Every flower garden bursts into full color by midsummer, but it's nice to have a few fast-growing flowers to bring some color in the late spring or early summer. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds appreciate the early blooms as much as you do, and the more busy pollinators you attract early in the season, the better the chances they will hang around to benefit your late bloomers.
You may have a few early-blooming perennials in your garden already, and perhaps you even have a flowering shrub, such as magnolia or forsythia, to provide early spring color. Variety being the spice of life, a selection of annual flowers to broaden the color palette is always a good thing, and it's a bonus if you can seed them directly in the garden as opposed to starting them indoors and transplanting them. There is no shortage of fast-blooming flowers that you can seed directly in the garden as soon as the weather is warm enough.
Many of the fastest bloomers are hardy in a wide range of growing zones and are drought tolerant, and some are native species that may even appear as volunteers in nearby fields. Planting them is as easy as dropping seeds in fertile soil, and since you won't have to stress out to maintain them, you can focus your attention on appreciating your garden, which is how gardening is supposed to be. Plant these fast-growing flowers in your garden to get a jump-start on summer.
Marigolds Protect Your Garden
Not only do marigolds (Tagetes) show their yellow, orange or copper-colored petals early in the season but they maintain them throughout the summer. Some varieties are perennials in their native habitats, but all can be grown as annuals in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hardiness zones 2 through 11. Seeds take about a week to germinate, and after that, blooms will appear in as few as eight weeks. American marigolds (Tagetes erecta), sometimes known as Aztec or Mexican marigolds, resemble lush, golden pom-poms and grow to a height of 3 or 4 feet, while French marigolds (Tagetes patula) grow bushier and shorter.
Marigolds are fast-growing flowers that attract pollinators, and some are edible, although they have a somewhat bitter taste, which is probably why they repel deer and rabbits. Marigold roots also control nematodes, so a good way to use marigolds is to plant them early, enjoy the first blooms and then remove them and plant them in your vegetable garden. Marigolds like full sun, and they prefer fertile soil, but they aren't particular.
If Not Marigold, Then Calendula
Calendula (Calendula officinalis), sometimes called pot or English marigold, is unrelated to marigold, but it looks similar and blooms just as quickly. The plant is medicinal, and the flowers are edible, and like marigolds, it grows as an annual in zones 2 through 11.
Despite being different species, calendula and marigold are so much alike that it's difficult to tell them apart, and it's important to do so because not all marigolds are edible. Calendula seeds are brown, while those of marigolds are black, and calendula petals tend to be long and straight, while marigold petals are rectangular. Calendula petals can be used as a substitute for saffron, and oil derived from the flowers has long been used a skin ointment to heal wounds and treat eczema and diaper rash.
Sweet Alyssum in Spring and Fall
As it creeps along the ground, sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritimus) covers your flower bed with four-petal white, purple and pink flowers shaped like crosses and exuding a sweet fragrance. It's a cool-season flower native to the Mediterranean region, and while it's hardy only as far north as zone 7, it doesn't like the heat and dryness of summer and will fade only to return again in the fall. It's a perfect plant for spring color because if you sow alyssum flower seeds immediately after the last frost, you'll have blooms eight weeks later.
Alyssum likes full sun and loamy soil, although it is often found growing on beaches, sand dunes and even walls. The key is to ensure the soil is well-draining, as alyssum won't do well in bogs or standing water.
Nasturtium's Munchable, Fast-Growing Flowers
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum) seeds are large — about the size of chick peas — and need to be buried 1/2 inch deep with a spacing of 10 to 12 inches, and when you do this, the seeds will sprout in seven to 10 days, and flowers will appear just over a month later. Nasturtiums are ridiculously easy to grow, being hardy from zones 2 through 11 and actually preferring nutrient-deficient soil, so you can basically just plant them and forget about them.
Besides adding garden color, nasturtium flowers add spiciness to salads, and the red, yellow and orange flowers are often used as a garnish. The immature seed capsules are also edible and when marinated in brine, they taste like capers. Gardeners often plant nasturtiums with tomatoes and other vegetables to attract aphids and other insect pests.
Zinnias Are Popular Cut Flowers
Zinnias (Zinnia) are a sure-fire way to bring early color to any garden in zones 3 through 10, which is basically most of North America and the rest of the world. The eye-popping yellow, red, pink and purple blooms attract pollinators and begin to appear a mere six to seven weeks after direct-sowing the seeds. Zinnias prefer full sun and well-draining soil. Some varieties grow small enough to make good border plants, while others grow tall enough to dominate the garden. Popular in cutting gardens to supply bouquets and flower arrangements, zinnias can thrive just as easily in containers as they do in garden beds.
