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3.9.09

How To Collect Four O' Clock Flower Seeds

Not far from my garden there is an empty lot with a hedge of Four O' Clocks that grow an flower like mad. I try not to pass the abandoned property very often because these plants just remind me just how much I stink at trying to get these seeds to germinate. I've tried for years to grow Four O' Clocks from seeds with little luck. On this abandoned property they grow in almost full sun, watered only by rain and they thrive.

How To Collect Four O' Clock Seeds White Four O' Clock Flower


They're called Four O' Clocks because the plant has a habit of blooming after 4:00 PM, but I took these pictures at 5:00 PM. I think these flowers need a better alarm clock, no?



How To Collect Four O' Clock Seeds, White Four O' Clock FlowerEven unfurled the flowers are interesting to look at and resemble trumpets. The red, pink, yellow and white blooms put on a display in the late evening when they open up.

How To Collect Four O' Clock Seeds, Four O' Clock SeedsThe large and black seeds, that resemble miniature grenades, are easy to spot because the Four 0' Clocks, don't develop a seed pod. You can find them cradled, where the petals of the bloom were prior to being pollinated, when they are really ripe. I'm amazed at how readily these Four O' Clock seeds germinate, grow & bloom year after year without any help. I guess their durability is why they are such a popular annual garden plant. Maybe next year I'll break down and just buy some, because no matter what I do I can't get a single seed to germinate.

I made a short video that demonstrates where to find the seeds on the Four O' Clock, what they look like and how to collect them.

71 comments:

  1. Thank you, MBT. That's a wonderful post on one of the flowers from my childhood that holds a lot of good memories.

    We never planted Four o'clocks but once -they always seeded themselves and thus were very popular .

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  2. Oh! But they were open at 4 PM! You can't expect the flowers to observe something as stupid and recent as Daylight Savings Time.

    Just sticking up for the plants here.

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  3. @ Carolyn, Maybe you can tell me what the secret is with these seeds then. :0)

    @ MrSubjunctive, Haha, good point.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous11:37 AM

      I planted 4 oclocks this year from seed and they turned out beautifully. I wrapped the seeds in paper towel, wet the towel with warm water put it in a zip lock bag and let them sit in a warm place. it recommends to do this for 24 hours to soften the shell but I left them there for a few days until I seen the seeds break open and begin to root. I planted them in my garden and thought I lost them at one point but they are now beautiful and blooming like crazy in yellow, pink and red.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous10:28 AM

      I live in Susanville California, elevation 4,186. I have tied for four years to grow these from seed. I thought maybe they don't grow at this elevation, but this year I got 8 plants and two volunteer from last year I guess. I first saw them on the coast where everyone was complaining they are a self seeding pest!! I guess you just never get what you wish for!!! I will try to soak the seeds next year.

      Delete
  4. Four-o-clocks were the first seeds I planted as a kid. They're nice and big and easy for little fingers to handle. I don't know of any tricks to getting them to germinate. They do need warmth (70 degrees or higher.) They have a pretty hard seed coat - maybe you could try nicking a few and soaking a few to see if either strategy helps, or try starting a few indoors where you can control the temperature, light, and water more. Another benefit of starting them indoors is you could start them earlier and maybe get blooms earlier. I remember being impatient as a kid waiting for them - it took a long time before they bloomed.

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  5. Winter seed sowing softens the coat over time, without needing to knick it. (I'm lazy, I know!) I love four-o-clocks and am wondering now why I didn't grow any this year.

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  6. Garden Girl @ Monica,

    Thanks for the tips...but I'm not exaggerating when I say I can't get these seeds to sprout to save my life. I've tried all of the tricks in the seed sowing arsenal and have come up short every time.

    I convinced there is a vast conspiracy among the Four O' Clock community to not grow for me. I've purchased seeds, I've collected them from these plants and nothing.

    They hate me. :0(

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  7. snaps are really nice..!
    http://theurbanbalcony.blogspot.com/

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  8. I wonder if the secret is to not baby them. I've heard friends say once you have them, you'll never need to buy them again, or plant them. I bought several once, and it's true. They just seed and reseed on their own.

