What Are the Best Low-Cost Flowers?

A packet of mixed tall zinnia seeds can cost as little as $2.50.

“On a tight budget, which flowers would you choose for zone 6b?” Question from Loretta of Utica, Kentucky

Answer: It is a good question in these days when many garden centers are closed or low on stock. The very best low-cost flowers are those annuals and perennials that are very fast-growing and quick to bloom from seed. A packet of seeds can cost as little as $2.50 and fill a garden with flowers. The best must also be easy to grow from seed, to ensure the gardener will see those flowers from germination to bloom. The seeds of a few annuals and perennials are easily started outdoors in the ground. They are generally large-seeded flowers with lots of stored food that sprout fast.

Here are the six best gardens flowers for lots of summer color at a very low cost. Every garden center, hardware store, or online seed vendor should carry seeds for these.

Best Low-Cost Flowers

Common Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus): The large pink, rosy-purple, or white daisies of these annuals never disappoint. Average varieties grow very tall–to 5 feet or more–and tend to fall over. That’s why I only grow compact forms. The best include Sonata Mix, which grows to 2.5 feet and has large flowers in all colors. ‘Cosimo Dancing Dolls’ is even shorter and has raspberry and white-striped flowers. There are many other compact varieties from which to choose, so peruse online seed sources for more.

Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): Pick a marigold, any marigold, and they will provide you with golden and orange flowers into fall. There are hundreds of varieties (click here to see a few), from large-flowered African marigolds to small-flowered French marigolds. They thrive in heat and never disappoint.

Morning Glories (Ipomoea hybrids): You can’t go wrong with these mid to late-summer flowering vines. The big pink, purple, blue, or white flowers open in the morning and close by the afternoon. My favorite is the very old-fashioned variety ‘Heavenly Blue‘, which has the clearest sky blue flowers with white and yellow throats. It is easy to find. If you have a fence or large trellis, consider planting a couple. The key to getting the large, black seeds to sprout quickly is to soak them overnight before planting. They have some toxicity, so do not let children plant them.

Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3-9): Here is one perennial garden flower that is easy to start and almost always blooms in the first summer when planted in spring. The little seedlings of purple coneflower will grow quickly, if given good care, and should bloom by mid to late summer with their big, purplish-pink daisies.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus): Sunflowers are about the easiest seeds that you can start outdoors. You just need to protect the young seedlings from hungry bunnies, starlings, or deer. There are many varieties of different sizes and in different shades of gold, orange, and burgundy. (Click here to see a nice mix.) They thrive in heat and generally start blooming by midsummer.

Zinnias (Zinnia hybrids): Zinnias are about as easy to grow as sunflowers and come in loads of different color mixes. I like the colorful zinnia blends from Renee’s Garden Seeds. They are ideal for cutting, love summer heat, bloom nonstop, especially with deadheading, and look pretty along the back of a flower bed.

Click here to read about award-winning flowers you can grow from seed, and click here for perennials that are easy to start from seed.

Planting These Easy Flowers

When planting seeds directly in the ground, you must prepare the soil and give them extra care. Make sure the spot where they are to be planted is weed-free, work up the soil, and amend it with Black Gold Garden Compost Blend or Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss. Sprinkle the seeds on the soil and lightly sprinkle a little extra peat or compost on top. Then keep them moist until they sprout. The best time of year to do this is after your last frost date (click here to find yours).

You can also find some other low-cost options. Six-packs of annuals are very inexpensive, and in spring you can purchase bags of Dahlia tubers for very little money. They come in lots of colors and sizes and are very easy to grow. Their blooms are some of my favorite for cutting.

I hope these tips fill your garden with many flowers.

Happy gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

10 Award-Winning Annuals to Grow from Seed

Flats of garden flowers are costly, but you can grow a whole garden’s worth with just a handful of seed packets and a few inexpensive supplies. Petunias, geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, and salvias are several of the common annual favorites easily grown from seed. Choosing award-winning varieties will ensure good garden performance and consistent summer color. This how-to will help you pick the best seed-grown varieties (for sun or shade) and grow them to perfection.

What are Annuals?

Most bedding plants for long-lasting color are annuals. They are distinguished by their single season of flowering. Once the frosts come, they die, but their consistent colorful blooms make them worth the effort. Annuals are the best plants for containers and empty spots in front beds where bright color is desired. Most attract pollinators, too.

Plant Awards

In the United States, the primary organization that tests and awards plants for performance is All-America Selections (AAS). Fleuroselect is an international organization dedicated to awarding outstanding ornamental plants, and The Royal Horticultural Society is a UK-based society that awards excellent plants with the Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Plants marked by these awards have been repeatedly tested for good performance in a variety of locations and growing conditions.

Award-Winning Annuals

Hummingbird Mint

Agastache Arcado Pink ( Fleuroselect)

When it comes to consistent color for high-heat areas, few bedding plants can beat hummingbird mint (Agastache spp.). This everbloomer for summer also has highly fragrant foliage and flowers. The 2010 Fleuroselect winner,  Agastache Arcado Pink is easily grown from seed and produces wands of fragrant pink flowers. Bees and hummingbirds visit the blooms, and plants will sometimes survive the winter as short-lived perennials.


