Posted January 27, 2005: It started simply
enough: "Hello there," the email read. "You’ll
probably think you are dealing with a rank amateur flower grower
(hopefully a flower grower)...Well, you are. Could you explain
what you mean by the terms 'break' and 'nodes'? Also, I'm not
sure what you mean when you say 'pinch.' Can you recommend some
Other emailers have asked similar, basic flower
questions. While I don’t hold a degree in horticulture,
I’ve been growing flowers for market for quite a few
years (and as a former newspaper reporter, I’ve already
asked most of the stupid questions…but I’ll keep
right on asking). So here’s my attempt at very basic
(and totally unscholarly) ‘Terminology 101’ (and
some flower lingo—and slang—to boot). We all had
the same questions when we started this insanity, unless,
of course, you have the memory of Jeopardy star Ken Jennings
and remember all that stuff from Botany 101. I never took
that, come to think of it. “Why would I ever need it?”
When you stop to think of the miracle called seeds--those
things that make our beautiful flowers-- it’s mind-boggling.
Within the seed is everything needed to carry it through dormancy
into support of the plant; enzymes needed to convert stored
food into a form its tissue can use and information within
its cells to direct what it will be. So check out a basic
botany book or one of Nancy Bubel’s Seed Starters Handbooks.
My husband and I are also big fans of older gardening and
(to soil) —Those great and wonderful things a
cut flower grower can add to help various needs of individual
flower varieties. (Certified organic growers need to check
the OMRI listings for specific brands). Flowers need a balanced
fertility plan. Soil testing (see below) can help you figure
out what you need.
- Bat guano
is a fast-acting source of nitrogen and good source of phosphorous.
- Blood meal
is a slow acting source of nitrogen.
- Bone meal
is a good source of phosphorous and calcium. It can raise
is the organic grower’s lifeline. It helps maintain
and boost organic matter in your soil. It helps keep it
alive and thriving to keep plants healthy to fend off disease.
It supplies most of the micronutrients you need.
- Cottonseed meal
can lower soil pH and is a good source of nitrogen and other
- Feather meal
is a good source of nitrogen.
flowers bloom the first season and die. Most annuals do not
tolerate frost. Sunflowers and zinnias are examples. HARDY
ANNUALS can take a light frost, so they can be planted
a few weeks before the frost-free date, and often last into
fall. Examples of hardy annuals: Safflower, strawflower, godetia.
Many annuals will reseed themselves, so they try to fool you
into thinking they’re a perennial (like cleome).
flower the second season and die. But many will reseed themselves
and keep right on kickin’, like hesperis (sweet rocket).
Other examples: digitalis (foxglove) in Zones 4-7, and dianthus
in Zones 3-7.
the flower. (See FLOWER for more information)
you pinch or cut back a stem like dahlia leaving 2 to 3 sets
of leaves, this will generate about three ‘breaks’
or new growing shoots or stems. These greatly increase your
number of stems, hence your yield.
used to protect a plant from cold weather, whether plastic,
fabric or glass, or an old milk carton.
solid underground part of a stem that most times looks like
a small bulb. It has no scales but nourishes the plant and
bears roots at the base. Gladiolus and crocosmia are good
examples of corms.
seed leaves or first leaves that emerge from a germinated
seed and these are different from “true leaves”.
Why do you need to know this? Because the experts who write
the books will use this term, so don’t disappoint them.
crop such as winter wheat, rye, clover, buckwheat, or hairy
vetch grown to prevent erosion and to help maintain the health
of the soil after and in between main garden crops. Winter
wheat or rye sown in fall protects the soil and, turned under
in spring, adds green manure. Legumes are known for their
nitrogen-fixing ability. Buckwheat can be used to help shade
and protect dormant perennials or bulbs.
