Brighten summer views with colorful annual blooms that you start by tucking seeds right into the soil outdoors. Choose ground covers, vines or flowers that make beautiful bouquets. Many annual bloomers beckon butterflies; others self-sow once established, creating pockets of color year after year.

Before sowing seeds, read seed packets carefully. Some seeds germinate best in cool soil; others require warmth. Some flower seeds need special treatment in order to germinate. This information – and more – is detailed on seed packets. Also, check out our article on Direct Sowing: Starting Seeds Outdoors.

These annuals all start easily from seed. At the end of the season, save seed to sow next year.

Cosmos

Cosmos

Daisy-shaped flowers dance atop sturdy stems. Cosmos bipinnatus (24 to 48 inches tall) unfurls blossoms in shades of pinks, rose, magenta, and white. Cosmos sulphureus (18 inches tall) opens semi-double blooms in bright orange or yellow.

  • Uses: Cut flowers. Butterfly garden.
  • Sowing Tip: Plant seeds every 7–10 days for 30 days to extend the flowering season.
  • Growing Tip: Pinch plants early to encourage branching.

Four O'Clock Flower

Four O’Clock

Sweetly scented blooms of Mirabilis jalapa open in late afternoon (around 4 p.m.) and linger through evening, releasing a jasmine-like scent. Tubular flowers come in shades of white, yellow, pink, magenta and blends.

  • Uses: Plant near seating or walkway areas. Butterfly/hummingbird garden.
  • Sowing Tip: Plant seeds 1/2-inch deep.
  • Growing Tip: Pinch plants early to encourage branching. In part shade, stake plants. Established plants self-sow freely. Gather seeds to prevent spread.

Moonflower

Moonflower

Twining vines of Ipomoea alba grow to 15 feet. White, richly perfumed blooms unfurl at dusk – so quickly you can watch the process.

  • Uses: Site near outdoor seating and windows, so scent can waft indoors. Butterfly garden (attracts hummingbird moths).
  • Sowing Tip: Nick seed coats before sowing by rubbing seeds against a file or using nail clippers. Nick the more rounded side of the seed. Soak nicked seeds 8 hours before planting. Don’t plant until nights are warm – above 50° F.
  • Growing Tip: Plant with morning glories for a 24-hour flower show.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

Twining vines grow 10 feet or more. Anchor trellises firmly. Ipomoea tricolor flowers open in shades of blue, white, pink, purple, red and bicolors. Look for heirlooms, such as Heavenly Blue or Flying Saucers. Some morning glories, like Grandpa Ott’s, can self-sow aggressively. Snip seed pods before they ripen to prevent self-sowing.

  • Uses: Site near breakfast nooks and east-facing exposures. Butterfly garden.
  • Sowing Tip: Nick seed coats before sowing by rubbing seeds against a file or using nail clippers. Nick the more rounded side of the seed. Soak nicked seeds 8 hours before planting. Don’t plant until nights are warm – above 50° F.
  • Growing Tip: Plant with moonflowers for a 24-hour flower show. Too-rich soil yields leaves, but no flowers.

Nasturtium

Nasturtium

Cheerful flowers in nearly every hue float above lily pad leaves. Tropaeolum majus flowers and leaves are edible with a spicy watercress flavor. Plant form depends on variety, from mounding, to spreading, to vining.

  • Uses: Vining types can cover a trellis or blanket a slope. Butterfly/hummingbird garden.
  • Sowing Tip: Seed coats are hard. Many gardeners report quicker germination after nicking seeds with a file, roughing with sandpaper or soaking overnight.
  • Growing Tip: Too-rich soil yields leaves, but no flowers. Plants are an aphid favorite. Remove aphids with a blast of water from the hose. Provide part shade in hottest zones.

Zinnia

Zinnia

This bloomer offers a profusion of flower colors, forms and plant sizes. Plant in rows or groupings so that you’ll have plenty for bouquets. The more blooms you cut, the more you’ll get.

  • Uses: Cut flowers. Butterfly/hummingbird garden.
  • Sowing Tip: Seeds need warm soil to germinate. Don’t plant until nights stay reliably above 55° F.
  • Growing Tip: Good air circulation between plants helps reduce powdery mildew in late summer. Thin seedlings as recommended on the seed packet.