By Paul A. Thomas
Georgia Extension Service
Most gardeners have to have planned ahead to cut flowers from their gardens to actually harvest them without guilt. That never seemed to bother my grandmother, though.
She raided the family garden every Saturday morning, often to the anguish of my grandfather, who loved his hollyhocks almost as much as Grandmother.
If you'd like a garden you can dip into on a weekly basis, you need to know a couple of things: One, it's time to get started, and two, if you don't cut them, you'll lose them.
It's true. Most cut flowers do best when cut regularly. Otherwise, they go to seed and stop flowering.
They aren't hard to grow. It's easier and less costly to grow them from seed. Almost all annual cut flowers are grown from seed.
Perennials often require an extra year of growth before becoming truly productive. When you can't grow them from seed, or when it's important to perpetuate certain traits, you can propagate them from cuttings. Either way, it's easy.
Planting time and conditions
Most annual cut flowers will grow best if you plant the seed in mid to late fall directly onto the soil surface. If the mix of flowers you want has many tender annuals, you can plant them in early to mid-March.
Perennial cut flowers are best planted as seed in late summer. Keeping the seed moist in August can be tricky, though. You may want to buy young plants. But you can do well with seed if you prepare a good seed bed.
You need not do anything special for wild flowers. Just kill the weeds, till the soil at least 4 inches deep, rake it smooth and then seed it. A light peppering of fertilizer (not too much) can help roots grow.
Most cut flowers require full sun. Any level, open area will do nicely. If the soil is very poor, add compost. Your main goal is to have well-drained soils.
Cut flowers are vulnerable to winds from storms or driving rain. Fences, or staking, can make damage less likely. Growing them in large colonies can let the collective stems support each other.
Many seeds will germinate as soon as they ripen or dry. Others may require moist chilling. Still others may benefit from a chemical or physical treatment to help break down hard seed coats. And some may have combinations of these requirements. Learn as much as you can about what your seed requires.
Don't bury, dry or fertilize them to death
Don't bury the seed. Broadcast it on the surface and barely rough it in by smoothing it down with the back side of a hard rake. This is how nature intended it to be.
Some cases, where seeds are slow to germinate or seedlings slow to develop, require patience. Some seeds planted in fall may not germinate until March or April.
Be careful not to let the seeds or seedlings dry out. Protect them from frequent, soil-compacting tramplings. And don't let them get covered up with leaves. You may need to pull large weeds, too.
Most cut flowers need only be fertilized in early spring just as the plants begin to grow. Use one-half pound per 100 square feet of bed.
Fertilize again after the first large harvest of stems, watering heavily just after you fertilize. With repeated cutting, most cut flowers will produce four to five generations of flowers per summer.
(Paul Thomas is a horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)