How to grow flowers from seed

By: Julie Christensen

21 September, 2017

Astilbes (astilbe x arensii) provide vibrant color in shade gardens and, depending on the variety, bloom from early spring to late summer. The perennials have fernlike foliage and colorful spikes of blossoms. Hardy from zones 4 to 9, astilbes need fertile, loamy soil and constant moisture. They grow quickly and need division after one or two years. Division is the preferred propagation method. Grow astilbe in borders and perennial beds along with hostas, impatiens and other shade-loving plants.

Fill seed starter trays with soil-less starting mix. Place one or two seeds in each cell, planting the seeds 1/4 inch below the surface. Mist the soil gently with a spray bottle filled with water until the mix is moist but not saturated.

  • Astilbes (astilbe x arensii) provide vibrant color in shade gardens and, depending on the variety, bloom from early spring to late summer.

Cover the trays with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place in a warm, sunny location during the day. Astilbe germinates best when daytime temperatures are 70 degrees F and nighttime temperatures are 50 degrees F.

Spray the trays with water three to four times per week to keep the starting mix constantly moist.

Remove the plastic film when seedlings emerge.

Plant the seedlings in your garden when they are 3 to 4 inches high and all danger of frost is passed.

Astilbe seeds germinate slowly. Buy seeds in the fall if possible for spring planting, as aged seeds germinate more predictably than fresh seeds. Consider purchasing one or two astilbe plants instead. They’ll grow rapidly. Divide them within a year or two and plant the divided plants. You’ll soon have a full perennial bed.

How to grow flowers from seed

The Spruce / K. Dave

Growing plants from seeds is not only easy to do but is also one of the cheapest ways to fill your garden with abundance. Some people may only think of growing vegetables from seeds, but flowers are just as easy to plant. As a bonus, you’ll have a greater choice of variety and color if you’re willing to start your own varietals from seeds rather than just buy what’s already being grown and sold at nurseries at the start of the season.

Perennial flowers may not bloom their first year, but if you have the patience to wait, you can fill your garden for a fraction of the cost of buying mature plants. Annual flowers will bloom right on schedule, and many of them will even seed themselves, so you’ll only have to plant them once to receive years of beautiful blooms. If you’ve been dreaming of nonstop color, pick up some seed packets, and get started with the tips below.

Growing Annual Flowers From Seed

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The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Annual flowers are the backbone of billowy cottage gardens. Many annuals will seed themselves, so all you have to do is leave the flower heads on the plants at the end of the season. They will eventually drop seed, and the seeds will weave themselves throughout the garden with a little help from the wind. You may sometimes end up with too many seedlings in one spot, but they should be easy to pull or transplant.

Keep in mind, annual flowers tend to grow quickly, so even those you direct sow outdoors in the spring will flower at their usual bloom time or very soon afterward. Just about any of the annuals that self-sow are good candidates for starting from seed, either indoors or direct sown.

Growing Perennial Flowers From Seed

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The Spruce / K. Dave

Most perennial plants don’t bloom until their second year, spending their first season growing a strong root system and lots of leaves for photosynthesis. You can sometimes get around this waiting period by starting your perennial seeds in the fall and fooling the plants into thinking the following spring is “year two,” but more often than not you’ll just have to be patient.

After your perennial flowers are established, they will begin blooming and grow larger every year. In a few years’ time, you’ll be able to make even more plants by dividing the ones you have.

How to Speed Up Seed Starting

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The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

Not all seeds know it’s time to sprout just because they’re planted in soil. Some need a signal that it’s time to germinate, either from a change in temperature or moisture levels, or an increase in light. To trick your seeds into germinating sooner than they might typically, you can use one of the below methods:

  • Winter sowing: To sow your seeds in the winter, you’ll want to start them outdoors while the temperatures are still frigid. Not all seeds can survive freezing temperatures, but there are some that need the freezing and thawing action to break dormancy or to crack their hard coverings, including heartier vegetables like broccoli, beets, and carrots.
  • Scarification: Seeds with really tough or thick coverings (think: apples, nasturtium, and false indigo) can take forever to germinate. Scarification (nicking them or rubbing them with sandpaper) can help give them a jump start and speed up the process a bit.
  • Stratification: Stratification is a way to simulate the warming and cooling conditions seeds would be privy to if left in their natural environment through the winter. It’s especially useful for people in zones that don’t have a long enough (or cold enough) winter for their desired plant, as well as any gardener looking to harvest delicate perennials like delphinium and violets, which will germinate more seeds if they’re put through the process.