    I suggest you just buy one plant, or dig up some seedlings in that abandoned plot next spring, and then let them seed themselves.

    May I recommend my favorite 4 o'clock? Limelight. The lime green foliage w/magenta flower=lovely.

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  9. I didn't know they would grow so far north. What happens to them over winter? They seed freely here (Miami) and I'm constantly pulling them up. I can tell you that they don't like direct sunlight but they tolerate everything else, including our horrible alkaline soil.

    Most of mine were magenta until I found some yellow ones, which don't smell so sweetly. Recently I came across white, which is new to me, and in the same patch white with splotches of pink. I have yet to sow the seeds I gathered to see if I can also get white and pink.

    I'm happy to send magenta or yellow seeds to those that want some. Let me know.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous4:44 PM

      I'm new to this site and find it interesting and informative. I have white and magenta flowers and some that are white with magenta - the bees were busy.
      I would love to have some yellow seeds.

      Helen

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    2. Anonymous9:51 PM

      I have been searching for these for years. My grandmother had them in her yard. I was always amazed that they knew when to open! What is the cost to have you send me some seeds?

      Delete
    3. Anonymous9:24 AM

      I am in Texas and I will send you some if you would like, also have moon flower seeds=bettysmith4971@yahoo.com

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    4. Anonymous8:40 AM

      Penny in Miami, I would be happy to receive seeds. bh.work1@yahoo.com regarding flower seeds

      Delete
  10. I have not tried to grow these--but now I want to! They are so pretty and I love the idea of things just growing on their own.

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  11. I'm not familiar with them at all, but if they will grow in Chicago and in Florida, I guess they will grow in Virginia. I plan to put them on my list for next year. I love the multi-colors. Will let you know how it goes. thanks.

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  12. Four O'Clocks make a tuber which can get VERY large. I have dug many that weighed 6 pounds or more. Just dig a tuber and let it reseed itself!

    Don't feel bad, I cannot grow marigolds to save my life.

    I am passing on a meme given to me by the Seed Scatterer. She says for you to post on your blog, 7 things about yourself that we don't know. Then pass it along to 7 other blogs, that we would enjoy visiting. And don't forget to link it back to me.

    Enjoy!

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    Replies
    1. Garden Guru11:51 PM

      I also enjoyed the Four O' Clocks, but I'm writing you because it's a breeze to grow marigolds! Sometimes you shouldn't follow the seed directions. I had the best luck if I dug a little trench about 1" deep, sprinkled a row of seeds in, covered them with the dirt, tamped it down a bit and gave it a light drink. I think the key was that I watered my plants every day, in the morning. (Except when God watered :) ) You can thin them out if you want to, I just let mine do their thing---I had a small hedge of 18" tall x 1' wide x 8' long. It was quite impressive + easy to do! Where I live, the 4 o'clocks should have been named 7 o'clocks---that's what time mine would open and had a delightful smell.

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  13. Lelo,

    That's what I'm going to do next year. I even planned to take some cuttings of the plants in the empty lot this spring but I completely forgot.

    Penny,

    They die down and the seeds come up this far north. It is possible the tubers Janie mentions overwinter although everything I read about them says they aren't hardy in our zone.

    Kaylen,

    They are really nice and a provide good interest in a garden at night.

    Webb,

    Hi, thanks for stopping by and good luck with yours.

    Janie,

    That's funny marigolds are so easy for me to grow from seed. :0) I did that meme in '07 and I shared the link with you on your blog.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. Have any of you tried putting down the seeds in the Fall? They are self sowing plants, and Fall is when they drop their seeds themselves. It works for me. I had a lovely batch this summer from seeds I dropped in the fall. I do this for Cleome and Nigella as well.

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  16. Anonymous10:28 AM

    Karen,
    When you say self-sowing, do you mean that you don't cover the seeds with soil? I live in Central Florida and a friend game me some seeds and practically all of them came up. They are magenta and yellow. Do you know if squirrels eat them? I hear the seeds are extremely poisonous.

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  17. Karen Monaghan,

    Thanks for the tip on how you deal with the seeds,

    Karen,

    What we mean by self-sowing is that the seeds will fall to the ground and they will sprout where they fall all on their own without human intervention.

