Purple Spring Flowers In The Cutting Garden: How To Plan Ahead

purple foxglove bloom with white center

One of the most popular flower colors for the spring garden is purple. It’s a cheerful color represented by sleek tulips and dainty pansies. Even better, it’s one of the preferred colors of bees, who are no doubt happy to have an abundance of spring blooms to visit.

Having early spring blooms for cut flowers take a little different planning than the traditional summer flower garden, so there are a few steps to take.

To plan for purple spring flowers, first select appropriate flowers that bloom during the spring season. Then make a calendar with first and last frost dates, sowing, and transplanting dates. Use those numbers to make a calendar of sowing and planting times for a full garden.

You’ll see a few examples of how to determine your sowing and planting out dates so you know how to plan. You’ll also get many recommendations for purple spring-blooming flowers to inspire your seed shopping list.

Grape hyacinth blooms
Grape hyacinths are one of the earliest bloomers in spring.

A word on sowing and transplanting time frames

To have blooms in the early spring will take some planning. You will need to have transplants ready to be planted in the garden in the fall to overwinter. For other types of flowers, you’ll start seeds very early in the year and set them out before the soil has even warmed up.

Summer blooms are straightforward; plant out in the spring and get your summer blooms.

But for spring flowers you’ll be working with some fall sowing dates and setting out transplants in very early spring.

The extra planning and work through the winter will pay off when you’re able to create vibrant bouquets to bring into the house to cheer up a drizzly spring day.

Just keep in mind that gardening is not an exact science. Sometimes your weather will cool or warm sooner than you expected it to, and that can throw off your plantings. Or the eight weeks you scheduled for your seeds to grow to transplants ends up stretching to ten weeks before they’re sizable enough. It happens to us all, and you just have to roll with it and see what works.

The days to maturity with fall sowing can also be off due to the slower-growing habits during cold months. Unfortunately, you can’t just look up the blooming dates of these flowers. You just have to experiment and learn so you can build your own reference guide.

At best, you’ll get blooms around the time you expected them. At worst, the plants die in a cold snap. The motto of gardeners everywhere is “I’ll try again next year,” so keep that in mind as you work through your calendar.

What is fall planting?

Fall planting takes place 6-8 weeks before your first average frost day in the fall. If you’re new to gardening, the first average frost date is determined by your growing zone. If you’re not sure what your zone is, you can look it up here at the Farmer’s Almanac.

That date will be when temperatures drop low enough to bring a frost for the first time in the fall season. For a lot of gardening zones throughout the US that happens sometime in September or October.

Warmer areas such as the Southeast or the Deep South might not even have frosts during winter, so there will be more flexibility for planting times. The issue there will be avoiding the extreme heat and humidity of the summer, so earlier plantings will be necessary.

Fall planting can refer either to direct sowing in the garden or setting out seedlings that you started indoors or purchased.

If you choose to direct sow, you just need to know the first average frost date and count backward 6-8 weeks for your sowing date. In that 6-8 weeks your seeds will germinate and grow into small plants that will overwinter in the garden bed.

If you decide to start seeds indoors and set out transplants, you’ll need to count back the 6-8 weeks before the first frost, as well as several weeks to account for them growing inside. So for these, you’ll count back more like 12-14 weeks. Once you set out the transplants they’ll use those 6-8 weeks to get over the transplant shock, establish strong roots, and leaf out enough to survive winter.

purple scabiosa flower
Scabiosa is a reliable spring flower.

Depending on your zone you might need to use hoops and a row cover to keep the snow and cold winter winds off your plants. Agribon-19 is one of the most popular row covers to use for winter protection down to 28 degrees Fahrenheit. Other grades of Agribon provide protection down to 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can read more about these row covers at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, a renowned seed and supply company for flower farmers and gardeners.

Another fantastic resource to learn even more about fall planting is the book Cool Flowers, written by cut flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler. Her book can be found at her website, The Gardener’s Workshop.

Planning with fall sown annuals

Here we’ll look at how you could set up your calendar with sowing and transplanting dates for the fall. It will account for both direct sowing in the garden and setting up indoor seed starting.

The dates reflect 6 weeks from seed to transplant, and 8 weeks between transplanting and expected first frost.

First frost
date
Seeds sown
indoors
Transplanted
outdoors
Oct. 29July 23Sept. 3

If you want to have more time for your seeds to grow indoors before planting them out, here’s an example with 8 weeks from seed to transplant, and 6 weeks between transplanting and first frost. You’re still working with 14 weeks of growing time, just reversed.

First frost
date
Seeds sown
indoors
Transplanted
outdoors
Oct. 29July 23Sept. 17

Fall sown hardy annuals

Listed below are some great cutting flowers that hold up well to fall sowing and are quite hardy. Each one has a purple variety that will bloom early in the spring garden.

Foxglove

Camelot Lavender will provide the earliest, lavender-pink blooms. Sugar Plum will bloom later in spring with a deeper purple color.

