Some annuals take many months to flower. Sow seed of begonias in February and the plants will not usually flower until at least June. This not only means a long period in heated conditions, on the windowsill or in the greenhouse, but many things can go wrong as plants journey slowly to flowering.
But there are other annuals, some to sow outside and some that need heat to start them off, which come into flower in a fraction of the time. All tend to be dwarf plants; after all, tall varieties take longer simply to reach flowering height!
Virginia stocks, Malcolmia maritima, will flower in just a few weeks from an outdoor sowing and ‘Spring Sparkle’, with pink flowers that develop lilac tones as they mature, is one to look out for; or there’s the old favourite ‘Finest Mixed'.
Others to sow outside include Limnanthes douglasii, the poached egg flower, with yellow centred white flowers set against bright green flowers and also baby blue eyes, Nemophila menziesii (see photo, above) with delightful white eyed, sky blue flowers. Both these natives of western North America are happy with a little more soil moisture than many annuals.
Another speedy starter, but one which appreciates some warmth to get it going, is monkey flower, Mimulus, combining brightly colourful flowers in a whole range of colours and bicolours with a flying start – plants can start to flower eight weeks from a spring sowing.
Seed can be sown in early March at a temperature of 15°C (60°F), once established after pricking out they need only a night temperature of 2°C (36°F). The first flowers should open at the end of April. Look for the 25cm (10in) ‘Monkey Magic’, ‘Magic Blotch Mixed', ‘Magic Rainbow’, and the larger flowered ‘Maximus’. They grow well in containers, and perhaps surprisingly, given their bright colours, they do well in shady spots.
The other half hardy annuals for speed are French marigolds, Tagetes patula. The dwarf types such as the ‘Boy O’Boy’ mix will flower in June from an April sowing and those in the Durango Series will not be far behind.
Modern dwarf zinnias are also out of the blocks sharply: the prolific and resilient Zahara Series is the pick of the bunch and better in most respects than older dwarf types.
All these will bring you quick, if not instant, gratification and won’t set the electricity meter spinning.
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Half hardy annuals to sow outside