Starting Seeds Indoors

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The Spruce / Katheen Groll Connolly

If you have a short growing season or are just impatient to see those late-blooming flowers, starting seeds indoors can help move things along. To do so properly, you’ll need to know your last frost date, as your seed packets will note which varietals can be successfully started indoors (not all seeds transplant well) and the proper time frame. To start seeds indoors, you’ll need potting mix, something to plant your seeds in, and a way to keep them moist. Your supplies can be anything from paper cups or paper egg cartons and clear plastic bags, to tiny pots, peat pots, or seed-starting trays with a clear lid.

Some seeds may require hardening off (exposing to cool temperatures) before planting outside, but this will be noted on the seed packet if required.

Growing a Wildflower Garden

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The Spruce / Marie Iannotti

There’s a certain storybook quality to a field of wildflowers, and many gardeners are drawn to them for their natural, organic look. If you plan to start your own wildflower garden from seed, know that it is not as simple as picking up one pack of wildflower seeds. A wildflower garden is an ecosystem unto itself that includes perennial native plants, grasses, and self-sowing annual flowers. They require a lot of diligence to become established and regular maintenance and renewal to keep them looking good and prevent them from becoming weedy.

Prepackaged wildflower seed mixes are a great way to start off your garden. The label will list how wide of an area the package will cover, and some larger bags may even come with fertilizer and mulch mixed in with the tiny seeds.

You’ll need to keep your eye on the wildflower area for balance between species (overseeding the species you want, annually, can help). Any perennials in the mix may not sprout the first year. Weeds will want to encroach while the area becomes established too, so you’ll need diligence in your efforts to pull those. Just remember, the results of your efforts will be well worth the work to establish the wildflower garden.

Collecting and Saving Seeds

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The Spruce / K. Dave

Cultivating a long-blooming garden has another perk. At the end of the season, you can collect seeds from your plants to sow the following year. You just have to wait until the seeds or seed heads ripen. Harvest them by tapping the seed heads and having the seeds fall from them into a brown bag, or by snipping off the seed heads whole. Ensure they’re dry before putting them in labeled envelopes to store for the following year.

Remember that hybrid plants will not grow the same as their parent plants (a pink flower may get you red and white plants the next year, for example), but heirloom self-pollinated plants will grow true (just like their parents).

If you already have enough of your existing plants and want something different, either swap seeds or start the seedlings next spring anyway and swap them with friends. Look for seed swaps in your community, at public gardens, or online, or start one of your own.

Sometimes it seems as though nature can disperse viable perennial seeds to grow everywhere but germinating the seed at home is a challenge. Typically this is because the seeds are conditioned to go through specific conditions prior to germination. For plants native to the north such as the native Echinaceas, that includes a cold period whereas lavender and rosemary, which are native to the Mediterranean, require excellent drainage and warmth to germinate. Many perennials though, such as Asclepias (Butterfly Weed) and Alaska Shasta Daisies can be grown very successfully from seed.

When sowing seeds for perennial flowers, you need to have a good potting mix and a warm area to germinate the seeds. Sow the seeds as you would annual flowers by sprinkling over the damp potting mix and cover very lightly with more mix. Cover the seeds with plastic wrap to keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate. It takes most perennial seeds three to five weeks to germinate so you do need to be patient. Frequently some of the seeds from the same variety will germinate faster than others so you will have a few seeds up and growing while others are still dormant. Place the seedlings into good light and let them grow. Do not expect all the seeds to germinate. For perennials the germination rate may be as low as 50% in some varieties, compared to almost 95% of annual seed that will germinate.

You can increase the germination rate by chilling the seeds before you sow them and/or soaking them.

