August 1, 2003:
Ah, summer. It finally has arrived in all of its -- humidity,
intense sun and heat -- full force. After two months of no sun in
the Northeast this spring, we don’t know quite how to take
it. Getting through summer for the specialty cut flower grower --
it’s all about “maintaining,” succession planting
. . . and planning ahead. Already yet!
We’ll delve right in. But first, a word about This Year.
Not that there ever is a normal year for those of us who grow things
for a living, but we’ve had quite a few e-mails from really
frustrated new flower growers that:
- Seeds did not germinate!
- Flowers, particularly celosia and sunflowers, were stunted!
- Everything got off to a slow start !
- Many things were lost!
Yep to all of the above. Here in Pennsylvania, we really only
had two days of full sunshine this spring. I guess New York was
pretty much the same, because that’s where many of the e-mails
have come from.
Fear not -- ALL the flower growers in the Northeast have been complaining.
EVERYONE has had problems. Plants need sunshine to grow, and Mother
Nature just didn’t cooperate. (We’re not alone, though.
Other parts of the country have had flooding, drought and grasshoppers!)
The problems in the Northeast were confirmed at the Mid-Atlantic
Regional Meeting of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers
July 29 in Maryland where everyone I spoke with had a weather-related
A grower in St. Michaels, MD, got a new mulch layer -- but couldn’t
use it to get his plugs in because of the rain. He finally got them
in late, in dirt, not the neat plastic the slick new machine lays.
A grower from Upstate New York said that everyone there is still
reeling from the wet spring. Zinnias were slow -- everything is
slow. Same for a grower in Northern Pennsylvania.
And the field tour through Dave Dowling’s Farmhouse Flowers
& Plants in Brookeville, MD, showed stunted celosia, another
planting ready to go in to replace those, and other flowers that
were a third the size they should be.
We’re a good two weeks behind this year in Pennsylvania.
But just like vegetable growers, flower growers who have a diverse
selection are coming out of it OK -- grasshoppers not included.
We found that once the sun finally arrived, many of our plants shot
My stunted sunflowers were fine in bouquets. The Blue Horizon Ageratum
(that I thought was a loss) is now full and beautiful. The Achillea
(yarrow) continues to fill out bouquets nicely, and the snapdragons
have been the best we’ve ever had. The strawflowers and statices
-- especially my perennial German statice -- have been fantastic.
The campanula, which has been a great focal flower in the past,
was pretty much a loss, as was my first planting of celosia. So
goes. We still were able to handle bouquets for a garden wedding
on June 27, and two farmers’ markets!
It was a relief to tour Dave Dowling’s flower farm and see
weeds getting ahead of some of the flower beds. All of the 120 visitors,
from wannabes to experienced growers, could relate. But in this
busy season, just keeping up with the cutting and the markets is
A week of rain made the flowers grow tall -- and the weeds grow
taller. Keeping a half-acre or two or three acres of flowers perfectly
manicured would put labor costs far into the red and you in the
mad house. So we live with the weeds. If you, as a beginning grower,
have been fretting about it, it’s NORMAL!
What is important is cultivating enough to keep the flowers from
getting smothered. If we weed when the flowers are coming up, and
hoe every few days in the beginning, most flowers get a good enough
start to fight future temporary neglect (except lack of water in
a drought year).
I plant 20- to 30-foot sections of several crops in a general flower
area, and replace them when the flowers are spent -- unless the
crop will come again -- like with Blue Horizon Ageratum. When the
cutting ageratum flowers begin to fade and burn, I cut the crop
back and get another rush later in the summer or fall. Same with
some perennials like Monarda (bee balm). Flowers that won’t
come back, like single stem sunflowers, get pulled up, the area
rejuvenated and replanted.
Some of my favorites, like lisianthus, get so prolific the second
year under the cover of a hoop house, it’s hard to keep up
with them. So we go through and cut them back pretty hard (they
keep right on coming). Lissies also like cool soil, it was pointed
out at the ASCFG regional meeting. So plant them in white plastic.
(We always learn something great at the meetings. For more information
on ASCFG, write to email@example.com
or call the association at 440-774-2887.)
We do several plantings of zinnias during the summer in small patches
and in long rows. (Lynn Byczynski’s tip works beautifully
-- we used the Earthway seeder this year with the beet seed plate).
We have found that the first planting will keep right on producing,
even with powdery mildew, when we’re cutting the second or
third planting. The leaves are stripped anyway, so a light infestation
When I started growing flowers more seriously several years ago,
I remember reading in Lynn Byczynski’s book, “The Flower
Farmer” -- half way through the season, of course -- something
like the biggest mistake a beginning grower can make is to plant
once and expect to harvest all season long. I hadn’t planted
nearly enough that year to keep me going well. It just takes one
year to learn!
Every year I have a frantic friend call about this time and say,
“I don’t have enough for fall. What can I plant quickly?”
If you have a hoop house, there are several choices. (We’ll
deal with hoops in a later column.) If you’re stuck and have
a hoop, get some day neutral sunflowers in!
Other flowers with a quick seed to plant life may be fine in areas
that don’t get an early frost. Here in Pennsylvania, we always
try a late planting of 8-10 week flowers (some zinnias, sunflowers,
etc.) and sometimes we make it! You can cover flowers with floating
row covers if a frost is expected to sometimes give you an extra
week or two.
The best advice, however, is to plan ahead and do succession planting
to assure a steady crop.
Plants that we now plant in succession, mostly in small patches
to ensure a nice variety in bouquets, include: (Blue Horizon) Ageratum;
Centaurea cyanus (bachelor’s button); Cosmos; Euphorbia (snow-on-the-mountain),
a big hit with farmers’ market crowds; Helianthus (sunflowers);
Helichrysum (strawflower), which, for some reason, loved this lousy
growing season; Limonium sinuatum (statice); Nigella (love-in-a-mist);
Scabiosa (pincushion flower); and, of course, Zinnia.
Agrostemma, Ammi, Consolida (larkspur), and Gomphrena can also
be succession planted. That means we start seeding early and getting
the plants as their frost tolerance will bear. We seed some crops
every two or three weeks until mid summer.
Planting different types of the same variety of flower, with different
sow to bloom dates, will also extend your season. Teddy Bear sunflower
has a sow to bloom of 12 to 16 weeks; Moulin Rouge and Starburst
Series, 9 to 11 weeks; and Sunrich and Sun Series 9 to 10 weeks.
We’ll talk about Planning Ahead, and the value
of purchasing “plugs,” perennial and annual. In future
columns, we’ll devote one column each to spring, summer, fall
and winter plants and planting, and the value of hoop houses for