When to Plant Cut Flowers in Utah

The bipolar weather here in Utah makes it hard to feel confident about planting schedules.

One day it seems as if we are on the verge of spring, the temps are mild, the sun is shining and the birds are singing. The next day it is a white-out blizzard and we are scraping an inch of ice off the car windshields.

This weather messes with my mind and I start second guessing my planting schedule, before firmly reminding myself not to jump the gun.

Knowing when to start planting depends on two things: your frost dates and the hardiness of the plant or crop.

First, Google your first and last frost dates and mark them in your calendar.

Next, you will need to identify if the crop is a cool hardy annual, tender annual or perennial.

Identifying a plant’s hardiness is as simple as giving it a quick Google.

Below you will find my planting schedule for cut flowers. Remember that the planting dates are for direct seeding or planting transplants. If you want to transplant a cool hardy plant in March, then you need to start it indoors about 6 weeks sooner in February.

*Note: Some varieties prefer to be direct seeded into the garden and others do better as transplants. Read up on your specific plant to know which it prefers.

When to Plant Cut Flowers in Utah (based on the Lehi area):

Hardy Annuals: 

Cool hardy annuals are the plants that can handle the freeze and shake it off. In fact, many of these plants prefer a long cool establishment period to grow a robust root system and will produce more abundantly as a result.

These cool hardy plants are planted either in the fall (if they overwinter in your zone) or 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost date.

I transplant or directly seed hardy annuals in the fall 6 weeks before my first frost date. For Lehi that is around October 26th, so I plant mid September. If I miss that window (or want to plant a succession crop to extend the harvest) then I plant 6-8 weeks before my last frost date. My last frost is around April 22nd so I aim to plant around mid to late March. Below are some of the hardy annuals I plant at these times in my zone 7 climate:

Snapdragons

Icelandic Poppies

Orlaya

Bupluerum

Foxglove

Bee Balm

Delphinium

Larkspur

Queen Anne’s Lace

Honeywort

Pincushion

Stock (late winter planting only)

*Note: Flower Farmers also plant annual bulbs/corms in the fall (these cannot be planted in late winter unless you buy pre-chilled bulbs), such as tulips or ranunculus (in my zone ranuncs need overwintering protection in a low tunnel). Certain perennials also do best planted in the fall such as peonies or daffodils.

Tender Annuals:

Tender annual plants will not tolerate a freeze and must be planted after the danger of frost has passed.

I transplant or directly seed my tender annuals around Mothers’ Day (mid May), just to be safe. Most of these can continue to be planted in successions throughout about mid July (to know for sure, you must look at the “days to maturity” on the seed packet and count back that number from your first fall frost date). Below are some of the tender annuals I plant in my zone 7 climate:

Sunflowers

Zinnias

Amaranth

Cosmos

Dahlias

Ornamental Grasses (bunny tails, frosted explosion etc.)

*Note: Dahlias are a tuber crop that are planted at the same time as the tender annuals because they do not tolerate a freeze in my zone. In milder regions, the can be overwintered.

Perennials:

Perennials are pretty simple. You plant them when the ground is not frozen. However, certain perennials like peonies or daffodils perform best when fall planted.

I hope you noticed that most cut flowers are actually planted as hardy annuals in the fall. I like to call fall the “second spring” for most of Utah.

Mastering hardy annuals in the fall is key to an abundant spring cut flower harvest in Utah!

Of course, some growers have taken it a step further and use season extension devices to plant at earlier times. I use a low tunnel (think mini greenhouse) to overwinter ranunculus and anemones.

I also use frost cloth tunnels to plant some of the semi-hardy annuals under (these are hardy annuals that just need a smidgen of winter protection to perform better come spring).

If you are interested in companion planting fruits/vegetables then I recommend looking at this planting guide. (That guide also touches on micro climates to consider.)

For cool hardy plants specifically, I recommend reading Lisa Ziegler’s book Cool Flowers.