When the seed does germinate, the first leaves will be simple leaves and some true leaves will follow. The early leaves do not always look like the mature leaf, so don’t worry if they look different. The seedlings will grow slower than most annuals, and you will need to account for that by starting the seeds as much as 10 to 12 weeks before your frost date.

When the seedlings are large enough to put into the flower bed, treat them as any other seedling by hardening them off for a few days, and ensuring that they get enough water every day. The young perennial will grow steadily the first year but they do not always flower that first year.

Clearly growing perennials from seed is slightly different to growing annuals, but it is just as worthwhile. You just need to have a little patience and realistic expectations of the number of plants that will come from the seed packet.

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A comprehensive guide to growing vegetables and flowers from seed

Keep it Simple

Growing plants from seed is a great way to start gardening earlier in the season. With the right light and some simple equipment, it’s easy to grow from seed to harvest.

Because each plant has unique seed-starting requirements, it helps to start small by growing just a few varieties. Some seeds — such as tomatoes and marigolds — are especially easy to start indoors. Other good choices for beginners are basil, zinnia, coleus, nasturtium and cosmos. If you’re a beginner, choose those first, and then move on to more fussy seeds, such as petunias.

Seven Steps, from Seed to Garden

Get the timing right

The goal with seed starting is to have your seedlings ready to go outside when the weather is favorable. Start by looking at the seed packet, which should tell you when to start seeds inside. Usually, it will say something like, “Plant inside six to eight weeks before last frost.”

Some types of vegetables, such as beans and squash, are best started outdoors. There is little benefit to growing them indoors because they germinate and grow quickly. Some flowers, such as poppies, are best planted outdoors, too. These seeds are usually marked “direct sow”.

Find the right containers

Prepare the potting soil

Choose potting soil that’s made for growing seedlings. Do not use soil from your garden or re-use potting soil from your houseplants. Start with a fresh, sterile mix that will ensure healthy, disease-free seedlings.

Before filling your containers, use a bucket or tub to moisten the planting mix. The goal is to get it moist but not sopping wet; crumbly, not gloppy. Fill the containers and pack the soil firmly to eliminate gaps.

Remember that most mixes contain few, if any, nutrients, so you’ll need to feed the seedlings with liquid fertilizer a few weeks after they germinate, and continue until you transplant them into the garden.

Start Planting

Check the seed packet to see how deep you should plant your seeds. Some of the small ones can be sprinkled right on the soil surface. Larger seeds will need to be buried. For insurance, I plant two seeds per cell (or pot). If both seeds germinate, I snip one and let the other grow. It’s helpful to make a couple divots in each pot to accommodate the seeds. After you’ve dropped a seed in each divot, you can go back and cover the seeds.

Moisten the newly planted seeds with a mister or a small watering can. To speed germination, cover the pots with plastic wrap or a plastic dome that fits over the seed-starting tray. This helps keep the seeds moist before they germinate. When you see the first signs of green, remove the cover.

Water, feed, repeat

As the seedlings grow, use a mister or a small watering can to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Let the soil dry slightly between waterings. Set up a fan to ensure good air movement and prevent disease. I use a fan that’s plugged into the same timer as my grow lights. Remember to feed the seedlings regularly with liquid fertilizer, mixed at the rate recommended on the package.

Light, light, light!

Seedlings need a lot of light. If you’re growing in a window, choose a south-facing exposure. Rotate the pots regularly to keep plants from leaning into the light. If seedlings don’t get enough light, they will be leggy and weak. If you’re growing under lights, adjust them so they’re just a few inches above the tops of the seedlings. Set the lights on a timer timer for 15 hours a day. Keep in mind that seedlings need darkness, too, so they can rest. As the seedlings grow taller, raise the lights.

Move seedlings outdoors gradually

It’s not a good idea to move your seedlings directly from the protected environment of your home into the garden. You’ve been coddling these seedlings for weeks, so they need a gradual transition to the great outdoors. The process is called hardening off. About a week before you plan to set the seedlings into the garden, place them in a protected spot outdoors (partly shaded, out of the wind) for a few hours, bringing them in at night. Gradually, over the course of a week or 10 days, expose them to more and more sunshine and wind. A cold frame is a great place to harden off plants.

