Let’s grow stuff!

Moss roses look great in containers or as a groundcover.

I don’t know about you, but this winter nearly killed me. Thank heavens it’s time to grow stuff.

Need seeds of have seeds to share? Come on over because the Little Free Seed Library is open again at my house.

As always, the top shelf of our Little Free Library is reserved for seed sharing in the spring and fall. The library is located on the boulevard on the corner of 44th & Washburn in Linden Hills.

The Little Free Seed Library is open at Meleah’s house. Photo by Mike Hoium
The Little Free Seed Library is open at Meleah’s house. Photo by Mike Hoium

On the left side of the seed library shelf you’ll find pens and pencils as well as coin-sized envelopes that you can use to pack up seeds to take home. Please take what you want from the envelopes, baggies and store-bought seed packets that you’ll find on the right side of the shelf.

If you have seeds (purchased or collected from your garden) to share — and we can always use more — please bring them in their original packets or label them in envelopes or baggies in some way so people can clearly see what they are. Feel free to add seeds to the library yourself. Or, if you have a bunch of seeds and want to drop them off, just ring the doorbell or leave them by the front steps.

As always, thank you all so much for helping make this seed-sharing library a success. It’s been such a fun thing to do for the last several years.

Direct sowing annuals

There are lots of good reasons to start annual flower seeds indoors, namely that you get to enjoy blooms earlier than if you wait to sow your seeds outside. But if you can stand to wait until mid-summer to enjoy some of your annual flowers, direct sowing sure is an easy way to go.

Annuals can be sown just about anywhere — pots, window boxes, raised beds or the ground. Whatever way you want to go, take a little time to prepare your soil.

For pots and window boxes, buy or make your own potting soil. Don’t use regular garden soil, because it’s dense and heavy so it won’t drain well, and your containers will weigh a zillion tons.

To sow seeds in raised beds or directly in the ground, prepare the soil by removing weeds. Next, use a trowel or shovel to dig in some compost: kitchen compost, composted manure or another type of compost will do just fine. You don’t need a lot, just a bit of organic matter to enrich and lighten up the soil, especially if you’re dealing with heavy clay.

Most flowering annuals like full sun and reasonably well-drained soil, so keep that in mind when choosing what you would like to plant. Also, be sure to read your seed packets so you know how far apart and how deeply seeds should be planted.

It’s fine if you want to go overboard at planting time and sow seeds more closely together than is suggested. But if you do that, and loads of them germinate, be sure to thin out some of those seedlings.

I hate killing baby plants, too, but growing things don’t do well when they’re super crowded together, so steel yourself and do what must be done.

Water seeds regularly after planting. Once they sprout — usually within a week or two — you can ease back on watering and start fertilizing at about one-third the rate specified on the label of the product you use.

Many annuals, especially those growing in containers, need food to bloom well. I’ve tried going without it and seen the difference a little fertilizer can make.

I like Neptune’s Harvest fish and seaweed fertilizer, a liquid, organic blend that you can get at many garden centers or online. (It smells like someone dumped a load of dead fish in your yard for about an hour after you use it, but then all is well.) If that sounds dreadful, there are many other organic and synthetic fertilizers to choose from.

Here are several annuals that are easy to direct sow in May:

  • Sunflowers: These beauties come in a wide array of colors and heights, and many of them are often available at the seed-sharing library at my house. Kids love sunflowers, and birds and other critters enjoy eating the seeds.
  • Four o’clocks: Also called Marvel of Peru, four o’clocks are my favorite annual flower to grow from seed. The flowers are trumpet-shaped and can be solid colors of orange, yellow, pink or burgundy as well as a speckled mix of different hues. Bees and hummingbirds are attracted to the blooms, which last for many weeks.
  • Zinnias: Also popular with bees and other pollinators, zinnias are about the easiest plant to sow directly outdoors. Flowers come in just about every color and plants range in height from a few inches to nearly 3 feet tall.
  • Cosmos: I love the daisy-like flowers of cosmos, and their ferny foliage is lovely too. Blooms come in many colors and will attract pollinators for many weeks, especially if you don’t fertilize them. Yes, that’s right. Cosmos are one of those plants that thrive when treated poorly. So no food and not a lot of water for these guys.
  • Moss roses: Don’t give their weird name a second thought. Moss roses are gorgeous and super tough, withstanding just about everything except shade and overwatering. A perfect addition to hanging baskets, they also make a good-looking ground cover and are available in many different colors.
  • Nasturtiums: People usually think of nasturtiums as training vines with orange flowers, but there are other colors to choose from, and plants can also have a bushier form. A nice, peppery-tasting addition to summer salads, nasturtiums are like cosmos in that the plants thrive on neglect. Fertilize too much and you’ll end up with a whole bunch of greenery and not many blooms.


Meleah Maynard is a writer, editor and master gardener. For more gardening ideas and tips, visit her blog, which has been renamed Livin’ Thing: livinthing.com.