    I don't know if squirrels will eat them but as far as how poisonous they are I've only read that if eaten will cause upset stomachs and cramping. Haven't come across any info saying they are so poisonous as to cause death.

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  18. Tidewater Lady7:06 AM

    As for Mr. Brown Thumb not being able to germinate the four o'clocks, you might try putting some Miracle Grow potting soil in a pot and put the seeds just slightly under the soil. That's how I started some of my seeds that a friend gave me. I put them in the sun and the potting soil kept them moist so that the seed cover softened. Good luck, Mr. Brown Thumb

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  19. Anonymous6:30 PM

    I also had trouble for years trying to germinate four o'clocks until I found one book which said to just press them on the surface of the soil. I also presoaked them in warm water overnight then just pressed them into the soil leaving part of the seed exposed to the light and what do you know, they germinated about 7 days later. Because they naturally self seed, thats an indication that they need light to germinate as they just fall to the ground, sit on top of the soil and germinate freely. We need to copy mother nature. Hope that helps.

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  20. magan7:46 PM

    Also if they self-seed they probably need to go through Winter before they sprout. Try Winter Sowing (outside). It will work for sure and if you cover them with baggy or plastic cover (cut holes for ventilation)they will start growing when right time comes in Spring. Of course, you can just put them on ground where you want them just like they would do naturally in Fall. Don't pamper them.

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  21. Thanks for the tips Tidewater later, Anonymous and Magan.

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  22. cut a branch and stick in the pod. thats what did
    itchingtowriteblogs.blogspot.com

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  23. @ItchingToWrite,

    Thanks for the tip.

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  24. I also have not had much luck trying to get these seeds to germinate. But, through months of trying different methods, i found a way to make every seed you plant germinate. I planted 72 seeds and every one of them came up. Want to know the secret? (1) Take your seeds and soak them in warm water overnight (2)At the end of the seed that looks like puckered lips, with a knife cut easily into it and peel the black shell off the seed. This may take a couple seeds to get the hang of. A light brown seed will fall out. (3) Plant this seed 1/4 inch in starting soil and water.. 7-10 days later you will have them popping up -- I have so many plants started this year using this method that i am going to make a hedge 100 feet long.. Good luck.. Volksrabbit@yahoo.com

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    Replies
    1. I just discovered this trick too! I was coming back to the site to tell about my "new discovery" by just taking the shell off the seed!! and then I read this comment. Can't wait to watch them germinate!

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    2. You are right! Before I read this comment, I had read others and was a bit discouraged; so, when I was examining my seeds after soaking them overnight, I decided to just cut one open to see what was inside; and there I found this brown seed! So, I just opened all my seeds with a serrated knife edge "sawing" so very slightly and then just peeled off the shell . The 4 o'clocks that we buy and collect are really like a peanut or walnut that has to be cracked opened before the seed is exposed. Soaking them makes their shell softer to cut and peel off. I believe this is a quicker method for those who want results sooner.I look forward to watching these seeds germinate and will write back later as to their progress.

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  25. Rob,

    Thanks for the tip. I'm going to give your suggestion a try.

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  26. Anonymous1:58 AM

    You're probably failing with the seeds because you're waiting until warm weather to do it. Sow the seeds in the fall when the weather has cooled down and nature will take care of it the following spring. Or remove all the risks and just plant bulbs. If the ground doesn't freeze, they'll return every spring. If you have freezing soil, mulch heavily. I have a mini forest of Four O'Clocks and they return every spring from the established bulbs and the seed left from the previous year.

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  27. Anonymous9:13 AM

    I have never seen these, but purchased seeds this year. I followed the directions sn soaked them overnight and planted them indoors snout six weeks ago. I now have almost 20 plants that are 4 inches high and can't wait until the danger of frost is gone here in CT so I can plant them on my patio and enjoy the blooms during dinner!

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  28. Anonymous at 1:58 AM,

    You're probably right. Although, I think I'll probably stick to planting the bulbs to make sure I get plannts.

    Anonymous at 9:13 AM,

    Congrats on the success with the seeds. Sounds like you'll have a wonderful display of flowers this year.

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  29. Anonymous5:05 PM

    I collect seeds from my 4 o' clocks which are called 'San Juan de la Noche' in Argentina.

    If the collected seeds lay around my house for a long time I always test them before planting by placing a few in a small plastic petri dish, on top of a moistened paper towel. Put the lid on to keep the humidity in and within 3-4 days they will germinate.

    I usually plant the seeds in Miracle Gro potting soil in small pots and they germinate
    well.

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  30. Anonymous from Argentina,

    Thanks for your tip. I think I may have finally cracked the riddle for getting them to germinate for me.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Easiest way I have found is coton balls placed in a small container with a lid wet and leave alone for 5 days with seeds on top of coton and lid on. After 5 days open remove hard shell leave for 5 more days and check again mine had 3 large leaves and was ready to plant in soil.

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  32. Anonymous1:04 PM

    Try soaking the seeds in water for a day or two. I planted them in a pot and put them out on the screened in porch and they all sprouted in I think less then a week. Hope this helps.

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  33. Anonymous11:16 PM

    just dig up some of the 'tubers'. once they begin you can't get rid of them. i have them all over - the colors are striking and the fragrance is enchanting! they grow in sun, shade...everywhere - even in just sandy dirt here in mid florida. I love them, and they have taken over many of my garden areas. My gardens are chaotic in nature...a bit of everything all over. good luck with the 4 o'clocks. i'm sure you know it's the drop in temperature that actually causes them to open up (the flowers) which occurs in someplaces at around 4 o'clock.

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  34. Anonymous, 1,2,3

    Thanks for the tips, I've since had some success with them and even managed to save the tubers! Anon #3 I did not know that about the temperatures, that makes a lot of sense.

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  35. Hello! I found your blog while searching "sow seeds in February" (a new tip I've just read about and was trying to verify!).

    In France 4 o'oclock flowers are called "Belle de Nuit" (beauty of the night). As a newbie gardener, I am excited about the possibilities of these beautiful and abundant flowers. Earlier today, I had the chance to collect the first seeds of the season (in June) and was wondering if I shouldn't wait until fall to collect them (but I was to excited to leave them... where they might tumble out and be blown away).

    I am also enjoying moving the seedlings around. Finally, a friend gave me a beautiful pot of mixed flowers - including amaranthus (I think... red, fuzzy flowers) and the yellow 4 o'clocks. What a striking mix!

    Thanks for the info and happy gardening!

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  36. Hi Kristin,

    If the 4'o clock seeds are ripe (black & hard) then they are fine to collect and save. Thanks for the info on what they're called in France and good luck with your plants!

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  37. Anonymous9:32 AM

    I've never had trouble with germinating these either from an existing bush or from a seed packet. My first four oclocks came from a bush so huge it was literally the size of a tree! I didn't know they were so common at the time. Where can I get my hands on those purple ones? =D

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  38. Anonymous9:33 AM

    in cuba they're called 'maravillas'

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  39. Anon, I can't say that I've seen seed packs for purple four o'clock flowers. They may be found in seed packs with a mix of colors though. Your best bet would be to trade seeds from someone you know (try a gardening forum) has purple ones.

    Anon, Thanks for letting us know what four o'clocks are called in Cuba. :0)

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  40. I grew up with 4 o'clocks and have planted them at 2 of my homes and unfortunately I cannot get them to reseed them selves will try again this year. I have planted in 2 ways. I germinate the seeds by laying them on a wet paper towel and placing another wet paper towel over them and putting them in a ziploc bag and laying it in a sunny place and when they germinate then planting them. this year I put them directly in the soil and kept it wet and I have beautiful flowers that open in the evening and close with the morning sun!!! I have also but hem in a seed tray and then transfered them when they grew a little..

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  41. Anonymous10:32 AM

    I have grown 4 O Clocks in Okla, Texas (dry west TX and humid East TX) and now in Salt Lake City UT. We just pressed the seeds into the soil a little bit, leaving them mostly uncovered. The plants do die out in the winter but come back in the spring (they seed themselves). The weird thing in Utah is that they open their blooms in the morning, not the evening.