Troubleshooting

Only one-quarter of my seeds germinated. What went wrong?

There are a number of factors that affect seed germination. Check the seed packet to determine if all the requirements for temperature and light were met. If the soil was cold and excessively wet, the seeds may have rotted. Dig up one of the seeds and examine it. If it is swollen and soft, the seed has rotted and you will need to start over. If the soil was too dry, the seeds may not have germinated or may have dried up before their roots could take hold. If the seeds were old, they may no longer be viable. Try again and be sure to provide consistent moisture.

My seedlings are spindly. What can I do?

Plants grow tall and leggy when they do not receive enough light. Use grow lights to ensure that they receive 15 hours of bright light each day. Warm temperatures can also stimulate leggy growth. Try lowering the room temperature and reducing the amount of fertilizer you apply. For more on this topic, see the article Growing Under Lights.

The leaves on my tomatoes are starting to look purple along the veins and on the underside of the leaves. What’s happening?

Purple leaves are an indication that the plant is not receiving enough phosphorus. If you have been using half-strength fertilizer for the first three to four weeks of the seedling’s life, it may be time to increase the fertilizer to full strength. The phosphorus content (the middle number on the fertilizer analysis) should be at least 3.

My seedlings were growing well until all of a sudden they toppled over at the base. What happened?

When the stems of young seedlings become withered and topple over, they have probably been killed by a soil-borne fungus called “damping off.” This fungus is difficult to eradicate once it is present in the soil, but you can avoid it by using a sterile, soilless growing medium, and by providing good air circulation.

Mold is growing on the top of the soil surface. It doesn’t appear to be hurting my plants, but should I be concerned?

Mold is an indication that the growing medium is too wet. It will not harm your plants as long as you take action. Withhold water for a few days and try to increase air circulation around the containers by using a small fan. You can also scrape off some of the mold or try transplanting the seedlings into fresh soil.

How to grow flowers from seed

1. Before you get started, it’s important to gather the proper supplies. You’ll need potting soil, seed trays, pots, bottom trays, vermiculite, clear dome lids, shop lights, and plant tags.

How to grow flowers from seed

2. Moisten potting mix until it’s thoroughly damp but not dripping wet.

How to grow flowers from seed

3. Fill seed flats to the top with soil, tapping the whole tray firmly against the table as you go so the soil settles and there are no air pockets trapped in the tray cells.

How to grow flowers from seed

4. Label the tray with the variety name and date sown.

How to grow flowers from seed

5. Make holes in each cell using your finger, a pencil, or a dibbler. A general rule is to plant the seed to a depth twice its size.

How to grow flowers from seed

6. Drop 1 or 2 seeds into each hole.

How to grow flowers from seed

7. Cover the tray with a light dusting of fine vermiculite or seed starting mix, making sure all seeds are covered.

How to grow flowers from seed

8. Set freshly sown trays into a plastic tub with an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom and let them soak up the water from below. Remove once the soil surface is evenly moist. Seed trays should not be watered from overhead until the plants have their first set of true leaves, as one strong blast from the hose will wash tiny seeds away.

How to grow flowers from seed

9. Cover trays with a clear plastic dome and set onto a 70°F (21°C) heat mat or in a warm corner of the house, consistently above 65°F (18°C).

How to grow flowers from seed

10. Check trays daily, and once seeds have sprouted, remove plastic dome lids and move the tray off the heat mat to a bright space, such as a greenhouse, or under florescent lights. If using lights, make sure they are suspended a few inches above seedlings and put them on a timer, making sure to give plants 14 to 16 hours of light a day. As the plants get taller, be sure to keep raising the lights so that they are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) above the tallest plant.

How to grow flowers from seed

11. Check seedlings daily and water when the soil appears dry. As young plants grow, they need to be fed. Following the label instructions, add the correct amount of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion to your watering can and drench plants weekly.

How to grow flowers from seed

12. When seedlings outgrow their trays, either repot them into larger containers or, if the weather is warm enough, start transitioning them outdoors.