The colorful, delicate daisies of cosmos also attract bees and butterflies.

Cosmos Cupcakes Mix (AAS Winners)

Common cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) has rose, pink, or white flowers that may be single or double. Cosmos Cupcakes mix is a 2014 Fleuroselect winner with cupped flowers of white, pink, and rose produced on 3- to 4-foot plants that bloom for three months. The 2015 Fleuroselect award winner Cosmos ‘Rubinato’ bears large, single rose-pink flowers on sturdy plants that reach 18 inches.

Sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) has orange and golden flowers and thrives in high heat. Of these, the super short ‘Cosmic Orange’, a 2000 AAS award winner, is one of the best for the garden.


Marigold ‘Super Hero Spry’ (AAS Winners)

Whether you prefer tall African marigolds or short French marigolds (Tagetes hybrids), there are award-winners for you!

For compact French types, try the single-flowers, primrose yellow marigold Alumia™ Vanilla Cream, which was awarded the 2012 Fleuroselect Novelty award, or the 2018 AAS award-winning ‘Super Hero Spry’, which is super compact and has double flowers of maroon and yellow.

For tall African marigolds, the 2010 AAS winner ‘Moonsong Deep Orange’ produces huge fade-resistant flowers of tangerine on sturdy, heat-tolerant plants. The classic 1977 award-winning ‘Primrose Lady’ is another superb variety with big, pale-yellow blooms.


Petunia ‘Evening Scentsation’ (AAS Winners)

Petunias thrive in hanging baskets, window boxes, and front beds—blooming the summer away, even in hot summer weather. Bees and hummingbirds visit their flowers that come in a huge array of colors to fit almost any planting scheme.

The 2017 AAS-winning Petunia ‘Evening Scentsation is a beautiful seed-grown lavender-blue hybrid with large flowers that emit a sweet scent that attracts bees. Another for big color and endless bloom is the 2015 AAS winner, Petunia Tidal Wave® Red Velour, which bears deep red flowers on spreading plants. The smaller-flowered Petunia ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn has deep pink flowers with white and yellow throats and was given a 2007 AAS award for superior bloom and performance.


Salvia Summer Jewel Red (AAS Winners)

Flowers of red, lavender, pink and white appear on the Summer Jewel™ salvias (Salvia coccinea Summer Jewel™ series) in the hottest heat of summer. All members of the Summer Jewel™ series were given All-America Selection awards, Summer Jewel™ Pink won the 2010 Fleuroselect Novelty Award, and Summer Jewel™ Red won the 2012 Fleuroselect Gold Medal! Their blooms are favored by hummingbirds, and the compact, bushy plants bloom until fall.

Fairy Queen mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Fairy Queen’) is a stellar variety that bears wands of blue and white flowers. It was awarded the 2008 Fleuroselect Gold Medal for its compact habit and excellent flowering. The purple-flowered Evolution® Violet is another great selection that was given 2006 AAS and Fleuroselect awards for its nonstop color.


Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ (AAS Winners)

Zinnias come in low-growing forms fit for sunny border edges or containers. Tall forms are better for cutting gardens or larger flower beds.

The low-growing Zinnia ‘Profusion Red’ is an effortless low-growing bloomer that was awarded the 2018 Fleuroselect Gold Medal and a 2017 AAS award. It is both heat and drought tolerant and loved by bees and butterflies. A great tall zinnia for cutting gardens and borders is Zinnia elegans ‘Benary’s Giant Lilac’, the AGM winner has big pastel purple blooms on 2.5-foot plants.


Impatiens Florific® Sweet Orange (AAS Winners)

Impatiens are everblooming annuals that give shade gardens a burst of color. There are quite a few award winners to choose from. Of these, the New Guinea Impatiens Florific® Sweet Orange is a 2015 Fleuroselect Gold Medal winner with pale pink flowers blotched with orange-red. The large-flowered Impatiens walleriana Accent Red is a classic red Impatiens that’s easily grown from seed and achieved an AGM award. Both of these classic bedding plants bloom beautifully in full shade. Just be sure to keep them well fed and watered, especially when summer weather heats up.


Seed Starting

Harden off homegrown bedding annuals before planting them outdoors.

Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with five-count, six-pack flats; these give growing annuals enough space for root growth before outdoor planting. Fill the flats with finely textured Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well. This seed-starting mix is also OMRI Listed for organic gardening. Lightly moisten the mix before planting.

Read the seed packet for complete planting details and expected germination times before seeding. Most should be lightly covered with mix and kept slightly moist. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to ensure germination in each cell. Seedlings grow best if there is only one plant per cell, so move or pinch off extra seedlings that may sprout. Maintain a warm temperature of at least 68-73º F for best germination. Annuals that like hot weather often germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.

Strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum grow lights will ensure good seedling growth and provide trays with even light. One shop light will illuminate two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights for good germination and to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings have emerged and their new leaves have begun to grow, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.

Before bringing your seedlings outdoors in late spring, slowly get them acclimated to natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows tender seedlings that have been grown indoors to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant!