By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener
Despite a delayed start followed by early heat and drought, seedlings did grow and flowers eventually bloomed. The biggest challenge proved to be the prolonged early drought. Being on a dug well, I was only really prepared to water the dahlias from the well. Luckily, I have a free running spring behind my farm. After assembling a sufficient number of containers, I found that fetching water from the spring provided enough moisture to get plants established and supported until it rained. I divided the bed into 4 sections and watered each on a rotating basis.
The lack of water and heat made for some small blooms initially but attractive non the less. By mid-August, I was cutting snapdragons (who proved to be the workhorses of the garden), loads of zinnias and scabiosa as well as various fillers such as dara and celosia. Then the gladioli, sunflowers and dahlias decided to show up. Suddenly, I seemed to be doing as much deadheading as harvesting cut flowers.
Harvesting flowers correctly and caring for them ensures a longer vase life and more enjoyment from your flowers. To keep flowers alive, you must preserve the stems’ ability to take up water after cutting. The tubules that water moves through can become blocked either by air bubbles or by bacterial growth. Recutting stems exposes fresh tubules to water and the use of a few drops of bleach in vase water reduces bacterial growth.
Key things to remember:
- Cut the flower at the correct stage. This varies between flower types. Some like peonies are best cut when the bud is unopened but coloured and soft. Conversely, zinnias must be fully open.
- Harvest during the coolest parts of the day (early morning or dusk) when plants are well hydrated
- Use clean, sharp clippers to prevent crushing the stems (which damages the tubules in the stem)
- Take a clean bucket of warm water into the garden and place newly cut flowers in bucket after stripping lower leaves off
- Allow flowers to rest (condition) in a dark, cool place prior to allow them to rehydrate
- Use clean vases and recut stems prior to arranging
- Change water daily and recut stems every other day
- Homemade flower food can be helpful. Use one teaspoon sugar and one teaspoon to bleach per litre of water
- Keep flowers out of direct sunlight and away from ripening fruit (ethylene gas). Both shorten bloom life
In addition to those flowers grown specifically in the cutting garden, I was able to utilize some of the plants in the landscape beds as accents for arrangements without taking away from the landscape value. Perennials such as liatris, grass seed heads and foliage are interesting additions.
The only thing left to do is to sit back and enjoy!!
“Earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Year in Flowers, Erin Benakein, Chronicle Books, 2020