13. It’s important to “harden off” young plants before putting them into the garden, otherwise they will be shocked by the sudden change in temperature. Set trays in a sheltered spot outside, increasing the amount of time they are out each day. This helps the young plants acclimate to outdoor temperature fluctuations. Once all danger of frost has passed they can be planted into the garden.

What You Will Need

Top quality seed

  • Potting soil
  • Seed trays and pots
  • Bottom trays
  • Vermiculite
  • Clear acrylic dome lids
  • Shop lights
  • Plant tags

    How to grow flowers from seed

    1. Before you get started, it’s important to gather the proper supplies. You’ll need potting soil, seed trays, pots, bottom trays, vermiculite, clear dome lids, shop lights, and plant tags.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    2. Moisten potting mix until it’s thoroughly damp but not dripping wet.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    3. Fill seed flats to the top with soil, tapping the whole tray firmly against the table as you go so the soil settles and there are no air pockets trapped in the tray cells.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    4. Label the tray with the variety name and date sown.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    5. Make holes in each cell using your finger, a pencil, or a dibbler. A general rule is to plant the seed to a depth twice its size.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    6. Drop 1 or 2 seeds into each hole.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    7. Cover the tray with a light dusting of fine vermiculite or seed starting mix, making sure all seeds are covered.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    8. Set freshly sown trays into a plastic tub with an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom and let them soak up the water from below. Remove once the soil surface is evenly moist. Seed trays should not be watered from overhead until the plants have their first set of true leaves, as one strong blast from the hose will wash tiny seeds away.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    9. Cover trays with a clear plastic dome and set onto a 70°F (21°C) heat mat or in a warm corner of the house, consistently above 65°F (18°C).

    How to grow flowers from seed

    10. Check trays daily, and once seeds have sprouted, remove plastic dome lids and move the tray off the heat mat to a bright space, such as a greenhouse, or under florescent lights. If using lights, make sure they are suspended a few inches above seedlings and put them on a timer, making sure to give plants 14 to 16 hours of light a day. As the plants get taller, be sure to keep raising the lights so that they are 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) above the tallest plant.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    11. Check seedlings daily and water when the soil appears dry. As young plants grow, they need to be fed. Following the label instructions, add the correct amount of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion to your watering can and drench plants weekly.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    12. When seedlings outgrow their trays, either repot them into larger containers or, if the weather is warm enough, start transitioning them outdoors.

    How to grow flowers from seed

    13. It’s important to “harden off” young plants before putting them into the garden, otherwise they will be shocked by the sudden change in temperature. Set trays in a sheltered spot outside, increasing the amount of time they are out each day. This helps the young plants acclimate to outdoor temperature fluctuations. Once all danger of frost has passed they can be planted into the garden.

    What You Will Need

    Top quality seed

  • Potting soil
  • Seed trays and pots
  • Bottom trays
  • Vermiculite
  • Clear acrylic dome lids
  • Shop lights
  • Plant tags

    Gerbera daisies are a little tricky to grow from seed, but it definitely can be done. Follow these tips for propagating and growing Gerbera daisies from seed in your garden.

      Collect Viable Seeds: This is the most important tip! Your Gerbera daisy blossom will soon start to look like a dandelion, covered in seeds, but most of those seeds aren’t viable. The seeds look kind of like little brooms, with a hairy brush at one end and the seed at the other. Sort through the seeds, and choose only the ones with a fat, fertilized seed pod.

    How to Plant and Grow Gerbera Daisy Seeds

    How to grow flowers from seedPreparing to plant daisy seeds. Step #1: Prepare Trays: Fill trays or pots with a light seed starting medium, or make your own mix using peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Dampen the medium with water.

    Step #2: Plant Seeds: Use a toothpick to poke a hole in the planting medium. Plant the Gerbera daisy seeds with the seed end pointing down, and the little brush part just barely at the top of the soil.

    Step #3: Grow Seeds: Keep the seeds moist, but not waterlogged, and above 70° F, with eight hours or more of bright light per day. The easiest way to do this is to cover the trays with a clear plastic tent and place them indoors in a bright window or under grow lights. When the Gerbera daisy seeds germinate in two to three weeks, remove the plastic cover but keep the seedlings moist.

