How To Start Growing Black-Eyed Susan From Seed (Simple Steps)

orange and yellow black eyed susan flowers

Many gardeners keep an eye out for black-eyed Susan seedlings at the garden nursery so they can plant them right away in the home flower garden. It’s an easy way to get started with some of the most popular varieties. But black-eyed Susans, also known as rudbeckia, come in far more beautiful varieties than those commonly found in nurseries.

Fortunately, Black-eyed Susan is an easy plant to start from seed in just a few simple steps, unlocking dozens of varieties with different colors, shapes, and growth habits.

Black-eyed Susan is easy to grow from seed, and if you start them early enough in spring, you’ll get blooms the first year. Seeds should be started in a basic soil-starting mix, where they’ll germinate in 7-10 days. You can also sow seeds directly in the garden, though you may not get blooms until the following year.

Here is what your future black-eyed Susan seedlings will look like. These seedlings are almost two weeks old.

black eyed susan seedlings in a tray
Black-eyed Susans are slow growers, but easy to start from seed.

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How to start black-eyed Susan seeds, step by step

To start black-eyed Susan flowers from seed, you need just a few supplies. The process is basic and is similar for almost all seeds. I’ll describe all the steps, but if you prefer to watch a video, check out this complete tutorial from Epic Gardening.

If you prefer to read, here are your steps:

Starting black-eyed Susan seeds indoors

  1. Use a seed starting mix to fill containers. You can use a seed tray like what you buy seedlings in at the nursery, or small paper cups, or even old deli containers. Just make sure whatever you use has some drainage holes to let out excess water.
  1. The seed starting mix should be made of compost, perlite, and vermiculite, which is light, fluffy, and holds moisture well. You can buy bags of pre-made seed starting mix, or make your own. Garden Betty has a great article showing you how to make your own mix with an easy recipe.
  1. Make sure the mix is pre-moistened, or mix in some water so it’s wet but not saturated. If you squeeze a handful of the mix, it should stick together but not drip water.
  1. Fill the seed trays, cups, or whatever container you are using. Gently press the soil into the container.
  1. Grab your seed packet, and place one seed per tray cell on the soil. If you’re using old deli containers that aren’t neatly divided, then place a seed every 1-2 inches on the soil surface.
  1. Mist the soil to settle the seedlings in place. Don’t water the soil directly with a watering can, as it will probably wash the seeds away.
  1. When the soil needs to be watered more heavily, bottom water by setting the container in a dish or pan of water for several minutes. The seed starting mix will wick water up through the drainage holes.
  1. Place the seed trays or containers under a row of shop lights, with the light just two inches above the soil.
  1. If you don’t have a light set up, then make sure to put your seedling tray in the sunniest possible location to make sure they don’t get leggy, or overly long, as they reach for the light.
  1. If you’re starting seeds in the garage or a cold area, consider a heat mat to warm the soil.
  1. Mist the soil with a spray bottle once or twice a day to keep the seeds moist while they germinate, and you should see sprouts within a week or two.

You will need to tend to your seedlings every day for the next 6-8 weeks to keep the soil watered and to monitor the lights, raising them as the plants grow taller. The lights should be about two inches above the plants to keep the light strong but still give them room to grow.

Direct sowing in the garden

If you prefer to sow your black-eyed Susan seeds directly in the garden, then your planting process is very straightforward. Here’s a helpful video from Beautiful Nest Home & Garden, with the steps below:

Direct-sowing black-Eyed Susan flowers:

  1. Once the soil has warmed up in the spring, clear the growing area of any weeds or debris so the seeds can make good contact with the soil.
  1. You can rough up the soil surface by scratching it with a rake or your hand. This creates a loose surface that holds the seeds in place. Hard-packed dirt isn’t very inviting to tiny seeds.
  1. Sprinkle the seeds over the soil (lightly!) so that the seeds land every few inches or so. You need enough seeds to account for the ones that won’t germinate, but you don’t want so many that they overcrowd each other.
  1. Once the seed is down, use your hand or rake again to press the seed into the soil. No need to cover the seeds; once you water the seeds they’ll settle, and some soil will wash over them in a light layer.
  1. Use a watering can or hose with a gentle stream to water the seeds.
  1. Keep the seedbed moist until the seeds start to germinate.

To learn even more about growing black-eyed Susan, jump over to this post: Black-Eyed Susan: A Complete Guide To Growing.

How long does it take for black-eyed Susan to grow from seed?

It takes 7-14 days for black-eyed Susan seeds to germinate in warm soil, then anywhere from 90-120 days to mature enough to bloom. Overwintered plants will take longer to mature, since they germinate in the fall and spend the winter months dormant in the garden, then resume growth in the spring.