If this guide was useful to you then please leave me a comment below and share! I would love to hear from you! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Gardening in Utah

Winter gardening did not sound appealing to me at first. I thought it would be cold and miserable. I. hate. being. cold.

However, I gave winter gardening a shot this year and it turns out winter gardening is very low maintenance! I now prefer it to summer gardening. (I know how crazy that sounds.)

Winter gardening can be done with a low tunnel or without. Either way you can get a jump on the growing season, while using less water and spending less time weeding or fighting pests. (I sound less crazy now right?!)

I have a few overwintered crops in my space right now. Some that need the low tunnel and some that do not.

A good pair of boots while gardening is a must!

First, lets talk about low tunnel winter gardening.

Eliot Coleman, an innovator in the gardening world, designed the low tunnel to act as a cost effective unheated mini greenhouse for home gardeners. Originally, the idea was to overwinter cold hardy food crops, but flower farmers also use the low tunnel to overwinter flowers.

I have a low tunnel over the crops that are not hardy to my zone, but still prefer a cool establishment period (ranunculus and anemone). I am in zone 7, but my ranunculus are only hardy to zone 8 (a tiny bit more mild than my zone). The tunnel provides just enough protection to keep my ground from freezing and killing the ranunculus, but still allows them to get the long cool establishment period they prefer. Picky things.

Caring for my low tunnel crop is simpler than I thought it would be. I just vent my low tunnel on warm sunny winter days and if the weather stays above 28F for three consecutive days I water a little bit. However, that has only happened once and I don’t expect it to happen more than 3 times all winter. In general, the low tunnel provides adequate humidity.

I also have winter crops that do not require a low tunnel. These are known as hardy annuals (snapdragons, bupleurum, poppies, etc.) and also include the fall planted bulbs/tubers that are hardy to my zone (tulips, daffodils, peonies etc.).

These overwintered crops are so low maintenance, because winter snow takes care of most watering needs and the plants are dormant (meaning they are not in a very active growing stage).

This means the plants just need a dry fertilizer sprinkled in the fall during planting and it will slow feed them all winter.

Note that hardy annual seeds should be started mid summer and bulbs/tubers/corms are started in the fall.

As for pests, I did have a neighborhood kitty that wanted to dig in my rows, but I laid down bird netting over the soil and haven’t noticed problems since. (I am grateful for our neighborhood mouser, but don’t like working around kitty poop.) So far, I have not noticed any of the typical spring or summer garden pests munching on my plants.

The final key to easy winter gardening is to suppress weeds early on so you don’t have to weed in the snow and mud.

I use burned landscape fabric in my low tunnel and have not needed to weed yet.

In the rows I struggled a bit with weeds around the hardy annual plants, but that could have easily been prevented with some mulch or more landscape fabric. (I haven’t noticed any weeds in my bulb rows yet.)

Thanks to my winter garden, I will have MORE robust crops earlier, using LESS water and spending LESS time to care for them. In our dry Utah climate, I consider that a big win!

If I have convinced you to try winter gardening and you would like to make your own low tunnel for food crops or blooms, then follow this awesome tutorial by Bare Mountain Farm. 

My low tunnel cost about $250 to construct with parts from Home Depot and Amazon. I have 6 mil UV treated greenhouse plastic over tunnel and AG19 frost cloth inside.

Even if you don’t need a low tunnel for your crops (if you stick with hardy annuals and bulbs that grow in your zone), I would have a frost cloth on hand for extra cold snaps. If you know temps are dropping below freezing, I would toss a frost blanket over your crops just to be safe.

One last note, if you are interested in winter gardening for cut flowers I would read Lisa Zeigler’s Cool Flowers book. I have a copy on my bookshelf that I reference constantly.

And of course, winter gardening would not be complete without some late winter seed starting! Read up on my best tips for indoor seed starting here. 

If you have additional questions or want to share your winter gardening experiences, please leave me a comment below.

Happy Gardening!