With beautiful annuals crowding spring nursery shelves, few people venture into the esoteric realm of hardy annuals, those that sprout in cold soil and are unfazed by light frosts. For $3 or $4 you can have a hundred plants or more. Why are these ignored?
First, most seed pack directions say to plant where they will grow because they don't transplant well. Like a lot of info this gets passed around without verification. No, digging them up or breaking up a flat of them isn't a good idea, but planting in 4" pots gives excellent results.
I've had poor results from direct seeding, unless the seeds are large, like nasturtiums. The weeds overwhelm the seedlings or we get a dry period right when they should germinate. I'm sold on the 4" pot technique, myself.
And, if you're skeptical, just look at the list of annuals at one of my favorite online nurseries, "Annie's Annuals and Perennials." She's been selling hardy annuals like Larkspur, California poppies, Godetia, Baby Blue Eyes and Nigella in 4" pots for many years.
Second, many instructions say you need to plant them 6", 10" or 12" apart. Maybe you do if you want to grow prizewinning flowers for the state fair, but bushy clumps of three or four plants in a pot will do just fine. I put a lot of Larkspur seeds in a pot last year and just didn't want to cut any of them out when they sprouted more vigorously than expected. An opportunity to experiment or a way to be lazy, depending on how you look at it.
They ended up as a beautiful bush of blue flowers, maybe not as tall as they could have been, but definitely not in need of staking.
My kind of result!
Larkspur, Consolida ajacis