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  42. Anonymous1:29 AM

    I've never had a problem getting four o clocks to grow except when something is eating my plants. I've found just sticking the seeds about half an inch to an inch in the dirt, and watering them once a day in extreme heat, or every other day in moderate weather will have them growing in a few weeks. In fact I love them cuz they're so easy to grow. I've been trying to collect all the colors as of late to add a little variety to my collection, and to add some new genetics to family of plants in my backyard.

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  43. I have a 4 oclock volunteer that gave me bunch of seeds. I don't know if I like the plant. But I collected the seeds. Glad to know they are hard to germinate. Will see what happens!

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  44. @Dor, Thanks for sharing your tips on how to germinate four o' clock flower seeds.

    @Anonymous, That's interesting. I wonder why they open their blooms in the morning in Utah. All the Four O' Clock flowers I've been blooming have bloomed in the evening.

    @Anonymous, Glad to hear you're having such great success with planting these seeds. Also, it's fantastic that you're taking in the genetic makeup of your plants into consideration.

    @Anya, See some of the comments above yours about germinating four o' clock flower seeds. It can be a trial, but others have great success. This year I stopped trying to germinate them and I see they've come up this year for me. It seems once I stopped trying they decided to germinate all on their own.

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  45. Anonymous11:12 AM

    I was here back in 2009 and read how difficult it was to grow 4 o'clocks from seeds. Well last year I collected handfuls from my plants and left them in a small plastic tupperware container for a year. 2 weeks ago I put about 15 seeds in each one of 4 planters - starter planters about 4" around thinking nothing would happen. Well, last night I went outside and there are currently 22 plants popping up! So now I will have to plant them in the ground - find another spot - glad they grow almost anywhere. I just wanted to check back and share. I didn't do anything to them just dropped them beneath some old potting soil from my potted petunia that grew beautifully last year.
    ~Angel from FL

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  46. I have always had bad luck in getting these to grow, but my neighbor's always grow like crazy. She puts her flowers into get well flower arrangements for people who are sick in the neighborhood. Well, I'm off to my garden to try again.

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  47. Anonymous12:41 AM

    Hi Everyone!!! Sure do enjoy reading these nice tips. I had bought a package of the 4 O'Clock seeds from ebay I think they came from Hong Kong. I had never raised anything from seed before and this year I bought lots of seed and a greenhouse. The 4 O'clocks I started them inside in the house with Miracle Grow seed starting soil, and they have all came up and doing wonderful. They were germinated in about 3 days, I was totally amazed. One thing I have found that helps me out in the germination process, is that I heat with wood, so they never worry about getting cold. I also planted them in individual 6 packs then put them into my trays, and covered the tray with a black trash bag, and like I said about 3 days and they were popping through. They now are about 3 inches tall, very healthy and beautiful leaves on them. As soon as they were popping through the dirt, I uncovered them and moved them to the greenhouse. Also, I am in West Virginia in the heart of the state. We had practically no WInter here this year.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the feedback on how you're starting your 4 O' Clock seeds.

      Delete
  48. Anonymous2:09 PM

    MBT I have 5 different large plots of what I was told were 4 o'clocks that started with 4 small plants given to my ex wife by her mother. My understanding of the story is that they close up at 4 o'clock which mine do and then open back up in the morning. Mine are a deep purple color and are just beautifull. However my plants look nothing like the pictures you show even the greenery of the plants are different mine have a long slender leaf some what like monkey grass. I don't know maybe there are several different types but every day mine close in the evening and open back in the morning. I have some pictures maybe I can send them to you or post on this blog. I'm not the best with that sort of thing but I'll see what I can do. By the way mine get bigger and thicker every year and every year in the fall I cut them to the ground with a weedeater.

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm, I wonder what kind you have or if we're talking about two different plants that just so happen to have the same common name. If you have a photo album (flickr, Google+ or Facebook you could upload and post the link here.)

      Delete
  49. Last year I had one measly Four Oclock that some kind of bug made it's nest in and I had a heck of a time killing that bug. It actually got cold here before the bug died. It was hot(SE Texas)and we were on water restrictions, so it didn't get much water. I was afraid they wouldn't come back. This year, I had 15 plants all pop up at the same time, woo hoo!! Going to have a gorgeous bed this summer!

