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! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Tips from the Temple Square Gardeners

When I first started my Utah flower farm, Save the Bees Flower Co, I tried hunting down local gardening experts that could tell me more about growing field-to-vase blooms.

There are tons of books on flower farming and gardening in general, but nothing beats finding a local expert with the same growing conditions.

Two places came to mind immediately: Salt Lake City’s Temple Square and the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point.

I live in Lehi so contacting the master gardener at Ashton Gardens was relatively simple. However, hunting down the Temple Square master gardener proved more difficult. Unexpectedly, a routine trip to the library solved my problem!

It turns out there was a book written by a few of the Temple Square gardeners a few years ago called, “Temple Square Gardening.” This book is golden for local growers with very specific tips related to our Utah soils, weeds and pest challenges.

I also realized that I KNEW one of the authors! I literally exclaimed, “Hey I know her!” before remembering I was in a library. #shhhhhhh

My flower farming friend Shelly Zollinger never mentioned working on Temple Square or co-writing a BOOK about it. After picking her brain some more and devouring the book, I took away three main tips that you can read below.

Photo by Devin Justesen on Unsplash

3 Tips from the Temple Square Gardeners:

1. Take advantage of hardy annuals: Hardy annuals are not a new gardening concept, but one often overlooked by the home gardener or new flower farmer. A hardy annual is basically a flower you can plant in the fall and it will overwinter in the garden and bloom better and earlier in spring. This is extremely useful in our Utah climate, because our spring jumps right into the heat of summer.

“Over the years the Temple Square gardening staff has “invented” spring-blooming gardens for Utah…waiting until the soil dries out in the spring before planting pansies and other spring flowers means that by the time they finally become established, it’s almost time to take them out.”

The temple square gardeners plant the bulk of their gorgeous spring blooms in fall. (I also loved that the “Temple Square Gardening” book lists all the plants and flowers used as hardy annuals on Temple Square!)

I feel like people are intimidated by the idea of winter gardening, but it really is quite simple and it uses a lot less water (which is a big bonus in our state). I wrote a whole post on my experience with hardy annuals and winter gardening in Utah that you can read here. (For flower farming I recommend Lisa Ziegler’s Cool Flowers book too.)

2. Soil prep is the key to success: Again, this concept was not new to me, but I loved how the gardeners broke down Utah’s soil strengths and weaknesses and explained how it all fit together. The Temple Square gardens are routinely soil tested, amended and tilled to a depth of 8-10 inches.

“Adding organic matter is the easiest and best way to improve your soil….Soil texture dramatically affects the availability of plant nutrients….Amending sand or clay soils with organic matter improves nutrient-holding capacity. Soil pH also effects the ability of plants to absorb nutrients.”

The Temple Square gardeners identify Utelite as one of their “secrets” to creating better texture in their heavy clay soil. And unlike compost, Zollinger noted that you can add up to 50 percent Utelite to soil without worrying. (Apparently, Utelite is something you can find at most nurseries, but I was unaware of its existence until now!)

3. Take a natural approach to pest and weed control: “The earth was cursed to bring forth thistles and weeds, and that happens in the Temple Square gardens just as it does in your garden…For most weeds, prevention, rather than warfare, is the best control.”

You can prevent weeds by avoiding questionable top soils, using soil amendments that are fully composted correctly and catching weeds before they drop seed.

The grounds workers also noted that nature does not tolerate bare ground and weeds will quickly move in to your blank spots. They suggest beating the weeds by crowding them out with a canopy of flowers. “Where your plants flourish, weeds are not nearly as likely to grow.”

Temple Square gardeners use IPM (Integrated Pest Management). Basically, they maintain healthy plants that are naturally more disease and pest resistant and maintain pest population at an acceptable level. They do this by planting the right plants at the right time into amended soil, using good fertilizer and irrigation practices, encouraging a healthy ecosystem with beneficial insects etc.

They rely first on organic controls like hand picking or organic oils, but will also use chemical controls like Bt or soap sprays when necessary.

I do most of the same things, but I liked the added tip to plant a variety of plants. That way if something falls pray to pests or disease, your garden is not all lost.

Pin this image to save these tips!

What I found the most insightful, was that the gardeners design everything in a simple and natural style so it points back to the Creator rather than themselves. I’ve heard that they will literally toss a handful of tulip bulbs in the garden and let them land where they may.

It takes 34 full time gardeners, 30 seasonal gardeners, help from over 80 Church service missionaries and a thousand volunteers each spring and fall (for initial planting) to maintain the Temple Square gardens.

So the next time you see a grounds worker at the Temple, thank them for all their hard work! Maybe even volunteer to help!

If you have your own questions about growing a flower garden, feel free to subscribe to my Cut Flower Garden newsletter. I was pretty frustrated when I first started flower farming and had to hunt for good sources about specialty cut blooms in Utah. (Most gardeners gave me the side eye when I asked about stem length and vase life rather than heirloom tomatoes or water-wise landscaping.)

However, I am now a budding urban flower farmer in Lehi harvesting from over 1800 plants right in my yard using high density farming practices! I am happy to share my knowledge with those that want to create a little piece of heaven in their garden and enjoy fresh blooms on their table all season long.

Happy Gardening!

Maria

Starting Seedlings for Beginners

When I first started flower farming, I had an image in my head that I would be out in my garden tucking each little seed into the soil. I had a rude awakening when I realized that most seeds would need to be started indoors before spring.

