Greetings Grow Appalachians! Holly, VISTA at Grow App HQ in beautiful and blooming Berea, KY! Speaking of beautiful and blooming, I promised in an earlier newsletter that we would get more into the prettiness of gardening and such soon, and well…the time has finally arrived! That’s right, this week’s post is about one of my favorite things, probably ever: flowers! (And just to clarify, I’m probably a little too old for the flower girl stage…although I am going to be a bridesmaid this fall!!)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been enamored with flowers. As a kid, I entertained the idea of becoming a florist when I grew up. I remember picking flowers from wherever I could get them and either giving them to my mom or putting them in a vase in the living room. Black-eyed Susans and daisies were childhood favorites of mine. My parents grew wildflowers and their colors came alive all the way up the driveway! Even now, as an adult, I have fake flowers as part of my year-round home décor, and occasionally I’m able to snag some living beauties to have on display. The macro setting on my 7+ year old digital camera has become my best friend in capturing as much color and detail as possible. I remember last year, when I was working for UK, my department hosted a reception for the graduating seniors, and I volunteered myself to arrange the flowers. It was, most assuredly, an enjoyable morning and afternoon of carefully selecting the perfect flowers and fillers into various lab-related glassware. In fact, my supervisor was so pleased with the end results that, the following week, he let me go home early!
It’s difficult for me to pinpoint why I love flowers so much- maybe I’ve simply learned to appreciate their temporary beauty, or how even a single bloom in a vase or bottle can add a touch of life and vibrancy to any space. Now that I’ve nearly gotten way ahead of myself, let’s talk about some basics of growing and caring for cut flowers, so you too can learn to appreciate them.
Start from seed:
If you’re like me, and probably many of us, it’s easy to get carried away with all things seeds. Before you completely buy out your seed shop of choice, consider how much space you have or are willing to work with, and also how much time you’re willing to invest. Remember, much like kittens or puppies, seeds do not stay little forever. If you’re a beginner, start by sowing annuals, which complete their life cycle in a year. In terms of when you want flowers, for flowers in the summer or early autumn, sow half-hardy seeds in the spring. For later flowers, so hardy annual seeds in autumn; they are frost-tolerant and will give you flowers the following year. You can read more about annuals and hardiness here.
After the first planting, in order to maintain a steady harvest of flowers, sow seeds the following week after planting, and continue doing so. This is called succession planting. This method also allows you to experiment with different varieties of the same flower. Cosmos are a perfect example of this- they come in many colors! Here’s more information on succession planting.
You wake up one warm morning and, surprise! Your flowers have bloomed, and you’re ready to begin your first round of taking some in. Some may say: What’s the point, they’re just going to die anyway? Yes, unfortunately, that is true, but with a few added extra steps, you can get your cut flowers to last up to a week longer than average. My senior year of college, I got a bouquet from my parents and I swear they lasted a month!
-Put them in water as soon as possible. Duh! Also, re-cut the stems, since stems out of water sort of “scab over”. Re-cutting them re-opens the stems.
-Make sure your container of choice is clean. Bacteria can thrive in dirty vases and reduce the life of your flowers.
-Cut the stems at an angle. You’ve probably heard this before, but it really does make a difference. Cutting the stem at an angle rather than just straight across allows for a wider base at the stem, resulting in maximum water uptake. It’s also ideal to use a sharp knife, rather than scissors, as scissors “squash” the stem. (I did not know this!)
-Remove the leaves. It’s fine to leave a few for aesthetics sake, but any below the water line will get the water icky pretty quickly. Plus, most of plant’s water is absorbed from the leaves, so leaving them in tact draws that water away from the blooms.
-Don’t put them in direct sunlight. Yes, they do need some light to open up, but direct light will only scorch them.
-Re-cut the stems and change the water, ideally every few days, more often if you notice any considerable changes or have several flowers in one container. When I have flowers, I usually change water and re-cut every other day.
-Remove any blooms that are dying. Like fruit, when fruit is ripening and sitting out, it emits ethylene gas and acts as a ripening agent, which is why you might notice your bananas growing browner quicker if they’re together. It’s the same way with flowers; if one is wilting, it causes the others to wilt faster as well (I did not know this either!)
-If you’ve ever purchased flowers from a florist or a store (who hasn’t?), you get those little packets of food along with them. Use it! There are a lot of homemade water amendments for flowers out there, so it may be best to conduct your own research and determine what works best. I’ve read mixed reviews on virtually any remedy out there…so I just stick to frequent water changes and using the packet if I buy flowers. Having said that, if any of you who may be reading this are homemade remedy gurus, please feel free to enlighten us on what does and does not work! 🙂
-Again, this goes back to if you’ve ever purchased flowers: Select with care. If they’re in the clearance section of Kroger or Lowe’s, they’re probably there for a reason (Although, one time I picked up a bunch of hydrangeas at Kroger for $0.50 and they lasted over a week!). If they’re overly wilted or droopy, skip it, and if you can, check the stems as well; if they’re moldy or slimy, skip it as well.
-If you’re growing outdoors, choose varieties with long stems, so they are easy to arrange. Also be sure to plant them in full sun, much like your vegetable garden.
-For species with stems that grow to 18″ or longer in length, stake them.
Here’s an article that suggests adding sugar or clear soda, and a penny in the vase, will boost flower life. I haven’t tried any of these…have you? Maybe I will…
What do I grow?
I am so glad you asked! First and foremost, it is important to grow what you like! After all, more than likely, you’ll be growing these for yourself! Below are a few recommendations for different varieties (I’m offering beginner suggestions, but please feel free to share any others that have worked well for you).
Sweet peas germinate quickly, so they are particularly beneficial for beginners that might get discourage, but they are best grown in individual pots rather than in a garden. Marigolds also germinate quickly and have easily handled seeds.
Zinnias are a staple in any flower garden. Last year, ours at the Grow App HQ garden went CRAZY!!! But they were SO beautiful. Those are what’s pictured in the featured image for this post.
Cosmos come in many colors, as mentioned earlier. and they flower well into late summer.
Sunflowers are very hardy and are great for attracting pollinators.
Mums are a good flower if you find yourself in a late start for planting- they’ll grow all the way into late fall.
This is not an exhaustive list, as always, but rather suggestions to help get you up and running, or if you just don’t know where to start. Again, you want to plant what you like, and if you don’t like anything on this list….the sky’s the limit! One important reminder for growing flowers: the more you cut, the more they grow back. If your county extension office has a horticulture agent (some do, but many don’t), he or she will also be a great resource!
Flowers by HAK
Lastly, the gallery below is a collection of flowery pictures I’ve taken over the years in various places. I will end this post with these and let you all enjoy them 🙂