fall sowing larkspur in zone 5

phlowerpower(5)September 16, 2010


I have some beds empty and I'd like to grow several flowers for cutting next year. I have read about fall sowing annuals such as larkspur, nigella, bachelor buttons and agrostemma in zone 5. Anyone done it and have advice?

From online searches I get conflicting info. Some people say to expect them to sprout and then over winter (beneath all the snow!) and they will resume growing very early spring. Other people say the seed needs the cold treatment to sprout and grow well the following spring. I direct sowed some seed as an experiment about 10 days ago, but no sprouts so far. Not sure if it is still too early...but then worried maybe it is actually too late!

I tried direct sowing some larkspur in the spring this year, but it never got very large. Nigella did fine though.

Eventually I'd love to have a few hundred feet of larkspur for cutting and drying, so finding the right time to sow them would mean a lot to me.

Also looking for info on planting sweet peas in the spring.

Many thanks!

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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

Glad you posted about the larkspur planting as it reminds me that I wanted to sow larkspur seeds too. I'm in zone 7(Md/DC area)I was trying to clean up my flowerbeds yesterday as I'm expecting company this morning. We had a special friend pass away 2 weeks ago and we can't seem to get ourselves together again. We helped take care of him for 5 weeks prior to his death. Have a landscape man coming the first week in Oct. to do all the prunning of shrubbery, rose bushes and clematis vines and put down mulch. Guess I'd better start my larkspur in containers first. Once they are seedlings, I can plant them in ground. Trying to avoid them being buried by new mulch application. I better get the larkspur seed pack out now before I forget it altogether. I wonder if I should start them in 4 in. nursery pots, or milk jugs like for wintersowing or direct sowing. Just looked at my seed pkt. and it doesn't mention that the seeds need cold treatment to sprout. How long ago did you sow your seeds? My pkt. mentions sprouting time as 21-28 days, which is 3-4 weeks. Maybe I will plant them in a large flowerpot, then transplant them after my landscape man puts down the mulch. Experienced larkspur planters..what do you think of my idea? Does it make sense or will it work?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 7:19AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

I am "experienced" only in the sense that one year I planted larkspur seeds directly in the ground. They bloomed--most weakly--the next spring and have returned on their own (strongly) every since. That has been for at least 5 years.

The first couple years I tried to transplant larkspur to spots where I preferred for them to grow. They did not like being transplanted. Sometimes they survived as a weak, limp looking plant--other times they just turned brown. In contrast, the ones that seeded themselves were strong, healthy, thriving plants.

My conclusion is that larkspur resent being transplanted.

My larkspur re-seed so readily that I found they overdo it. I have to pull out lots of extras--far too crowded to grow in a healthy way.

Once you get them growing, let them do their own thing, and you'll have larkspur for years afterwards.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 7:37AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

this is how i look at it ...

they can be sown.. when the flower is simply dropping them to the ground normally .... so say that is right now ...

but when that happens.. you have a long time for those seeds to survive vermin, pestilence [lol], etc .... so a vast majority of them simply fail .. or disappear ... so many peeps delay planting until winter sowing.. or spring ... simply to cut the odds of failure ...

now .. that said.. if planting now, you now have to factor in soil warmth ... which is imperative in seed sprouting .... in my z5 ... some falls are warm enough for seed to sprout and grow in fall .. and some falls are too cold .... so you are back to the seed sitting there and the vermin, etc ...

also.. you have to factor in the declination of the sun .... and even if they do sprout.. will the sun be strong enough to have vigorous growth .. if you end up with a plant the size of a dime.. odds are high that it will not survive the winter in my z5 ...

all that said ... if i harvested 100 seeds ... i would mark an area very well .. and plant about 30 of them now ....then i would winter sow another 30 in a spot next to it ... and come early next spring... i would plant the rest in a third area ... kinda cutting my odds on which works best ... i learned more experimenting.. than i ever learned from books and the web ....

harvest your seed ... shuck [remove from the pod] and dry them .. put them in an envelope .. and leave them in the garage ... and they will get the cold they need ... but do place them in something to keep the mice away ...


