3, 2004: Last week the latest Cut Flower Quarterly
-- the magazine of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers
-- arrived, and I laughed at President Bob Wollam’s column
detailing mistakes he’s made this year already. The laughing,
of course, was mostly at myself for not doing some of the same
things Bob (one of my true flower grower heroes) didn’t
do, and for a lot more mistakes of my own. My flower partner,
Linda, and I already had a slew of things listed we’ll
do differently next year.
Then I attended the Association’s
Mid Atlantic Regional Meeting this week in Maryland and started
kicking myself. Wowie, why didn’t I pinch those zinnias
and celosia and have them looking like meeting host Dave Lines’?
Why didn’t I get more netting up? You know what they
always say about hindsight...
My husband, George, always tells me to look at the things
I’ve done right--all of the happy farmers’ market
customers Linda and I, “The Flower Ladies,” have.
But it's hard for even him to look at the veggies, weeds popping
up with gusto after the latest deluge from Mother Nature,
and give it a positive spin. Of course, this morning he easily
pointed out those weeds mean JOB SECURITY--what an optimist.
So on with some of our mistake list, which hopefully will
help you avoid such things, followed by some excellent advice
from ASCFG speaker Dave Lines on crop manipulation. It’s
not too late in the season to benefit from this!
Mistakes We’ve Made:
Skimped on the support netting.
Number One for us was not putting up enough support netting.
If you’ve just checked in to this column, take a peek
at previous columns talking about Hortonova horizontal netting,
to help keep many flowers straight, or in windy areas to keep
them from falling over.
Our most costly mistake was not getting support netting on
a 50-foot bed of Rocket Series snapdragons in our biggest
high tunnel. The snaps were early, stong-stemmed and about
three feet tall. Or they would have been, had we not been
too busy to get them netted. They flopped into the aisles
and snaked around the beds into one another. Our large, independent
florist would have taken every one of them. Ouch.
We were able to cut a few for bouquets, but the bed was a
big loss, and we had to pull it. There went hundreds of dollar
On the plus side, the Dianthus in a nearby bed that we planted
in fall and promptly netted, brought in lots of early dollar
signs, and strong, beautiful stems. (Neon duo and Electron
varieties were a big hit; the quarter bed of white, however,
was hard to sell. Florists we deal with don't like white).
Planted too much of some too
early. Our Number Two mistake is no stranger
to the vegetable grower: Going gangbusters on seed starting,
too early. We planted way too much Statice, Stocks and Helichrysum
(strawflower). WAY too much. They got too big too fast and
we had no place to put them all. And it killed us to dump
them in the compost pile. (You know the drill?) Yes, we gave
away some seedlings to friends, but I’m not kidding
-- we planted WAY too many!!
Not enough beds.
Number Three -- and this was Bob Wollam’s number one
-- we didn’t have enough new beds ready (or old beds
ready). We should have hit on more of those perfect days in
fall and winter, but they were used to cut firewood (that
we didn’t get to in late summer/early fall. So when
we had really nice days in early spring, we couldn’t
get enough plants out early under landscape fabric.
Wasted hoop space.
Number Four -- We were so eager to get started early in our
high tunnel, we put in beds of Ammi (False Queen Anne’s
Lace), Centaurea (Bachelor’s Button) and Verbena Bonariensis.
Once they started growing taller, they kept right on growing.
And shedding. Not good for the hoop and a waste of prime real
Burned up young plants.
Number Five -- We laid landscape fabric between the rows,
and in the perennial beds which is great to keep the weeds
down, and to walk and kneel on. But we had extremely hot weather
early, and some of the tender plants suffered from the intense
heat with the dark fabric. We will also mulch with straw close
to those plants next year to cut down on the heat buildup.
(Well, this year, if we can find some good, clean straw).
Next year we will use more white plastic.
To be fair, and to take a page from George's book, I’ll
talk about our successes, and some real gems we’ve discovered,
because there have been many more positives than the above
At this week’s Mid Atlantic regional meeting of ASCFG
at Dave and Ann Lines’ farm in La Plata, MD, the theme
centered around what it takes to grow a continuous supply
of cut flowers for a 25-week farmers’ market season.
Along with succession planting, Dave talked about what he
terms ‘crop manipulation.’
“My definition: doing something to cut flower plants
while growing in order to modify their growth habit, size
of blossom, stem length, number of stems and/or time of harvest
for the benefit of the grower,” he explains. Dave says
by purposely changing the normal growth of a cut flower plant,
by thinking outside the box, it’s possible to have a
more continuous harvest for farmers markets from May through
mid-October frost. Dave and Ann discovered how to extend the
season for many favorite plants by trial and error manipulation.
Here are a few:
-- When it’s 10 to 12 inches high, pinch it back to
5 sets of leaves. Each set will send off side shoots so
you’ll get 8 to 10 stems per plant. (This doesn’t
work for the Bombay series).
-- To spread out the harvest and increase the number of
stems per plant, pinch half the crop. The un-pinched snaps
produce long single stems and the pinched snaps produce
4 or 5 stems that are about 18 inches long a couple weeks
Lemon scented basil, cinnamon
basil -- Cut one-fifth of the crop hard,
down to a few inches from the ground, each week by section.
By the sixth week, the first cutting has re-grown and is
ready to cut again! (We’ve been doing this for Blue
Horizon Ageratum, too, and Monarda.)
-- In late February to mid-March, cut off some plants near
the ground. Cut off other plants at 30 inches in April.
This spreads the bloom time, with the cut off plants blooming
Bells of Ireland
-- Plant them near tall shrubs or plants that provide afternoon
shade and the stems will be up to 10 inches longer than
those planted in full sun.
Direct seed at close spacing every week . Don’t fertilize
the soil. The result is lots of 3 to 4-foot tall plants
with flowers near the top about 8 weeks later. (He explained
in the field walk that the top sections are simply cut off
and bunched in the field. It’s quick for a one-cut
harvest, and next week it’s on to the next section.)
-- Direct seed at close spacing with a seeder and provide
enough water to prevent wilting. This gives you blooms that
are uniform, about 3 inches across, and great for bouquets.