Growing flowers from seed for hummingbirds and butterflies

by | Mar 22, 2007

Aster seedlings sprouting from the soil

Long story short:

Since the experiment below back in 2007, we have decided that starting seedlings in windows is unwise. Because they bend toward the light, you have to constantly turn them, trying to keep them upright — and even then, they become too leggy and spindly. Sunlight must come from above.

Likewise, we have tried hooping plastic over our raised beds — but shuttling seed trays in and out depending on fluctuating temperatures, and keeping the plastic in place during the wild spring winds is an awful lot of work. You really need a proper greenhouse.

Do you know who has a proper greenhouse? Your local plant nursery. Here, that’s Wayne’s Daughters Farm & Greenhouses, Milaeger’s, or Stein’s Garden & Home. We go there in early May, spend a few bucks, and get healthy plants without all the headaches.

Last year, we made no effort to grow annuals and perennials. We were busy transplanting black elderberry bushes and dogwood and pruning back our bridal wreaths and weigelas. We grew tomatoes and herbs in pots, and happily grabbed some Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers that were offered to us late in the summer. It was a start.

This year, with some of those things established, a little more experience, and one full growing season observing our yard, we’re trying to add some elements to the mix. I’m particularly interested in flowers that will attract hummingbirds and butterflies.

Buying nursery plants can get very expensive. In the case of perennials, you can rationalize the cost by telling yourself that the plants will reemerge year after year. It’s a little harder to part with cash for annuals that will be gone by the end of October.

To save money — and, of course, to enjoy the natural miraculous wonder and goodness and musty smell of germination firsthand — we decided to try growing some flowers from seed this year. It turns out that this can become expensive as well. Before I knew it, I was looking at $20 seed starting units, $70 heat mats and $600 light gardens. Instead, we found a wire shelving unit on sale for about $35 at Menards and figured we’ll use it in the basement after the seedlings are transplanted. The Home Depot was selling the 72-section Jiffy Professional Greenhouse for $7, so Amy picked up four of those. We’ll skip the lighting and hope our sunny window is bright enough.

Growing tomatoes in pots as we did last year was not a great idea. Our beefsteak plants wanted to shoot their roots deep into the ground, so they drilled though the pot’s drainage hole and through the landscaping lava below to find more dirt. This year, we’ll build a raised bed for the tomatoes, and leave the pots beneath the living room window for hummingbird-attracting flowers.

Based on the “Pot of Fire” plan from Sally Roth’s Attracting Butterflies and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard, I ordered Red Cypress Vine seeds, “Fiesta Del Sol” Mexican Sunflower seeds, “Empress of India” nasturtium seeds, “Hotline Red” Salvia splendens seeds, plus some double-flowered Zinnia Profusion seeds and a Lychnis x haageana Silene Lumina mix. Over at Milaeger’s, we picked up some more seed packets, including Butterfly weed, Aster chinensis Lilliput Blue Moon, Aster chinensis Starlight Mixed, and Bee balm.

Planting seeds in Jiffy peat soil

Looking at climate data for Racine County, our median last frost is May 2. Some of our seeds can be started indoors 6-8 weeks before that, so on Sunday we expanded our Jiffy-7 Peat Pellets and sowed our seeds.

Seedlings sprouting on shelvesWe placed the flats on the wire shelving above the heating vent in our guest bedroom. Yesterday, about 60 hours later, I noticed the first sprouts pushing up. Now the domes are propped open, and once all the seeds have sprouted, the shelving will be moved to the sunny window. If all goes perfectly, each of the four flats will give us 72 flower plants for under $10 including seeds. Not bad. We’ll do it again with the later-germinating seeds in a couple of weeks. The next problem could be figuring out where to plant them all.

There was some hard rain with the loud thunderstorms last night. Now it’s sunny, the grass is turning a bright green, and we’re expecting a high of 60°F. today. Add that to the little sprouts in the next room, and things seem to be lining up very nicely.


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