    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 9:31AM
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Thanks all for the replies, i appreciate the information on various aspects of larkspur growing.

Pippi, so sorry to hear of your friend. Give yourself time to mourn, and perhaps a special garden in memory of your departed friend will develop.

I do think larkspur doesn't fare well with transplanting, but perhaps if you plant in decomposable pots--paper pots or rolls, and then directly plant the entire pot they would do better?

I currently have zero larkspur, so hopefully I can get a few going next spring to begin the self seeding process.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2010 at 12:45PM
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pippi21(Z7 Silver Spring, Md.)

I never thought about decomposable pots..does peat pots fall under that category? Thanks for the suggestion.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 3:31AM
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thinman(Z5 MI)

I don't know if it will work or not, but I'm going to try it too this fall too. I'm going to seed a couple of rows and then cover them with row cover and we will see what happens. I'm kind of desperate, as I have had lousy luck with spring sowing, which I am also going to try again next spring. Maybe one of the methods will work.

According to Allan Armitage, larkspur should be germinated at 50 - 55 F and if you plant it in the spring, the seed should be chilled at 35 F for 2 - 3 weeks first. I hope at least one of us gets some larkspur next year.

Here's another idea for larkspur, written by Frank and Pamela Arnosky, Texas flower farmers.

Larkspur likes dark, cool conditions. If we plant larkspur in late October, it will come up in about three weeks, longer if the soil is dry. This is a lot of time, so we started "priming" our seed in the refrigerator. What we do is this: about two weeks before we plant, we put the dry seed in zip lock bags and then add a small amount of water. Inflate the bag a bit, seal it, and shake the seed until it is well coated with water. Add a bit more water if needed to moisten the seed completely, but drain off any extra water you might have in the bottom of the bag. Put the bag in the fridge, and check it the next day. The seed should have absorbed all the water - it should flow freely and not stick together in clumps. If it does, open the bag and set it out to dry for an hour or two. If your seed still looks really dry when you check it, add a tiny bit more water and check it again in a day. The key here is that you want the seed to be moist enough to respond to the cold treatment, but still be dry enough to flow through the seeder when it is time to plant.
After two weeks, the seed will be ready to germinate. We sow our larkspur with a walk-behind Earthway planter, using the onion plate. If you want it thicker, use the cucumber plate. We plant four rows in a four-foot wide bed. Using primed seed, we get germination in about a week. This cuts down on crop time, and more importantly, gives the larkspur a jump on the weeds. This method works well for late plantings in the spring, when soil temperatures are warming up.

I have to confess, this didn't work for me, but I'm larkspur-jinxed, I thinx.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2010 at 8:28PM
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Thanks for the Arnosky info. Do you use a seed planter? So far we are only planting by hand, kinda worried about the small larkspur seeds.

It has been erratic rain here lately--when I planted we had a dry spell, now we have had a few days with some heavy rain. Now I see the areas tilled have a slight slope. The lettuce seed is sprouting about 10 feet down from where we planted it, so the larkspur may have ended up in the grass.

I think I'll try the refrigeration bit. Should be getting some seed soon from geo seed and I plan to divide the seed into thirds and try the refrigeration method, direct fall sow, and then spring sowing. Also going to try fall sowing of ammi majus and bupleurum (both of which I have never grown!).

As far as spring sowing goes, do you remember about when you planted the seed? I wonder if the refrigeration before the spring sowing is really what one needs to do. But, if the fall sowing works, it would be a relief! Less to do in the spring. =)

Pippi- yes peat or now you can find cocoa husk pots. Or you can use toilet paper rolls cut into halves or thirds, or make pots out of newspaper. Best of luck!

