January 30, 2004: By now, just about everyone
in *cold country* is at least thinking spring (while we slip
on ice and shovel snow). Ah, spring -- a time to dig out the
seed packets, prepare the soil and start getting our hands
in the potting mix, yet again. Last
column, we got started on a seasonal harvest roll with
information on how to keep the cash box ringing into the winter
months. So while you're charting the seeding schedule on your
here for more from Mel on charting), we'll talk about
how you can plan now for an extra early spring harvest next
Extending the season to include a spring harvest is a great
way for the flower grower to get the cash flowing. Come spring,
everyone is REALLY ready to see fresh cut flowers (we growers
included!) and, there are many people out there who want to
buy that little bit of sunshine and happiness that flowers
have to offer. Many farmers’ markets are starting earlier
in the season and fresh cut, home-grown flowers are a welcomed
sight. Florists want them, as do many stores. After all, following
flower-crazy Valentine’s Day, we have St. Patrick’s
Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, graduations
-- so many reasons to celebrate with flowers.
It’s time to think ahead now, because having a good
variety of flowers in spring means ordering ahead, sowing
seeds in summer and planting in fall. Have a hoophouse up
yet? That’s great for spring flowers. You can make use
of woodies and perennials, of course, and plant seeds (or
order plugs) early and plant some varieties under row cover
(reemay) to get late spring crops, too.
Last summer, one of our farmers’ markets started May
1, and another mid-July. Our on-farm market started the beginning
of June, and I did a wedding in early June. A health food
store said customers were asking for bouquets by the beginning
of May. I had to have lots of early flowers but it was a terrible,
lousy, wet year for everything. I didn’t have enough.
Perennials saved me.
I made bouquets of Euphorbia
(there are great varieties for early spring and late spring);
parthenium (feverfew); Dianthus
(Sweet William), Shasta daisies
(yarrow) -- with some early
While many larger growers treat several varieties of perennials
as annuals -- even Shasta daisy -- mine, and those of my flower
partner, usually do well for several years (depends on the
severity of the winter). I always start a new patch of yarrow,
and cut from both old and new each year.
Getting started with perrenials
Many perennials can be started more or less painlessly from
seed -- and plugs are available from a variety of sources
(if you are not certified organic).
According to Bob Wollam, who gave a presentation to our regional
group from The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers,
the following varieites are best sown in flats (June to August)
and then planted (August to October): Dianthus
“electron” and “neon duo”; Achillia
“Colorado” (my favorite) and other types; Hesperis
(sweet rocket); and Rudbeckia
“Indian Summer" and “Prairie Sun” --
a BIG hit at our markets. Bed preparation should be done in
August -- raised beds covered with black plastic -- and these
varieties should be planted in four rows on 36-inch beds with
It’s really kind of a nice change in summer to be seeding
a few flats in the greenhouse, since most time is taken weeding
and cutting at that time of year.
For direct sowing in summer/fall for spring harvest, Bob
big hit at our markets); bupleurum;
(bachelor’s button). Sow from August to October (the
end of August is great) using an Earthway seeder or hand throw.
Space normally in three rows on 42-inch beds).
There are many other options that make great bouquet material,
including: Myrrhis Odorata
(Sweet cicely) for light, feathery foliage; Dicentra
(Bleeding heart)); Polygonatum
(Solomon’s seal); Viburnum
burkwoodii. And don’t forget lilacs
(don’t leave them out of water after picking and keep
water clean). I mixed lilacs with apple
blossoms for table displays last year at market
and customers nearly fought over purchasing them. “I
know they won’t last forever, but they smell so good,
and they mean spring to me!” one customer said.
Bulbs for spring blooms
Bulbs are yet another major choice for spring harvest. Tulips
do well in raised beds, the soil amended with compost and
bone meal. Order in early July (Number 1 bulbs, French type)
and plant closely in October. Cover with 6 inches of topsoil
and rake. They'll be ready for harvest in April. Can’t
get them planted by October? Some growers advise just be sure
you get them planted before the ground freezes.
To get extra stem length, treat them like annuals and pull
them. Big growers do, because you can get an extra 6 inches.
After all, the critters and weather will get so many of them
after the first year, they’ll be spotty and take up
valuable space. Cut when they’re barely showing color
and store in the cooler.
good -- just remember to keep them separate from your other
flowers for for 24 hours post-harvest. Daffodils release poisons
that will kill your other blooms. Dutch
iris can be planted closely in November or
December or as long as the ground is not frozen. Plant in
4 rows, 2 inches between bulbs. You can stagger planting by
one week from the last of October to the end of December for
a succession of great cuts.
How about planting plugs and bulbs in your coldframe or hoophouse?
Bob Wollam recommends preparing your beds in October/November
and planting in November/December for Icelandic
In her Hoophouse Handbook, Lynn Byczynski recommends planting
in early fall for early spring blooms; bupleurum,
of Ireland, agrostemma
and bachelor’s button
direct seeded in fall in unheated hoops to bloom two weeks
before field crops; and delphinium
planted as plugs in fall for mid-spring blooms. Snapdragons
planted in fall carry through to spring; stock
and sweet peas
are possibilities. Find out lots more from her handbook (available
through Growing for Market, www.growingformarket.com).
If you have a small greenhouse, like our double poly 21-foot
by 32-footer that’s heated minimally with a Modine heater,
you can also do hanging baskets
for Mother’s Day and other spring occasions, too. Hanging
from the crossbars, they don’t take up excess space.