Here are some of the most popular varieties that are easy to start from seed:

VarietyDays to maturity
Indian Summer90-100
Prairie Sun90-105
Amarillo Gold90-105
Sahara 100-120
Cherry Brandy100-120
Cherokee Sunset100-120

Remember that the days to maturity start from when the seeds are direct sown or the seedling is planted in the garden. The weeks the seeds spent growing indoors do not count toward the days to maturity, so if you start seeds indoors, add 8-12 weeks to the number of days needed to grow black-eyed Susans from seed.

When should I plant black-eyed Susan seeds?

If starting black-eyed Susan seeds indoors, start them 8-12 weeks before your last spring frost. If direct sowing seeds in the garden, plant them after the last spring frost. Seeds started indoors can also be planted in the garden after the last spring frost, which varies by garden zone.

The last spring frost will be the last time that temperatures fall to 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, a temperature which would kill tender black-eyed Susan seedlings. Once the plants are more established, they can tolerate colder temperatures, but not while they’re so young.

You can look up your last spring frost date on Farmer’s Almanac using your zip code. Once you have that date, count back 8-12 weeks to find your seed starting date.

You can also plant out transplants or seeds in the fall. As long as they have time to establish themselves before the fall frost, black-eyed Susans will overwinter and resume growing in the spring. This method helps get the earliest possible flowers in the summer.

Use this article to help you decide if you want to plant in the fall or spring: The Best Time To Start Black-Eyed Susan For Early Blooms

Will black-eyed Susan bloom the first year from seed?

Black-eyed Susan will bloom the first year if the seeds are started early enough in the year to allow for full maturity. To give the plant enough time to mature, start the seeds 8-12 weeks before the last spring frost, then transplant them to the garden after all risk of frost has passed.

Biennial varieties of black-eyed Susan will be more likely to bloom profusely than perennial varieties. Typically, biennials are plants that spend their first year growing their leaves and roots, then blooming the second year. By starting seeds early, you can bypass the wait time for the second year.

black eyed susan flower with green center

Choosing certain varieties that bloom quickly will also help guarantee first-year blooms. Varieties such as Indian Summer and Prairie Sun are faster to mature than others they are good candidates for quick blooms.

I take a deep dive into the blooming time of black-eyed Susan in this article, Black-Eyed Susan: First Year Blooms & Other Flowering Questions, so check it out if you want tips for early flowers.

Can black-eyed Susan seeds be planted directly in the ground?

Black-eyed Susan can be planted directly in the ground, which is called direct sowing. Wait until the soil has warmed and all risk of frost has passed. Sow seeds on the surface of the garden bed and keep them moist until they germinate over the next 7-14 days.

If you’re concerned about keeping the seedbed moist, lay a piece of burlap or an old bedsheet over the seeds. Light and moisture can penetrate the fabric, and it will help prevent the soil from drying out while the seeds are germinating.

Be sure to remove the fabric as soon as the first seeds sprout so they get full sunlight right away.

One word of caution: snails and slugs love to feast on black-eyed Susan seedlings, so use an organic slug bait such as Sluggo to prevent losing your whole seed bed. You can apply the bait at the same time as you sow the seeds, or you can wait until you see the first seeds germinate and pop out of the soil.

In either scenario, scatter the bait over the soil according to the directions on the container. I try not to use many pest deterrents in my garden, but Sluggo is crucial if I want to keep certain plants alive that the slugs and snails love.

My favorite pest prevention tools

Even organic, hands-off gardeners need help with the bugs sometimes! When I just can’t get ahead of pest problems, these tried-and-true tools help me (and my plants) out. 

  • Sluggo Plus is the best natural aid for dealing with slugs, snails, and earwigs that will happily eat your entire bed of new seedlings. 
  • Bt spray is a natural bacteria that was the only thing keeping my garden alive when I lived in buggy South Carolina. It helps prevent total destruction from pests like caterpillars and cabbage worms.
  • But above all, I try to rely on beneficial insects, birds, and companion planting to keep my garden healthy. The book Vegetables Love Flowers has all the beautiful and inspiring photos you need.

Do black-eyed Susan seeds need light to germinate?

Black-eyed Susan seeds need light to germinate, so press them into the soil surface, then either leave them uncovered or covered with a light layer of vermiculite, which helps hold in moisture but does not block light. If the seeds are covered with soil, they will struggle to germinate.

Vermiculite is a real game-changer for starting seeds that need light to germinate. A light layer will hold in moisture, preventing the seeds from drying out. Vermiculite doesn’t block light the way soil does, so it’s not creating darkness. It also helps prevent damping off, which is the death of seedlings from fungal growth.

Vermiculite is a budget-friendly product that you can find online or at your local garden center. A little goes a long way, so you only need a small bag of 4-8 liters.

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