SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

Summer Harvest: Thinking warm while
it's still cold means better variety

There’s plenty of time to think about sunflowers and zinnias, the summer garden workhorses, but they only go so far. Some of the best summer sellers need to be started NOW!

By Melanie DeVault


Your problems, possible solutions
Mel shares some questions from a recent conference and her answers

A little bit about Melanie

Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son Don and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified CSA and members-only home market stand, sold at Farmers’ Markets, to health food stores and restaurants. Melanie specializes in specialty cut flowers. A former newspaper reporter, she also is a freelance garden writer. She is a member of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.



I’ll be happy to anwer them!

E-mail me at devault@fast.net and include your name and general location.

March 4, 2004: We’re on a seasonal column roll now, and as luck would have it -- it’s a good time, right now, to be thinking about summer harvest! First of all, for those of us in cold country, it’s nice to think warm thoughts, and secondly, it’s time. Time to get a move on, dust off the seeding benches, clean up the greenhouse or basement, get some more of those seeds started and plan for starting other seeds into spring; time to prepare to receive your plugs if you order them; you know the drill.

Having a good variety of flowers for summer harvest depends upon it. There’s plenty of time to think about sunflowers and zinnias, the summer garden workhorses, but they only go so far. Some other summer staples, like statice, need to be started indoors 8-10 weeks before planting out. We start various trays of statice, stock, salvia, celosia, achillea, gomphrena and strawflower (and a whole lot more) beginning in February into March in our Zone 6 area of Pennsylvania.

Four favorites, too -- some new for us in the last two years -- that we’d highly recommend:

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), a perennial that is a workhouse filler. It can be cut anytime. We start this in the greenhouse and it’s easy. Or you can buy plugs.

Kingswood Gold (Talinum paniculatum), another fantastic filler. We both seed this in the greenhouse and direct seed. This alone with a few focal flowers makes a nice, light and airy bouquet. We harvest when flower heads have developed or wait for the berries to form.

Purple Majesty (Pennisetum glaucum), a grass/ millet, works beautifully for a large arrangement with two or three sunflowers. It’s a great focal and should be cut before pollen shows, or wait until later in the season and use in fall bouquets. The plant will keep sending up new spikes that are smaller.

Prairie Sun (Rudbeckia hirta), often classified as a perennial but best treated as an annual, has giant blooms that make a good focal flower in an arrangement. Harvest when blooms are 100 percent open. You can buy plugs, but we haven’t found it difficult from seed.

Two others that, from all appearances, will be hot this year are Crazy Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) and Neon Duo (Dianthus barbatus).

Martha Stewart Living has a feature on daisies in the latest issue, with number one on the pictured list Crazy Daisy, so trust me, customers will want them). This Shasta daisy with its double blooms and many quilled petals, is truly unique and fun with its fluffy look. Stems are nice and long, too, and it blooms mid-summer. Germania says it’s best treated as a biennial and that plants require well-drained areas to avoid winter-kill. Since my husband piled snow atop my Shastas two years ago and I lost them all, I’d have to agree.

Neon Duo dianthus (Amazon series) is another destined to continue to be big (an Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers flower of the year last year) with its neon-colored blooms in a mix of purple and cherry and that beautiful
dark green foliage. It’s easy AND it requires no vernalization.

Hoop, Hoop Hooray

If you have a hoophouse that isn’t filled with winter flowers, March is the time to begin planting (in our Zone 6 climate) for early summer harvest of stock, snapdragons, lisianthus, bupleurum, nigella (love-in-a-mist) and sweet peas. We do Campanula also. An unheated house is fine for cold-tolerant plants. We do some day-neutral sunflowers in our greenhouse with minimal heat, just in case the temperature dips really low.

If you purchase plugs, you can plant some right in the hoop and transplant others to larger cell trays for outdoor planting a little later. Depending upon where you live, planting outdoors under little wire hoops with Reemay works, too. We have Reemay ready in the big hoophouse in case we have a real cold night and need a little extra cover for a couple crops.

But guess what? We’ve had snaps (Rocket, Spring Giant) withstand 15 degrees under Reemay. In their Growing for Market (www.growingformarket.com) column years ago, Frank and Pamela Arnosky reported snaps taking down to 9 degrees under row cover, and lisianthus staying alive underground in that same freeze! Plants came up from the crown under ground.

Speaking of plugs, if you missed out on fall ordering, most of the big greenhouse distributors have surplus lists. We just got e-mails from Gro’ n Sell (www.gro-n-sell.com) and calls from Germania (www.germaniaseed.com). Remember to ask about the minimum order, which is just three flats for some, but can be six or more for others. (Check with your certifier if you’re certified organic, as conventional annual plugs are a problem). Plugs can be a blessing for some hard-to-start flowers like lisianthus, which like to test your ability to wait them out.

Bulbs Can Help Summer Sales

Don’t forget about bulbs, too! Some of the big nurseries have huge minimums, so be sure to read the fine print in catalogs. Consider going in with other small growers for a big order, which can save lots of money.

One of our favorites is Crocosmia, which happens to be the favorite of a number of our customers, too. One catalogs explains they are “graceful spires with multiple blazing blooms...so vivid they can be spotted a block away.” And they seem to pop up out of no where. Suddenly, there are beautiful, bright red splotches in the flower beds (and it’s not cardinals).

They bloom mid to late summer, and also have seedpods that are great in arrangements. We like the red ‘Lucifer.’ We’re going to try the orange ‘Masonorum’ and yellow ‘George Davidson’ this year, so will let you know. A perennial, Crocosmia are supposed to be hardy as far north as Zone 5. We lost ours last winter here in Zone 6 -- an unusually bad winter.

We’re going to try some Leucocoryne ‘Andes’ this year. They’re fragrant lavender rose flowers blooming in early summer. Also Peacock Orchids, fragrant and unique flowers blooming mid to late summer. We’ve grown Tuberoses in the past, a perennial hardy in Zones 7-10, which are extremely fragrant and popular with customers -- but we never seem to have time to dig them, which cuts into the bottom line.

Next: Fall Harvest