousins. That’s especially true if the gardener is always behind on the planting schedule, as I am in the spring.

I’m always finding bird-planted volunteer sunflower seeds.

I Like Pots
You can sow in pots or the ground. I prefer pots, as I have extras to plug in if a planted seedling dies for some reason. I can also give away those I don’t need. Planting in pots means I don’t have to thin. I can site my pots for maximum light in early spring by moving them. I can bring tender seedlings inside in the event of a cold spell. A half-and-half mix of either compost or potting soil with garden soil is my choice for seed medium. My garden soil has lots of active microbes and micro-nutrients. However, it’s heavy on clay, so the potting soil promotes better drainage. I don’t water unless we haven’t had any rain by mid-December – another time-saver.

Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory.

Fall Sowing Choices
Any flower that needs cold stratification is a natural for fall sowing. Candidates for fall sowing also include hardy annuals – or any annual that tends to self-sow, for that matter. Poppies, morning glory, larkspur, pansies, alyssum, calendula, nasturtium and scabiosa will all do well when sown in fall. Among your biennial choices are foxgloves, hollyhocks, forget-me-nots, stock and Sweet William. Perennials like columbines, Black-Eyed Susans, cornflowers, hardy geraniums, milkweeds, bee balm and perennial flax do well when sown in fall. Lots of passalong plants do well with fall sowing. Less work, earlier bloom and pretty flowers – sounds like a win all around.

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