Who doesn’t love a vase of fresh cut flowers in the house to brighten the day? Val Schirmer will tell you growing a bountiful bouquet can be as close as your backyard, even for someone with a newly minted green thumb.
To her delight, Schirmer, a partner at Three Toads Farm, the specialty cut flower grower selling at Lexington Farmers Market, is seeing people loving cut flowers again, something she hasn’t seen in several years.
“There’s a revival in flowers and floral design,” she said. “We have so many people in college and people starting out who buy tons of flowers in the summer.”
As southeast regional director for the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, Schirmer visits flower farms around the country where, again, she sees emerging interest.
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“More young couples are growing flowers to sell, and for events, because there is such an appetite for things that look like they came out of nature,” she said.
Membership in the cut flower association has doubled in the last five years, she added.
You might think you need a lot of room for flowers, “But you can take a space four-by-eight, put in 54 plants on nine-inch centers, and have armloads of flowers all summer long,” Schirmer said.
Another option is “in the spring when you plant your vegetables and herbs, mix in some flowers,” she said. That’s how accommodating flowers can be.
Good choices for a cutting garden are bright, beautiful and not fussy, such as zinnias, cosmos, snapdragons, nasturtiums, dahlias, celosia (cocks comb) and amaranth (love lies bleeding).
“Marigolds are fabulous in bouquets and if you plant them with your vegetables, they keeps bugs away,” she said.
Dahlias make excellent cut flowers, too. Buy corms now, pot them up and keep them in a warm, sunny window. The plants will be several inches tall by mid-May when they can go outside in your garden. Again, look for tall varieties. Schirmer’s favorites include Café au Lait, Black Satin, Labyrinth and Strawberry Blush.
Whatever you plant, always select tall varieties for cutting flowers, not ones described as dwarf or compact. “Look on the back of the seed packet. It will tell you how tall the flowers are going to get. For zinnias or cosmos, look for ones that get three feet tall or more,” she said.
Seeds for annuals can be sown directly in the ground after the soil warms up, usually about mid-May.
If you buy the plants, summer transplants, wait until after the last frost date, which is May 13 for Central Kentucky, before you plant them in your garden, said Jamie Dockerie, horticulture agent for the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service. Otherwise you’re taking a chance they’ll get nipped by a late frost.
Because Schirmer grows flowers for a business, she started snapdragons, celosia and amaranth from seed and potted dahlia corms indoors in Pro-Mix a few weeks ago to get a jump-start on the season. But others flowers she will direct sow outside.
There’s still time to order seed from companies like Renee’s Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, Floret Flowers, Swan Island Dahlias and Burpee. These companies carry new and unusual varieties of flowers and vegetables that often aren’t available locally.
As a reminder, don’t forget to grow foliage plants for greenery in your bouquets. Schirmer grows several varieties of basil, mint, dill and shiso, a Japanese cooking herb. Scented geraniums are premium foliage plants.
“Dill is beautiful in bouquets and it’s a favorite of monarch butterflies. Dill self seeds so you’ll have it next year,” she said.
If you would visit her farm on Combs Ferry Road, you’d see rows of colorful ranunculus and anemones in bloom right now under plastic row covers. But don’t be fooled, Schirmer said. “They are great cut flowers, but I planted them in November. They are complicated to grow. I don’t recommend them for people just starting out.”
Starting flower seeds indoors
▪ Use only potting soil. Never start anything indoors in regular garden dirt because everything that overwintered in your garden will come into your house.
▪ Plant in plastic six-packs available at garden centers, or empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers.
▪ Press seeds down in the potting mixture for good seed-soil contact.
▪ Water lightly. Don’t fertilize until the plants start coming up.
▪ Label and date what you’ve planted on a wooden planting stick.
Growing a cutting garden
▪ Select tall varieties. Height information is on the back of the seed packet.
▪ Make growing stress-free for you and the plants. Spread landscape cloth over where you’re going to plant. Cut holes for planting seeds or the transplants. Or mulch the bed generously after plants are 12 inches tall.
▪ Grow where flowers get at least six hours of sun.
▪ Water and fertilize regularly.
▪ When plants are 12 inches tall, pinch off the top three inches to make them bushier and produce more stems.
▪ The more you cut, the more plants will bloom. Cut really long stems.
Extending the life of cut flowers
▪ Cut flowers before the blooms are completely open.
▪ Place flowers in a bucket full of water, set the bucket someplace cool and let the flowers rest and suck up water for a couple of hours.
▪ Put your bouquet in a spotlessly clean container.
▪ Make sure there’s no foliage beneath the water.
▪ Use flower food in the water.
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