Grow Cool Season Annuals in Zone 8b - I grow in commercial landscape fabric. After tilling in compost and making rows the fabric goes down over drip lines for irrigation. It's a lot of work but I hate grass and weeds that compete with the flowers for water and nutrients.
Everything I’m sharing with you today I learned from Lisa Mason Ziegler and The Gardener’s Workshop. Her book, 'Cool Flowers' is the holy grail for growing cool season annuals in warm climates.
In East Texas zone 8b you will need to adjust the dates you start seed. The book recommends August but it is just TOO HOT in East Texas. Even though my potting shed has an air conditioner, it is not able to cool the shed to the ideal temperature for seed starting; 60-65 degrees F. Seed will not germinate very well, possibly not at all in high temperatures. I wait until October 1 to begin seeding. The days are still in the 80’s however, the night temperatures are low enough in the 60’s to keep the shed from overheating during the afternoon. Everyone needs to experiment based on the location and growing zone of your garden.
My shed is on a hill shaded by large trees to the northwest. It does not get as hot in the afternoons during October because the sun is moving to the southeast on the horizon later in the year. In August, the afternoon sun is so intense the shed interior is too warm for successful seed germination. Watch how the sun moves around the horizon on your property.
Keep notes as each season progresses and refer to these when you are planning where to locate a new structure or garden. Our property is on a sloping hill and our options on placement of the potting shed were limited. We were able to position it beneath a tree for evening shade in the hottest part of the summer. This same tree provides a shady place to harden tender summer annuals come spring.
Easy to grow cool season annuals to start indoors in trays or soil blocks in October include:
Snapdragons – these are so tiny! Try a toothpick moistened on the tip of your tongue to pick up each seed and gently deposit it on the surface of a soil block. This seed requires light to germinate. If nighttime lows dip into the 20’s or teens I toss a light frost blanket over these plants and remove it the next morning.
Calendula – I seed these in 72 cell trays. They are a large seed that will germinate and grow quickly. Using a seed tray gives me a few extra days to get them set out in the field. I do not cover these plants.
Feverfew – One seed to each soil block. There are a few new varieties but I still love the traditional white with yellow center. It makes me smile. I do not cover feverfew even in hard frost or occasional snow.
Fox Glove – This is another nearly microscopic seed. I use the moist toothpick technique to deposit each seed directly in the center of a soil block. If nighttime lows dip into the 20’s or teens I will toss a light frost blanket over the plants and remove it the next morning.
Bachelor Buttons – I seed these in a 72-cell tray and set them out when two true leaves are developed. I do not cover these plants.
Agrostemma (Corn Cockle) – I love the pearl white Corn Cockle flower. I seed them in soil blocks and set out as soon as 2 leaves appear (not the initial cotyledon leaves). I do not cover these plants.
Stock – I seed these in soil blocks because they do not like root disturbance. As soon as they have, you guessed it; two true leaves I set the tiny soil block and seedling out. If nighttime lows dip into the 20’s or teens I cover these plants with a light frost blanket and remove it the next morning. A note: read the seed packet carefully; most stock plants will produce ONE flower. If the stalk is damaged or broken while growing, the plant will likely not produce a bloom.
Direct sow these cool season annuals:
Bells of Ireland – These can be frustrating. I stumbled on the perfect technique when I threw out a handful of seed the first week of November and sprayed them down with the water hose. I did not cover them. Voila! They sprang up and grew like monsters. I do not cover these plants.
Orlaya - This beautiful member of the carrot family will re-seed itself and comeback somewhat faithfully each year. Because we need a reliable volume of blooms, I start them fresh from seed each year. Prepare the bed and sprinkle it with water. Drop the seed about 10-12” apart, you can use your foot imprint or hand to create a shallow place to drop seed that will be easy to find again. I do not cover them deep. I sprinkle a very small amount of soil over the seed and mist again with water to ensure the soil and seed make good contact. These will not sprout for several weeks, perhaps even into the spring. Do not give up. Late March you will see tiny fern-like seedling growing. This is Orlaya. I do not cover this plant.
Sweet Pea – Soak the seed overnight to speed up germination. Establish a strong trellis; these vines get heavy! Prepare the bed and create a long shallow trench about 1-1.5 inches deep. Carefully drop seeds 18” apart and cover. I go back and cover the rows with a light layer of pine straw. Once the seedlings begin to emerge mulch the row with more pine straw, really pile it up around the young vines. This will shade the roots in late spring with the days begin to warm up and the vines will continue producing blooms through late May in East Texas. I pile pine straw around the young vines and do not cover the plant with anything else.
Love in a Mist – I seed this heirloom favorite just like the Bells of Ireland. The first week of November, I sprinkle seed on a prepared row, water gently with drip irrigation and leave it.
There are many other flowers to grow in the late fall for early spring blooms however, these seem to be the easiest and reward the home gardener in spring with abundant blooms.
What are your favorite cool season annuals? Are you growing something new for 2022? I am trialing Mignonette, a fragrant heirloom flower nearly forgotten since the Victorian era. The name means ‘little darling’ in French and its scent is described as ‘violet-like’. This small plant, barely reaching 2 feet high, was reportedly introduced to gardeners in Paris in 1725. It eventually found its way to Monticello and Thomas Jefferson’s famous garden. Follow us on social media to find out if we have success growing this diminutive heirloom.