Starting or expanding a flower garden with purchased plants can be very expensive. Full grown perennials plants from a nursery are often sold in gallon pots and vary in price but hands down, these are more expensive than starting them yourself. Purchasing adult plants is not only price, it’s self limiting. You are offered only what your nursery has. Starting perennials from seed gives you many plants for the price of soil, pots and seeds. You can get so many plants you’ll be giving them away and with one season of patience, you will receive years of joy at a low cost. You don’t even need a grow light. Below I will walk you through the summer starts of foxglove with a discussion of how I started them, when I transplanted them and how much I saved. I also start perennials in winter, but this requires a grow light set up. Some people avoid the grow light by starting them outside in milk jugs or cold frames, but by far the easiest for me is a simple summer start for perennials.
When people ask me what perennials give the best showing for your buck, I suggest foxglove, echinacea, coreopsis, gaura and rudbeckia. In my zone, Gerbera daisy is also perennial and easily started from seed.
This post covers foxglove. Many foxglove are biennial and flower in their second year after a winter. Some are first year flowering so look at descriptions. I believe Camelot and Dalmation will flower year one. They reseed in the garden and make a big statement. I start them every year to add new varieties. Keep in mind that this plant and it’s seeds are poisonous so do not allow curious children or pets near them.
Let’s use Apricot Beauty as an example. For $3.00 I purchased 100 seeds. My soil was regular potting soil which cost me about $8. I used maybe 1/4 of the bag-so my expenses were in total about $5 for foxglove plus patience.
I do not bother with seed start mixes in general and particularly do not consider them for fast summer starts. Yes, professionals will roll their eyes, but in gardening you do what works for YOU and YOUR conditions, and I have my best luck using potting soil. I used 5×5 cells that I already had so spent nothing on containers. I broadcast the seeds thinly in the cells mid July and covered with a humidity dome until germination. These grew outside in flats on my shady deck and in September were slowly moved into full sun. I then planted individual strong seedlings directly in the ground in the garden.
With germination rate and transplant failure accounted for, I ended up with about 20 successful plants in my garden. If I were to pay $12 at least for a full grown plant at a nursery ( prices I’ve seen). I would pay $240 for what I grew for $5. You can see the payoff here. But the cost is patience. A mature garden isn’t built on a dime overnight.