A fistful of dry, lifeless-looking seeds is tossed into the air and softly lands in the loosened soil. Rain falls, and the droplets bathe the seeds. The husks crack open, and green seedlings emerge. In a matter of weeks, beautiful blossoms appear and cover the once-barren garden. This process, known as direct seeding, is as simple as it sounds if you just follow these steps to success.
Choose the Right Spot
Most of the reseeding annuals, such as bachelor's buttons, cosmos, cleomes, sunflowers, tithonias, and zinnias, need at least six hours of sun--so you'll need a bright, level spot. Slopes can be seeded, but you'll likely have to deal with washing during heavy rains. You should also be within a hose length of a water source, because you can't always count on Mother Nature to supply needed rain.
Prepare the Soil
Start with a weed-free site. You can use a non-selective herbicide to kill any unwanted plants. The soil should be loose, fertile, and well drained--throwing seeds out on rock-hard ground will provide little success. Any seedlings that do sprout will be stunted, because their roots cannot move through the compacted soil. If your soil is poor, add plenty of organic matter such as leaf mold, peat, finely shredded bark, or mushroom compost. Use a tiller to turn the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. Rake the area smooth, and remove any tree roots or rocks. If this sounds like too much work or you don't have space in your yard, sow seeds in containers to add color to your deck or patio. Potting soil is the best choice for use in large containers.
Putting Out Seed
In small areas, you can scatter seeds by hand. In large areas or meadows, you may need a seed distributor or a small handheld spreader. Be sure to save some extra seeds so you can go back and fill in bare spots.
Water and Feed
If there is no rain in the forecast, use a water wand with a fine-mist setting to settle seeds into the ground. During germination, keep the area evenly moist. Once the seedlings are visible, feed with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer at half strength. After the first true leaves appear, begin feeding with a full-strength solution once a month. Thin out seedlings and transplants according to the seed pack's spacing directions. Plants that are too close together will grow spindly and weak.
Bounty of Blooms
Flowers should appear in 6 to 10 weeks. As blooms fade, remove the spent flowers. This will allow plants to continue to bloom instead of using their energy to produce seed. Clip flowers, and create fresh summertime arrangements.
Zinnias are the ultimate cut flower because the more you cut, the more they bloom. 'California Giants' is a tall selection that grows 3 feet tall or more and is perfect for big arrangements. Cut and Come Again Hybrid is another long-stemmed choice, growing 24 inches tall. Lilliput Mix grows 18 inches tall, has pom-pom blooms, and is great for cutting. Thumbelina Hybrid is a tiny zinnia that grows only 6 inches tall. Whether you like them big or small, there's a zinnia for you.
"Sowing Success" is from the Southern Living 2004 issue of the Spring Garden Guide.