know this, right? Planting the seed right in the field, or
hoop house. A push seeder works great for many flower seeds,
natural ripening hormone…or a gas that flowers naturally
produce as they age. Ethylene can come from ripening fruits,
car exhaust or cigarette smoke. You’ll often hear, “don’t
store your flowers in a cooler with vegetables.” Ethylene
is why. (That said, I haven’t had any problem, but we
don’t have huge quantities of ethylene-producing veggies
in our cooler with the flowers). Some flowers are more sensitive
to ethylene and will drop petals or wilt quickly. Some common
ethylene-sensitive flowers include: achillea, antirrhinum
(snapdragons), asclepias, campanula, celosia, centaurea (bachelor’s
button), consolida (larkspur), delphinium, dianthus, gypsophila,
lathyrus (sweet pea) and lilium (lily).
added to water into which cut flowers are placed to extend
their vase life. Generally, floral preservative does three
things: lowers the pH of water because alkaline water isn’t
easily taken up by stems; contains a bactericide to inhibit
growth of bacteria on the cut stem, and provides a food source
(sucrose) for the flowers. Many, many studies have been done
on individual flower varieties and the effect of various preservatives.
Some preservatives extend the life of a particular flower,
and others actually shorten it.
The most popular, and those most often talked about in various
articles, include: Floralife Hydraflor, one commercial hydrating
solution that increases the ability of the flower stem to
absorb water so it can put wilting in check or pull a wilting
flower back to life; Chrysal OVB is a treatment for more delicate
flowers (like delphiniums); STS is silver thiosulfate, a treatment
that blocks the action of ethylene…and there are safety
concerns surrounding silver compounds. Certified organic growers,
according to NOFA-N.J., can’t use those preservatives
and sell flowers as certified organic. Check with your certifier
to see if a Vita Flora product (www.vitaproducts.com)
you may wish to use is allowed (some products are compliant).
Or try a standard homemade floral preservative: 1 teaspoon
vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and one crushed aspirin tablet
to 24 ounces of water. The best approach is to see what works
best for you. Sometimes plain, good-quality tap water works
flower is the blossom of the plant. The petal-like green things
that protect the flower bud and rise from the stem are the
SEPALS. Altogether, those green
things are called the CALYX.
The PETALS are inside this calyx,
and you may have many or they may appear united in a single
cup. The sepals and petals together are called the COROLLA.
The flower’s reproductive organs lie inside the petals.
The PISTIL is the flower’s
female reproductive organ and consists of the OVARY,
STYLE and STIGMA.
(It’s at the center of the flower.) When the ovules
in the hollow ovary are fertilized by pollen, they become
seed. The stigma receives the pollen. Surrounding the pistil
are the STAMENS or male organs.
(Check out a lily). Each stamen consists of a slender, stubby
stalk or filament topped by an oblong or oval enlarged part
called an ANTHER. When the pollen
is ripe, it fertilizes the ovules. The wind, insects (bees)
or other animals can carry the pollen. Some of the parts can
be absent on a flowers. Then they’re called INCOMPLETE.
Flowers are called PERFECT if
they have both stamens and pistils and are capable of self-fertilization.
(There will be a quiz!)
the approximate date in spring when no more killing or hard
frosts for the season are expected in your area. If you don’t
know yours, contact your local Extension office. But beware,
it is an approximate date and Mother Nature can be a bear.
the seed breaks its dormancy and begins to grow. It’s
generally a combination of water, warmth and air that makes
this take place. Usually the term is used in conjunction with
seeing seedlings first appear at the surface of the soil (even
though it actually happens when the first tiny root and first
tiny shoot begin to grow).
young plants gradually to the outdoor stresses (light, wind,
etc.) so they don’t die of shock.
best stage at which to cut your flower. Many reference books
will tell you this (see post-harvest
handling). Campanula, for example, are best harvested
when one to two flowers on the stem are open; dianthus when
about one-fourth of the blossoms are open; sunflowers, when
petals are beginning to unfurl.
process of filling the cells of a flower stem with water and
swollen part of a stem from which the leaf arises.
that come back every year from their roots, depending on hardiness.
