Garden Harvest Spotlight: Flowers
Flowers aren't just pretty thing to look at in the garden and in a vase, they can be an asset to the health of your soil, the yield of your garden, and the nutrition on your plate.
How to plant
Flowers range quite a bit across the board regarding planting window, fertility needs and hardiness zones.
Just as appropriate timing is important to planning a continuous harvest in the vegetable garden, using succession techniques in the flower garden can yield colorful results from spring into winter. The key is to pay attention to "days to maturity" which in flower planting indicates the bloom time. Plan your plantings according to your specific use and time needs. Some flowers bloom early, some late, and some continuously. Some flowers should be sown in succession if you want fresh blooms all season long, while others are very finicky and have a short window.
Just as you might plant different vegetables for different reasons, flowers have different uses too. Some are great cut flowers, others extremely beneficial, some quite tasty, and a few are "all of the above." Best of all, any flower you plant will add to the overall beauty of your space. Use the following tips to help you figure out what you want to get out of your flower plantings.
The main flowers: there are a few things to keep in mind when planning for cut flowers. Plant some "show stoppers," the blooms you want to display, plus coordinating filler that will accent your blooms, give substance to the bouquet and help fill out the vase. All flowers, whether the main attraction of the bouquet or the filler, should hold up well in a vase.
Popular and easy to grow cut flowers include all zinnias, all sunflowers, Tiger Paw Aster, Painted Daisy, Flashback Calendula, Echinacea, and Crackerjack Marigolds. Both tulips and dahlias are exceptional cut flowers as well.
Fillers serve as the "background" and give shape to the bouquet. They can be quite bland, like Baby's Breath or quite exciting, like celosia. Some great fillers include Forest Fire Celosia, Statice Mix, Sulphur Cosmos, Baby's Breath, German Chamomile, Love Lies Bleeding, and Yarrow Mix. There are some amazing fillers that you might find in your herb patch or your meadow. Try basil or dill, especially if they are flowering and look out for goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace in meadows.
Accent flowers add color, substance and balance but aren't necessarily the most interesting part of a bouquet. If you have an abundance of zinnias, they can be used as an accent alongside with larger, more interesting blooms. Other excellent accent flowers include Snapdragons, Bachelor Buttons, Indian Blanket, and Love in a Mist.
Cutting cut flowers: Another key to a long lasting bouquet is the timing of cutting the blooms. This is particularly true of the main flowers and the accent flowers. Cut the flowers before they reach their peak bloom stage. Once a flower reaches this stage, it can be a matter of hours before it fades and the petals start to fall, so cut it before. Your blooms will open more in the vase, so you can even cut blooms when they look like buds that have just began to open. This is especially true of larger flowers like sunflowers. Change the water daily for best results. Another tip: work with odd numbers, especially when arranging your main, larger cut flowers.
Using Dried Flowers: Want something pretty from the garden that will last all winter long? Try your hand at growing dried flowers. The seed heads from Breadseed Poppies and Love in a Mist are spectacular. Use Strawflower, Starflower, Statice Mix and Love-Lies-Bleeding dried flower heads in dried arrangements. For best results, let the flowers and seed heads to dry almost completely on the plant, then cut with as long of a stem as you can and finish the drying process in a dry, warm, dark place. Hang flowers upside down for the best shape.
2. Beneficial Flowers
Many plants have good reputations in the garden for repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects and being an all around good companion. While some of these claims might be blown out of proportion it can't hurt to use these plants to assist the health of your soil and garden micro-climate. Here are some great benefits that flowers can provide:
Pollinator attraction: Pollinators are responsible for proper fruit formation and seed maturity, which is not only good for your garden but the global community as well. Did you know that 80% of our global food supply relies on the work of pollinators? Native Mixes and native flower species attract native pollinators which are vital to the health of our food system. (We can't rely simply on honey bees to do all the work, monoculture is never a good idea.) Many native pollinators species are on the decline. Encourage more pollinator species in your garden by planting pollinator attractors such as echinacea, yarrow, chamomile, lupine, Evening Primrose and daisies. If you want to attract hummingbirds, plant some Gift Zinnias.
Pest Deterrence: Marigolds have many reputed beneficial effects on the garden. They deter garden pests with their strong scent above ground, and make the soil inhospitable to nematodes underground. Plant them as a cover crop before carrots if you have nematode issues. Plant nasturtiums intermittently with cucumbers to confuse cucumber beetles. Plant calendula near onions deter thrips.
Breaking the cycle: You can use flowers in some of the ways that cover crops are helpful. Most garden flower species are quite different from garden vegetable species. Planting flowers in between sections of similar species crops can break pest environments. Planting flowers around the garden or before and after certain crops can prevent erosion, shade and choke weeds, feed the soil, and/or give the soil a rest. Borage is known as an excellent companion to many crops, plant it for many beneficial effects!
Some edible flowers are beautiful adorning a plate of fresh greens, and others can be dried and brewed as a beneficial tea. Check out our 19 suggestions for which tasty blooms you could be munching and sipping!
4. Triple Duty
Like what you see but have a small space? As you might have noticed, many flowers are "multi-use" providing beauty, benefit and nutrition. The following flowers provide double and triple duties, giving you more bang for your buck, time, and space: