Annuals, like this sunflower, bloom and set seed within one season
image by bixentro, muffet, jim gober
Buying flower seed can be easy as picking up a few packets from your local department store or ordering from a magazine or website. However, there are a few things to know before buying flower seed that will greatly increase your chances of gardening success.
Put together a garden plan or design. Knowing how much room you have for planting and the type of flower you want in a certain area is important. Your plan should be specific on where you want borders and taller plants. Seed packets and descriptions will tell you how many seeds they contain, eventual height, and how long a row the plants will fill when mature.
Take note of whether your flowers will be growing in the sun or in the shade and level of moisture that will be available. Descriptions available on seed packets or in marketing material will clearly state sun or shade requirements. Most new seed plantings will need constant moisture until the plants are established.
Know your USDA horticultural zone. The USDA has put together a widely available map of hardiness zones within the U.S. Nearly all flower and plant descriptions include zones where the plants will thrive. This is especially important for perennials because they are expected to live all-year-long. If you plant a flowering plant in Zone 5 that can only live in Zone 9 or warmer, it will likely die during the winter.
Know the first and last average frost date in your area and the number of days it will take for the plant to bloom from the time of planting. Planting seed too early in the spring, when there is still a chance of frost, can be a waste of time and money if plants freeze. Also, plant too late in the season, and your plants may freeze before they bloom. This is especially true for annuals, or plants that bloom, mature, and go to seed in one season. However, some perennial seeds need to be planted in fall so they can go through a chilling period before sprouting in spring. In addition, many perennials need one full year of growth before blooming the following spring or fall. Biennials, on the other hand, stay green for two years before blooming.
Check to see if the variety of flower you are interested in buying is resistant to any common plant diseases or pests that may limit your flower gardening success. For example, some snapdragon varieties are resistant to snapdragon rust, a common disease in snapdragons, and some phlox varieties are resistant to powdery mildew.
Choose "All American Selection Winners." These are seeds that are tested by independent judges for superior performance. Most seed descriptions and marketing materials will clearly designate if the seed has reached the "All American" status.