There are tender perennials like Dahlias that are grown from
tubers and need to be dug and stored. Many cut flower growers
treat perennials as annuals and plant them every year. Why?
Because it’s more cost effective. Echinacea, liatris
and Shasta daisy are examples of perennials.
you do to a plant to make them stockier. I used the term in
the dahlia column, saying “you pinch, leaving three
or four sets of leaves.” Pinching is just that—taking
your thumb and forefinger and pinching the stem off, or cutting
thicker stems. But, aha, there’s more to it than just
a simple pinch. There’s a soft pinch, where you remove
just the growing point, and a hard pinch, where you remove
at least an inch of the tip or top of the stem. This hard
pinch sort of shocks the plant and makes older buds near the
base of the plant grow, giving you a stockier, fuller plant.
It’s great for dahlias and for snapdragons. You get
lots more flowers. (We forgot one row of dahlias as we pinched,
and the difference was dramatic! Not nearly as many quality
pH of a soil is a measure of its acidity or alkalinity. Some
plants like a more acidic soil and vice versa. Why is it important?
Because extremes in either direction can mess up the plant
(in other words, an extreme pH level will affect the plants
ability to get nutrients).
established seedlings which you can purchase from a number
of suppliers, such as Germania, Gloeckner, Gro n Sell (and
often small greenhouses in your area) who generally offer
a wide assortment of tray sizes. The advantage: For hard-to-start,
pokey flowers like lisianthus, buying plugs is much easier,
quicker and more reliable. Disadvantage: It’s more expensive
than starting from seed. Certified organic growers have restrictions.
Ask your certifier. Many bigger dealers have minimum orders
(so go together with a grower friend or three).
HANDLING—How you care for your flowers
after you pick them. This is the most critical stage for the
cut flower grower. Bottom line: Use clean buckets, get flowers
into water and out of the sun ASAP, keep foliage out of water,
and read up on specific variety needs before you cut. Asclepias
(butterfly weed) for example should be placed in hot water
for one minute to stop bleeding of the milky sap. There are
a number of books that offer information on post-harvest handling,
including Lynn Byczynski’s The
Flower Farmer; The Arnosky’s We’re Gonna
Be Rich!; Dr. Allan Armitage’s Specialty
Cut Flowers; and Postharvest
Handling and Storage of Cut Flowers, Florist Greens and Potted
Plants by Joanna Nowak and Ryszard Rudnicki.
swollen point where the flower and stem join.
is scratching or notching the seat coat to speed germination
on some hard seeds. Catalogs will usually tell you when this
your local Extension office for soil test kit information,
or check with a private lab. Sometimes garden centers will
have kits. You simply scoop up some soil samples (complete
directions are included), send in the bags and get an analysis
that will let you know just where your soil may be nutrient
deficient so you can correct any problems.
seed you have started under grow lights or in the greenhouse
that is a little seedling you will plant outdoors, after hardening
CONSUMER BUNCH (aka
'split and wraps')—A bunch smaller than a grower
bunch, good for a customer, with sleeve. ‘Split and
wrap’ is the term used in the northwest.
size bunch delivered from your farm.
FRESH TO DRY BOUQUET—Bouquets
sold as fresh, but have elements (such as strawflower or statice)
that also dry well.
with different flower types and colors.
with a color mix comprised of different shades of one color
bunch comprised of one kind of product but with stems of different
colors (like all zinnia or all statice in different shades).
sleeve to hold bouquets for consumer sales. (Cuts down on
flower breakage from manhandling customers at farmers’
markets and provides a professional look). Sleeves can be
purchased from specialty dealers like A-Roo.
flowers already in water.
are sleeved and packed in boxes according to bunch count per
wet-pack used in California.
boxes sometimes including a bucket.
wooden sticks used to secure flowers to keep them from shifting
in a box.
So now that you’re an expert, get growing!