SPECIALTY CUT FLOWER CORNER: For the beginning grower

Fall Harvest: More than just mums
Spring has arrived in Pennsylvania and so has the fourth and final in Mel's four-season flower mini-series. If you haven't noticed, it's all about thinking ahead. Plan your fall line-up now and offer gorgeous autumn bouquets when everyone is tired of the same-old mums.

By Melanie DeVault

Spring Notes

I’ve had several questions about Hortonova, the horizontal trellis, a polypropylene mesh, used to support flowers with long stems.

Q.: “Where can you buy it?”

A.: Many catalogs, like Johnny’s, carry Hortonova. Be sure to check your shipping charges when comparing companies because a California company may appear to have a cheaper product, but if you live in New Jersey, the shipping charges may make the final cost higher. You can do a search on the web (under Hortonova) which is what my flower partner, Linda Essert-Kuchar, and I did this year. We ended up going with Specialty Ag Products (800-483-8889).

Q.: “When do you put the mesh on?”

A.: The sooner the better -- simply because it’s easy to get busy around the farm and the flowers don’t care; they keep right on growing. It’s much easier to install the netting over rows of nice, low transplants than to try to squeeze tall plants through the net squares. Besides, the purpose is to help guide your flowers to a straight posture. This year, we tried what several flower pros told us at conferences: We laid the Hortonova over the bed, flat on the ground (but already through the T-posts at a minimum of 10-foot intervals) and planted into the grid. Then we raised the Hortonova. Boy, it worked out great!

Q.: “What flowers do you use Hortonova on?”

A.: Mostly everything that grows tall and needs help staying that way, or which may blow over in the wind -- like snapdragons, campanula, dianthus, and lisianthus.

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.

QUESTIONS?

I’ll be happy to anwer them!

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

April 19, 2004 I know, it’s SPRING and you’re not thinking fall. We’ve finally had a break in the weather here in Pennsylvania. Outside beds can be tilled and hoed. My back is aching and my fingers are numb from pulling weeds, but I’m still smiling. Yep, it’s definitely NOT fall. But we’re on a four-season roll, so bear with me for the fourth season finale: Fall.

Planning for fall should really start now anyway. A couple years ago I got a frantic e-mail from a friend in August. “I don’t have enough flowers for fall!! What can I plant NOW??” I had to laugh. I had written much the same to a friend a few years before. Believe me, it’s much easier to start thinking about autumn now.

Two friends and I were brainstorming recently about our fall favorites. Here’s our short list (as short as you get when three die-hard growers get together and start talking flowers!):

Calendula -- We have some growing now for summer, but it’s great for fall. Calendula is easy and pretty and the colors just exude fall. It’s also fast, and goes strong until heavy frost. Stems are sturdy on most varieties and don’t need netting. Try direct seeding thickly around the first of August (adjust timing to your zone) for a properly timed fall show. Cut the main bloom for sale. Johnny’s (www.johnnyseeds.com) ‘Flashback Mix’ and ‘Sunshine Flashback’ (orange with dark red undersides) really look the part. Gloeckner’s (www.fredgloeckner.com) ‘Princess Nagasaki’ (double, golden yellow), ‘Princess Sapporo’ (double,
orange) and Princess Yokosuka (deep orange with dark center are favorites. And Germania (www.germaniaseed.com) has the Princess series with black centered golden and orange offerings.

Celosia -- I’m always surprised at how my celosias, especially ‘Pampas Plume’, become show flowers as the temperatures chill. Again, the colors -- orange, scarlet, yellow, pink and cream -- are perfect into fall. We succession-plant transplants beginning in late May into late June and always let some volunteer plants grow from last season because they’re usually big and strong. Celosia dries nicely to extend the season past heavy frost, too.

Cosmos -- These guys love fall -- produce best under short days. The greenery is nice for a fall bouquet filler. In our area of Eastern Pennsylvania, we direct seed closely the beginning and middle of July for fall.

Dahlia -- An article in Growing for Market got me excited, as they so often do, to try Karma Dahlia’s last year. They were great flowers but I wasn’t so great about weeding that particular patch in a wet year and let’s just say the weeds won. A friend’s Karmas at our farmers’ market were fantastic. So, this year, we’re going in on an order with him from Gloeckner’s (they have an introductory special: minimum of four trays = 288 plants). Delivery and planting is set for June 15 on the calendar and they WILL be weeded. These dahlia cuttings are planted every year and are certified disease free. There are some great tuber dahlias, too. We just don’t want to get into digging and storing tubers.

Sunflowers -- The day-length neutral varieties like Sun Series and Sunrich Series go well into fall -- and can keep going in the greenhouse into winter. We like to mix them with...

’Purple Majesty’ Ornamental Grass (millet) -- The deep purple foliage and flower plumes go really well with sunflowers. We try to pick before the pollen shows -- or leave them in the field until the pollen washes off. Smaller spikes keep coming, too, we found last year.

Marigolds -- “Stink,” says our friend, Paul. “I tell my customers that.” But he hastens to add, “They do look nice in bouquets.” He favors the open-pollinated types, like Gloeckner’s ‘Cracker Jack’. Gloeckner’s ‘Sunrise Mixed’ promises to be odorless, so we’ll have to try this one. The standard has been the ‘Gold Coin’ but I don’t like the smell. We’ll direct seed closely in early to mid-July.

Asclepias ‘Silky Formula Mix’ -- I’ve mentioned these before, and they’re one of my favorite fall flowers. Learn from my mistake: Don’t plant them too early. We seed into cells four or five weeks before planting out (they won’t sit in trays too long) in early July this year.

Rudbeckia -- We like ‘Indian Summer’ and ‘Prairie Sun’ and have patches that keep on coming (Rudbeckia hirta, which includes both of the mentioned varieties is a perennial best grown as an annual and it reseeds, which is why we continue to have good patches). We start new seed each year, too. They're easy, but it does take time -- 120 day crop.

Salvia farinacea -- ‘Blue Bedder’ (Germania) is another that just comes on strong in fall. Great filler flower. It’s 18-20 weeks sow to bloom, so it takes a whil, but it’s worth the wait for a fall surprise.

There are tons of flowers, grasses and vegetable crops that do well at the flower stand in fall, including lilies (in crates--see Lilies make everyone smile for more on growing lilies in crates), tuberose (can be grown in crates, too), broom corn, strawflower, Carthamus (safflower) and pepper branches like ‘Numex Twilight’ (Johnny’s), with little sunset-colored fruit. Our friend Paul finds this the most popular at his Philadelphia market. He puts them in in mid June in plastic with hoops and row cover.

Statice is also great into fall -- cut it back (you can cut it high with a mower if your patch is big enough) when blooms are spent and you’ll get a fall flush. Of course, dried statice is great for fall arrangements. We cut back Blue Horizon Ageratum also and get a good fall flush. Other goodies to dry include yarrow, strawflower, lavender and sage.