    Bookmark   September 25, 2010 at 10:27PM
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thinman(Z5 MI)

I've planted by hand, but now I have an Earthway seeder that I used last week for the larkspur. I used the onion plate and set the planter for 1/4 inch depth. We will see how that works. I'll post back here if I see any plants come up.

I planted the larkspur on April 4 this spring, right after the snow left. Either no plants ever came up, or they were eaten before I saw them.


    Bookmark   September 29, 2010 at 9:46AM
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thinman(Z5 MI)

It's now four weeks later and I do have quite a few larkspur coming up. They are still showing only two leaves, but really nasty cold weather is holding off around here, so we will see what happens. I'll keep you posted.


    Bookmark   October 19, 2010 at 2:49PM
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backyardgrown(7b-8 NW MS)

Here larkspur needs to be planted (direct sown) roughly around this time to come up at the correct time in early spring to bloom before it gets too hot. They like cold/moist stratification and also like darkness to germinate, so covering them seems to help.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 2:57PM
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My larkspur is up and has formed a nice rosettes close to the ground. I also fall sowed some agrostemma "Ocean Pearl" and clarkia (annuals) and sweet williams and verbascum (perennial or biennial) and they germinated well and look healthy. They are practically the only green left in the garden area.

We will probably get snow later this week...I am so curious to see if this overwinters and blooms for me next spring!

Thanks all for the input. :)

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 9:07PM
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Dublin Bay and I agree on this one..they reseed easily and don't need any special effort in planting them. In my garden the seedpods open in early summer so that is when I'd sow seeds. I leave them alone or sometimes scatter some in areas where I want them. The seedlings emerge in fall and are very hardy. They look a little like parsley. I too have to thin mine. They don't like transplanting but you can do it if you carefully dig up the little plant ..maybe get some dirt with it. If you do it on a chilly day with rain in the forecast they have a better shot at survival. Mine have come back year after year even after long drought, so I think conditions don't matter much during the summer since they sprout later.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 6:03PM
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thinman(Z5 MI)

Just checking back in on this thread because I said I would keep you posted. When the snow left in March I could see that the larkspurs that came up last fall had made it through the winter quite well. Happy day! Unfortunately we then had a solid week of temps in the low teens and with no snow to protect them, all but about 10 % bit the dust.

I've reseeded, after using the Arnosky priming method, hoping I have better luck with them this spring than I usually do.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 3:40PM
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We had 28F two days ago and all my larkspur seedlings are still fine today.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 12:02AM
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magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

We have had a few -6, -8 nights this past week and the larkspir I started last fall are looking quite well still. I thinned them last night.

I also seeded about a few weeks ago so I will be able to compare the fall vs spring sown larkspur for my zone. I will remember to post back once I see the outcome.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2012 at 2:44PM
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magz88(5a - Central Ontario)

The ones I sowed in spring did nothing. The ones I sowed in fall were amazing. I had them at about 6-8 inch spacing. I am growing three times as much for next year.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2012 at 11:31PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

ya know ... mine are spent.. and shedding their own seed right now.. so i am also planting right now.. lol ... i havent planted them in 5 years ...

why anyone would package the seeds.. and 'save' them for next spring.. is beyond me .. [see below]

and it is also mystifying.. why you can usually only find the seed at the store.. in spring ...

plant when the plant plants its own seed.. and a lot of the mystery will disappear.. PRESUMING , of course .... that the seed is winter hardy in your area ... duh.. lol.. caught myself ... that would be a major reason to 'save' the seed ...


    Bookmark   July 19, 2012 at 3:33PM
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My lakspur are from my step-dad (who got me interested in gardening). I just scatter seed when I pull up dried plants. Hold stem of plant and strip off pods, then rub dried pods between palms and they crush and seed drop out-scattered. I do save some to scatter in fall to new places. Mom's neighbor pulled up a whole bag on Feb. thinking they were weeds until she was told different, thought she would cry. In north Tx I see seedlings (look like carrot tops to me) around end of year but don't send up stems till early spring.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:13PM
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