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  50. Anonymous9:07 AM

    I live in ottawa ontario and i planted 4-o'clocks for the first time last year. i bought the seeds at the store. all i did was put them in my garden however i added black earth to my garden as i do every year, and they grew extremely well and were just beautiful. i took some seeds from them and plan to use them this year. i bought some seeds again this year and started them indoors and they have grown very well, and have now been transplanted to my garden where they are still doing fine...i also put some seeds in the garden to start from there, and they are coming up nicely , i took some seeds from last years and i plan on planting them also.. i have never done this before so i will try soaking them first and peeling them like i have read here and see how they turn out...thanks for all the info i got from everyone here.....i didn't do anything special for the bought seeds and they thrived..just used black earth and watered them, nothing else.so good luck to everyone else who plants these...they are such beautiful flowers and make awesome bushes....i hope to plant more of them in my gardens in the years to come...

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  51. Anonymous7:11 AM

    these dont need a cold treatment to germinate. i know this because i grew afew in my greenhouse where they flowered and i collected the seed and sown them straight away.all germinated.i did however soak them overnight as the seed had a hard coat .very easily germinated.

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  52. NJ Green Thumb in GA6:11 PM

    Prior to moving to the south I grew 4 oclocks in New Jersey. If you mulch the plant it will come back year after year regardless of the weather.

    I find that if I put the seeds in the ground at any time and cover them with mulch they always come up in the spring.

    Another good way to collect seeds is to place a large container under the plant and gently shape the seeds from the plant.

    I love the way they reseed and come back each spring.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Anonymous8:52 AM

    i live in northern va and these have taken over my garden. each year yes they do germinate themselves and i have taken seeds that fall in grass and front patio to neighbors and my mother in laws house and just drop the seeds in the flower bed and in the spring they just come up. i dont know what im doing right or if its just our soil but i get hundreads of seeds every year from a 15x15 flower bed and have spread these to about 10 different gardens with nothing but a flick of the wrist.

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  54. I have some pink 4 o'clock seeds,I'd love to trade some for another color! :)

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  55. Anonymous2:06 PM

    I plant 4 o'clocks every year and they take 'forever to germinate but when they do, they are glorious. Love them. This is the first year that I plan to save the seeds. I plan to plant them along with new seeds

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  56. Anonymous10:52 PM

    As one reader mentioned, nicking and soaking do help a great deal. I usually try to nick each seed a few times across with a sharp knife then soak in water for 2 days. Even with that it can take about 2 weeks to see your first seedling and the germination rate is fairly low so plan to use about a dozen seeds.

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  57. I too love these... I live in No Calif and have no problem getting the seeds to germinate. BUT the seedlings don't grow... whether in pots or in the ground. We have hot days/ 60's at night. I've tried everything... but they remain stunted. Any ideas?

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  58. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I live in lower Michigan. I got some seeds last year from a friend from Macedonia who used to grow them in his home country. I poked them into the ground adn grew about 4 plants. I collect teh seeds and gave the, to friends. I planted 8 deeds this year where one plant was loocated last year adn they are about 20 pnts growing in this are now. Seem to grow pretty easy with just some daily watering until they spout then I just water about every 2 days or so. All mine are Pink so far.

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  59. Anonymous9:40 PM

    Love my HUGE wonderful smelling 4oclocks. We've collected seeds for friends, but mine do best if i almost neglect them. Every ye they come. Grow then bloom Like crazy.i always look too early, worrying if David has sprayed or xena(dog) had killed them, but cpl wks later yay they're back. My favorite smell of all..PS i live in western KY n we have every type,temp, weather

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  60. So I was so happy to find this site and its blog. I have never known these flowers until I saw them in my neighbor’s yard. He gave me a few seeds one year and I planted them with great success. Oddly I thought they would just dye out or reseed themselves, but upon further inspection I realized the plant was actually perennial. Is this common? I live in southern CT and did not expect the roots to make it through our tough winter. But I am certain they came back up on their own and did not require planting based on the way they were marked in the fall. It was very easy to differentiate the seedlings from the old thick branches that came up from the previous year’s plant. any ideas? input? thanks.

    ReplyDelete

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