Nigella

Delft Blue is a blue-purple color with blooms and seed pods that are also excellent for drying.

Dianthus

Sweet Purple White Bicolor provides two-tone petals of plum and white in early spring.

Snapdragon

Chantilly Purple has magenta-purple blooms early in spring. Potomac Lavendar has light purple-pink blooms a bit later in the season.

Scabiosa

There are many purple scabiosa from deep burgundy-purple to light lavender. Oxford Blue and Fama Deep Blue both produce lavender-blue blooms.

Delphinium

Magic Fountains Cherry Blossom is a light plum purple on tall stalks in early spring.

Larkspur

There is no lack of purple larkspur! Fancy Smokey Eyes has white blooms with lavender blush in the center. Galilee Lilac is a uniform medium purple color with early blooms.

Tulips

Since tulips are a bulb instead of a seed, you’ll just plant these directly in the garden about 6 weeks before the ground freezes. In gardening zones that do not freeze, be sure to chill your bulbs for 8-12 weeks in the fridge before planting. Though it takes more planning, tulips are one of the earliest purple spring flowers for the garden and are worth the effort.

Queen of the Night is an elegant deep purple, while Mysterious Parrot has frilly petals of violet purple with white edges. Candy Prince produces single light gray-purple petals.

Grape Hyacinths

Another bulb, grape hyacinths are early bloomers of stalks covered in blue-purple bells. They are also fall-planted and need 10 weeks of chilling time. As with tulips, you can chill them in the fridge if your zone doesn’t get a freeze during the winter.

What is late winter planting?

Late winter (aka very early spring) planting happens 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring. If you’re in zone 6, for example, your last frost date is sometime in April. You would plant out your seedlings 6-8 weeks before your first frost because they can handle the cooler temperatures of February and March.

Remember to also account for 6-8 weeks of indoor growth just as with fall planting. So set aside at least 12 weeks from seed to outdoor planting: 6 weeks to grow into a transplant, and 6 weeks to grow in the garden before the last frost of winter.

The seedlings use that time to settle in and get established so that once the weather starts to warm up they are ready to take off with fast growth and early blooms. They will almost certainly bloom faster than any flower planted in the traditional spring time frame of “when the soil can be worked.”

Take note that direct sowing in late winter isn’t recommended if you want early blooms. The soil will be too cold for the seeds to germinate so they’ll just lay dormant in the soil until it warms up enough. You’re much better off starting the seeds inside and transplanting them out.

Planning for late winter sown annuals

Here is a sample timeline for starting Seeker Purple statice seeds and planting out them out in late winter/very early spring. Statice is typically planted in the spring after the last frost, but with a few extra steps you can get it in the garden a lot sooner and have blooms much earlier.

Purple and yellow pansy blooms.
Pansies help ring in the new spring with early blooms.

When you transplant your seedlings outside make sure to use hoops and row cover to give them extra protection. During the weeks until the last frost, they’ll be growing out their root system waiting for that warmer weather when they can then be uncovered.

The dates reflect 6 weeks from seed to transplant, and 8 weeks between transplanting and expected last frost.

Last frost
date
Seeds sown
indoors
Transplanted
outdoors
April 5Dec. 28Feb. 8

To have more time for your seeds to grow indoors before transplanting them, here’s an example with 8 weeks from seed to transplant, and 6 weeks between transplanting and last frost. It’s the same 14 weeks, just manipulated differently.

Last frost
date
Seeds sown
indoors
Transplanted
outdoors
April 5Dec. 28Feb. 22

Late winter sown annuals

Statice

Seeker Purple has deep lavender blooms and makes excellent dried flowers as well.

Stock

Katz Lavender Blue and Katz Purple both are early bloomers of single stalks.

Lisianthus

Voyage 2 Lavender and Voyage 2 Blue provide a light and a dark purple bloom in early spring. Note that lisianthus is a very slow grower and will need at least 12 weeks of indoor growth before transplanting.

Campanula

Champion Lavender and Champion Blue bloom in a light purple and a deep purple, respectively.

Pansy/viola

Frizzle Sizzle Yellow Blue Swirl (what a mouthful!) yields early blooms in the spring garden with yellow and purple-blue two-tone petals.

Sweet pea

Another flower that comes in many shades of purple. Nimbus has unique variegated petals of deep plum and light lavender. Charlie’s Angel is uniformly light lavender-blue. Be sure to direct sow sweet pea seeds as they don’t respond well to transplanting.

You can replant any of the fall sown flowers in the spring as well. You’ll probably get your purple flowers earlier with the fall plantings, but if you missed any or just want to extend your bloom times then you can start another batch.

Putting it all together

With this extensive list of possibilities, you’ll have no lack of purple spring flowers if you spend a little time planning for your garden. By deciding what to plant by the late summer you’ll have plenty of time to get those seeds started indoors for planting before the first frost of the season.

Fill in any gaps with a later winter sowing and enjoy your spring garden full of blooms.

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