Petunias Come Large and Small
Petunias (Petunia) are native to Argentina and grow as perennials in zones 9 to 11 and elsewhere can be grown as annuals. Once the seeds have been sown 1/4 inch deep in well-draining soil, they will germinate quickly — in as few as three to four 4 days — and will flower in six to eight weeks.
Petunia cultivars can produce large, medium or small flowers, and the ones with the smallest flowers tend to grow low and creep along the ground, so they make good ground cover. The smaller petunia plants are also the fastest bloomers. Petunias come in a wide variety of colors, including white, red and purple, and the striking black velvet petunia is as black as coal.
Poppies: California's Native Wildflowers
A native wildflower in most Western states — not just California — the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) is a fast bloomer that will flower from 60 to 75 days after germination. It's self-seeding, so all you have to do is remember to leave a few of the blooms on the plant to have a new batch of delicate wildflowers the following year.
California poppies grow as perennials in hardiness zones 8 through 10 and as reseeding annuals elsewhere. Bees and butterflies love them, but deer and rabbits stay away, and they like full sun but aren't particular about soil quality, although the soil should drain well.
One of the common names of the cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) comes from the fact that these flowers are often found growing wild in cornfields, and the other popular name, bachelor's buttons, reflects the fact that the frilly red, white or blue flowers are often worn by the groom and best man at weddings. They grow in zones 2 to 11 — just about anywhere — and in most places, if you plant the seeds in late March or early April, you'll have blooms by early June.
Cornflowers respond well to soil amendments, such as fertilizer or compost, and blooms will be bigger and lusher if the soil is fertile. They like plenty of sun and moisture, especially during the early spring growth spurt.
Majestic, Towering Sunflowers
They won't bloom as fast as some other flowers, but sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) still grow surprisingly quickly in zones 3 to 9, reaching their full height of 6 to 12 feet in just three months, averaging an inch or more of growth a day. It's hard not be impressed by the giant, daisylike flowers towering over the garden, catching and reflecting the sun and producing seeds that you can use to attract birds or roast and eat yourself.
Once the seeds start to fall, you can cut the flower and drop the seeds in the parts of the garden in which you want to grow sunflowers next year, and they'll sprout all by themselves. True to their name, sunflowers thrive in full, hot sun, and they like moist, well-draining soil. Popular cultivars include the multihued Helianthus annuus 'Strawberry Blonde' and the red and purple Helianthus annuus 'Moulin Rouge.'
Morning Glory: A Flowering Vine
If you have a fence or a trellis in the garden, you can make good use of it by planting morning glory (Ipomoea), a climbing vine that will quickly cover it with delicate and showy pink, purple-blue, magenta or white flowers. The flowers don't last long, opening in the morning and dying by the end of the day, but the plant makes up for the short-lived blooms by producing a lot of them.
Seeds need to be soaked for 24 hours and planted 4 inches deep, but they germinate rapidly after that, and if you sow the seeds in full sun and well-draining soil in early April, you can expect flowers by June. Morning glories grow in zones 3 through 9, and while they are often grown as an annual, they are known to be aggressive self-seeders, so they will probably reappear the following year. The seeds contain LSA, which is related to LSD but is more toxic, and even though they have been used by indigenous people in medicine ceremonies, they are officially considered poisonous.
Johnny Jump Up, or Wild Pansy
Imported to North America from Spain, Johnny Jump Up (Viola tricolor) has many names, including wild pansy and garden violet, but the common name Johnny Jump Up reflects the fact that this wildflower often pops up unannounced in fields and gardens. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, Johnny Jump Up is slow to germinate when it grows from seed, but it makes up for that by swiftly blooming, and it can fill your garden with tiny yellow-violet blooms by midspring.
Violas are the parent plants of pansies, which explains why Johnny Jump Up is often characterized as a pansy, and they are frost tolerant to a degree, so you can sow seeds early for early blooms. Johnny Jump Up flowers, like nasturtiums, are edible and make great garnishes, and because the plant is self-seeding, you'll have some next year too.
- Gardening Channel: Which Flowers Grow The Fastest? Try These for Fast Results
- Birds & Blooms: Top 10 Fast-Growing Annuals From Seed
- The Old Farmer's Almanac: Growing Marigolds
- This Old House: 15 Fast-Growing Flowers for a Cutting Garden
- Fine Gardening: Spectacular Spring Bloomers
- Country Living: 15 Best Early Spring Flowers to Plant in Your Garden
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.