In fact, Erinn from Floret Farms starts 90 percent of her cut flowers from seed! Goodbye dreams of tucking each little seed into the garden outside…

WHEN TO START FLOWER SEEDLINGS:

If you want to know when start your seeds, you need to know your last frost date. In Lehi Utah our last frost date is around Mother’s Day. The most reliable method for pinning down your last frost date is by asking your neighbors or local nurseries.

Once you know your last frost date, count back the number of weeks your seed packet says to sow indoors.

For example, I needed to start my Snapdragons indoors. The packet says to sow them 8 to 10 weeks before the last frost of the season. Since the last frost date in my area is around Mother’s Day, I started my first round of seedlings the first weekend in March.

If you plan on succession planting, then you will also need to know your first frost date. You can find more info on succession planting in my upcoming post “How to Make a Succession Planting Schedule.” 

Homemade seed staring mix.

WHERE TO START FLOWER SEEDLINGS:

You could start seedlings on a south-facing windowsill in your home. However, the healthiest plants are achieved by three basic components: (1) seedling soil, (2) lights, and (3) heat mats.

Of course, a heated greenhouse is ideal, but that is not the most affordable option for us garden peasants just starting out.

I am a thrifty person and researched quite a bit before deciding on my own seed starting station to make at home. Below is a list of materials that I used:

I’ve also seen home gardeners recycle used milk jugs outside to start seeds or clear tubs! That would be the cheapest method.

Most seedlings should be germinated on heat mats since the ideal germination temperature is 70F. (There are some exceptions like Snapdragons that prefer lots of light, but slightly cooler temps.) Your house may be 70F, but your soil is actually 10F degrees or more cooler, hence the heat mats for germination.

Heat mats are not necessary after germination.

They will also need grow lights (unless it is specified that they prefer darkness to germinate). I have my setup in a room with a south facing window and I have a timer that turns the lights on for 14 hours a day starting at 7am.

The lights should hang three inches from the top of the plants (any lower and you risk burning the leaves). You will want a setup that allows for adjusting the lights as they grow.

I experimented with grow lights vs shop lights (GE Daylight T8 bulbs) and found little difference. I prefer the shop lights because they cover more area for cheaper.

You will want four bulbs across for best results (I learned this the hard way).

HOW TO START SEEDLINGS INDOORS:

I started seeds indoors following the Floret Farm method found in her book or on her blog post here.  Rather than retype those instructions, I want to focus on things that were not clear and that I had to learn by experience.

One of the things I have found frustrating about starting seeds is finding an affordable and easy to find seedling soil.

I tried the basic Miracle Gro Seedling Soil first and when that failed fantastically…I tried Epsom mix and Black Gold mix. So far my results have been best with Black Gold.

UPDATE: This year I trying a homemade seed starting mix. This recipe is specific to soil blocking, but you could google others for cell trays.

Starting_flower_seedlings_indoors_utah_flower_farm

You’ll find that each seed has specific seed starting instructions on the back of the packet. One may say the seed needs light to germinate, while another seed may need absolute darkness to germinate.

Quick Tip: If you want more specific instructions for a type of seedling then Google the variety + culture sheet. For example, “snapdragon culture sheet.”

To complicate the matter further, the packets will show different germination rates. This is the number of days the seed is expected to take to sprout.

You’ll want to keep seed types separate in their own cell blocks/soil blocks or at least group seeds with similar germination methods and rates together in cell blocks.

Humidity domes typically come off once 50 percent of the seeds have germinated. Once germination takes place (or once you see a set of true leaves) you can start fertilizing to boost growth.

Homemade seed starting recipe.

COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID:

Below are a few of the common mistakes to avoid when starting flower seedlings indoors:

  1. Top watering: You will want to bottom water your seedlings using the trays that come with the cell blocks. A common mistake is watering seeds from the top, which will flush the tiny seed away.
  2. Shocking transplants: When you are ready to transplant your starts outside, you will need to follow the “harden off” method. This basically means you need to get the plants used to their new environment a few hours at a time before planting them outside. Set plants outdoors for a few hours, slowly increasing the time they spend outdoors before transplanting into the garden. Start this process about a week before you want them outdoors permanently.
  3. Plants becoming root-bound: This happens when your plants grow too big for their containers. I just sowed my Snapdragon seedlings in the 72-cell block size, then realized they will need to be transplanted into larger containers in 3 to 4 weeks before transplanting them outside. Make sure you read the back of the packet carefully to avoid needing to switch your starts to different pots half way through the growing process. Floret Farms says 72-cell and 50-cell flats are her go-to container sizes.
  4. Seedling soil should not have fertilizer: I guess this was my mistake with the miracle grow seedling soil. Seeds don’t need fertilizer until they have true leaves. Seedling soil with fertilizer will launch them into growth resulting in leggy plants that fall over. Many growers prefer to make their own mix for this reason. Once plants have germinated, you can start using a liquid Seaweed and Fish Emulsion fertilizer. To combat leggy plants, you can put a fan on seedlings to encourage thicker stems.
  5. Over or under watering seedlings: I am still figuring out the exact science to this. I had some beautiful eucalyptus starts that suddenly shriveled on me. I still don’t know if it was over or under watering! I am thinking under watering….

It is amazing how long it takes to write each post with two rascally kids climbing all over me. However, I do my best to include details (even if it means admitting how much I failed at the beginning). If you can, I would really appreciate it if you left a comment below. It makes me happy to know someone is out there and it gives my website a boost. Happy gardening!