    How to grow flowers from seedGerbera daisy seedling. Step #4: Transplant Seedlings: After the Gerbera daisy seedlings have developed two sets of true leaves, you can carefully transplant the plants to larger pots.

    Step #5: Harden Plants: When it’s consistently warm outside, and the Gerbera daisy plants are hardy and growing, move the pots outdoors to a protected spot for a few days to get the young plants used to the breezes and temperature shifts found outside.

    Step #6: Enjoy Flowers: At this point, you can leave the daisies in their pots or plant them in the yard. Locate the plants in a spot with plenty of morning sun and a little afternoon shade to keep them from wilting. Feed the plants regularly with a balanced organic fertilizer, and keep them watered but not soggy.

    How to grow flowers from seedBeautiful Gerbera daisy flowers can brighten up any garden.

    Adding some blooming annuals and perennials is one of the quickest ways to freshen up your yard.

    Flowering plants always make your garden look more exciting (and can stop neighbors in their tracks). Perennials can dazzle year after year, while annuals can add quick blooms almost instantly. You can start with seeds or pick up transplants at the garden center, but once you’ve chosen your plants, there are a few basic steps to take to get your flowers off to a good start in your yard. Before you start digging, make sure to read the tag that comes with your plants or the instructions on your packets of seeds so you can match the plants’ needs with the best spots to grow them. Then, if you already have established flower beds, you can easily place new annuals or perennials wherever you need to fill in some holes. Or you can always create a new flower bed to fill with all the beautiful blooms you want to grow.

    Step 1: Right Place, Right Plant

    Do the plants you’ve picked out need sun, shade, or a combination of both? Start by arranging your plants so they’re in a spot where they’ll get the kind of light they prefer (plants that like the sun should be out in the open, plants that need shade should go in a spot where they’ll have some cover). Full sun is six hours or more of direct sun per day, not necessarily continuously. Part shade typically means four to six hours of sun per day. Shade definitions vary, depending on how deep the shade really is. Dappled shade gives a lot more light than deep shade, for example.

    Step 2: Dig the Soil

    Beautiful flower gardens start with healthy soil. In general, most flowering plants do best in soil that’s loose and well-drained with a lot of organic material in it. You don’t need to dig a large area to plant flowers, but you should dig enough soil that you can add some compost to improve the soil structure and add nutrients.

    Avoid digging or handling soil when it’s wet to prevent compaction. Plants need a certain amount of space between soil particles for roots to grow. One test to see if soil can be worked is to dig a small sample of soil from a 3-inch hole. Squeeze it into a ball, then toss the soil onto a hard surface such as a rock or pavement. If the soil stays together, it’s too wet for planting, but if it shatters, it’s time to plant.

    Step 3: Plant Your New Flowers

    The steps for how to plant flower seeds are a little different than plants from the nursery, so follow the directions on the seed packet to know how deep to plant each seed and how far apart. With potted garden plants, you should usually plant with the soil at the same level as the soil in the pot, but read the plant tag to be sure. Some flowering plants, such as irises and peonies, prefer their rhizomes and roots to be planted very shallow. When removing the plant from the pot, gently tease some or all of the soil from the roots and place the plant into the hole you’ve prepared. Push the soil back into the hole, firming it gently but not packing it down.

    Step 4: Water Deeply and Add Mulch

    Thoroughly soak the soil around your newly planted flowers. Garden flowers generally need 1 to 2 inches of moisture every week to perform well, so water if you don’t receive enough rain. It’s best to water deeply and less frequently than shallowly and more often so the roots of the plants grow deeper. Avoid keeping soil waterlogged or the roots of your flowering plants may rot. A layer of mulch like shredded bark around your new plants will help slow down evaporation and reduce how often you need to water.

    Step 5: Deadhead and Groom Your Flowers

    As your flowering plants begin blooming, feel free to cut them for bouquets. Clip off the spent flower heads to encourage the plant to put more energy into its foliage and winter survival. Some flowers, including zinnias, dahlias, and others, bloom again when you remove the blooms. Clip or pull any brown foliage for a cleaner look. Daylilies in particular benefit from the removal of old leaves.