First-Year Flowering Perennials
by Diane Linsley
What is a perfect plant? In my imagination, it’s a long-lived perennial that blooms the first year from seed, is easy to grow, and self sows in moderation. Does this dream plant really exist? Probably not. But some plants come very close to the ideal. They are called first-year flowering perennials.
Are there any disadvantages to first-year flowering perennials? My only complaint is they are not always long-lived. It seems like the longest-lived plants are the ones that are difficult to start from seed and slow to bloom. But if you are willing to give up expectations of long life for some of your perennials, you will be rewarded with other benefits like ease of sowing and reseeding in the garden.
If you want to see early blooms on your plants, you'll need to start the seeds indoors 6-10 weeks before the last frost date. Of course, they will not bloom at their normal time the first year. For example, lupine usually blooms in May. If you sow the seeds indoors in March, then transplant them outside after the last frost date, you can expect to see the first blooms in late summer or fall. The following spring, the show will be more spectacular.
If you live in a warm zone, or you have good soil and plenty of sun, your plants will bloom sooner. Here is a list of the best perennials that bloom the first year from seed. These have worked well for me in my zone 5 garden.
Best First-Year Flowering Perennials
Feverfew -- Masses of small, white, daisy-like flowers. Reseeds heavily. Geum chiloense -- Scarlet-red or golden-yellow flowers. Long bloom season. Lavender 'Lady' -- Compact plants with highly fragrant, lavender-blue flowers. Salvia azurea -- Tall perennial with striking, azure-blue flowers in fall. Viola cornuta -- Small flowers in a wide range of colors. Shade tolerant.