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Sowing & Growing Update - 2nd June 2023



We went away for 2 weeks in May and when we returned home I felt like a bad plant-parent. Although our youngest daughter had done a great job watering my seedlings and plants, she was less willing to do a daily slug patrol. So I am afraid my dahlias, gypsophila and cosmos have been munched by our garden slugs. I've manged to salvage some of the plants but I will need to do another sowing of gypsophila and cosmos. Now after a busy week trying to get all things sowing & growing back on track, I have vowed to be a better plant-parent in future!


I think this is probably the busiest time of year in the cut flower patch: some of the autumn sown seeds are now flowering and are ready for harvesting; lots of the plants in the patch are growing rapidly and need support, feeding and regular watering; and some of the later sown seedlings still need nurturing in preparation for planting out.


As a result I am aware there is a lot of sowing & growing information to share right now however, the amount of information each cut flower patch grower wants/needs varies depending on their level of experience, when they joined the process etc. Therefore I have tried to keep the content in this blog as manageable as possible. The first section is divided into nurturing and caring for your seedlings, the second into planting out, the third into maintenance and the fourth into cutting and conditioning you flowers.


The final section covers each seed that we've sown and is grouped by the month the seeds were included in our Cut Flower Patch seed boxes. For the purposes of comparison, for each plant I specify the number of weeks since sowing as I am aware that not everyone is sowing their seeds at exactly the same time. The photographs were taken on the day of writing this blog.



Nurturing and Caring for your seedlings


Pricking out

When your seeds first germinate they produce a set of leaves known as seed leaves, these differ from the plant's second set of leaves, called the true leaves. When the first true leaves appear it's time to prick out the plant into individual pots. This video will show you how.


Ventilation

Seedlings are prone to a condition called damping off, it's a fungus that enters young seedlings from the soil. Good air circulation, to reduce humidity, along with not overwatering, is key to avoiding this condition. At this time of year I continually keep my greenhouse open, day and night.


Watering

The most important requirement is, of course, water as seed trays and small pots can dry out very quickly. However there's a fine balance as overwatering can cause damping off. At this time of year I water my seedlings everyday but I try and keep my pots moist rather than wet.


Pinching out

Pinching out benefits certain plants that have a tendency to shoot upwards and produce a leggy plant with only one stem. Pinching out encourages bushier growth, numerous stems and plenty of flowers. I have indicated below which plants will benefit from pinching out.













Potting on

If you're not ready to plant our your flowers into your patch and you turn your pots upside down and you can see the roots appearing through the drainage holes, it's time to transplant them into larger pots. Try and find pots that are one size larger, and carefully remove the plant by loosening the root ball so it comes out whole. Put it in the new pot on a base of fresh compost and fill around the sides with fresh compost too.





Second/successional sowing

It's getting a little late in the season to do a second sowing of Cut Flower Patch seeds, however where it's still possible I've indicated alongside each plant, below, which can be sown in June.


Planting out


When to plant out

Now that the last frost date has passed, plants can be planted out into your cut flower patch. As a guide I usually wait until each plant is roughly the size of my fist before planting out.


Hardening off

A few weeks before planting out into your patch the plants ideally need to be acclimatised to being outside, the process is called hardening off. This is done by putting plants outside during the day and then putting them back undercover at night for a week or so. Then leave them out overnight.


Preparing your patch

If your patch is going in a raised bed, fill it with a mix of compost and topsoil. If your patch is going directly into soil then weed the area well and fork it over adding some compost to improve the nutritional content.


Planting plans

A little bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to working out what to plant where in your cut flower patch. Put the taller plants at the back (north end) and smaller ones at the front, also allow the right amount of space for each plant, I think it's a common mistake to plant your flowers too close together and as soon as they mature your patch becomes overcrowded and difficult to mange. We've devised what I hope is a relatively simple Cut Flower Patch planning tool, you can find it here.


Maintenance


Support

Providing some form of support for your cut flower patch is important as it will need protecting from the wind and rain. However even if your patch is in a sheltered spot many of the flowers will grow very tall and the stems snap easily.


Probably the most popular and effective method for cut flowers is to stretch jute netting over your patch at around 45cm high, you might find this Sarah Raven video useful if this is something you are considering for your patch.


As my cut flower patch is in the front garden I want something that is more pleasing to the eye so I simply use canes and a plastic gardening ties which seems to do the trick. Sweet peas need more of a structure using either a wigwam or tepee of bamboo, hazel or willow secured tightly with twine.


Watering

Your plants are at their most vulnerable when they are first planted out as they grow new roots and become established. It is therefore essential to keep them well watered. It is better to give your plants a good soak occasionally rather than little and often, as, with the latter, the water often just evaporates and doesn't reach the roots.


Water early in the morning or evening and water around the roots as this is the most efficient use of water.


Feeding

Certain flowers (I have indicated which ones alongside each entry below) will benefit from feeding every two weeks or so. A diluted liquid tomato feed or comfrey feed is ideal for cut flowers.

Weeding

Yes, I'm afraid so, inevitably you will need to do some weeding.


Cutting and conditioning your flowers

Funnily enough when I first created a cut flower patch in my garden, the thing I found hardest was cutting and harvesting the flowers. I was so use to growing flowers in the garden and watching them come and go each year, cutting them before they had reached their prime, seemed counter-intuitive. As a result I often left it too late to cut the flowers as many flowers are better cut when they are just starting to flower rather than in full bloom. However I'm over that now as I soon realised that it's pure joy to have flowers in the house that I had grown myself and, also, having enough to share with family, friends and neighbours.


When to pick

For maximum vase life some flowers are better picked before they bloom. I cut the poppy opposite when I could just see the colour of the petals peeking though and within 15 minutes of being inside and in water it had flowered.


To help with working out what to pick and when, I have added a 'When to pick' section to each flower below.


Our top tips for picking and conditioning cut flowers

  • Cut your flowers in early morning or evening as your flowers will be under less stress

  • After picking your flowers will benefit from spending a few hours, or overnight, somewhere cool and out of sunlight

  • Cut long stems but leave some stem so new flowers can develop

  • Always cut a flower stem above a leaf joint so new growth can form

  • Use secateurs or flower snips to cut, and keep them clean and sharp

  • Enjoy every moment!


The August Seed Box - Corncockle, Cornflower, Iceland Poppy, Nigella, Larkspur


Corncockle - Week 43


Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: Corncockle was my first plant this growing season to flower and I've started cutting them for the vase. Corncockle have good long stems and look good in taller vases. I expect my corncockle to continue to keep producing flowers for at least another month, if not longer. Please don't forget corncockle will need some sort of support, as you can see I've used a bamboo cane and a plastic gardening tie.


When to pick: I tend to pick corncockle when it first flowers and I cut above a leaf joint towards the base of the stem (but try not to remove the whole stem from the plant so new stems and flowers can develop). I usually cut some stems that are in flower and some that are still in bud. For general advice on cutting flowers please see the section above 'Cutting & Conditioning'.



Second sowing/successional sowing: If you still have some corncockle seeds left ideally they should have been direct sown before the end of May, however as the season is a little late this year you could try direct sowing in early June, but as with all seed sowing there's no guarantees, I'm afraid.


Cornflower - Week 43

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes when about 15cm tall.


Over the next month: Wow, my cornflowers have really taken off, the week 43 photo above shows only one of the four cornflower plants I put into my patch. I've already harvested a few flowers but it looks like there's going to be lots more to enjoy over the forthcoming weeks, Like corncockle they have lovely long stems and look good in tall vases.


When to pick: Pick them when the colour starts to show on the buds. Cornflowers need to be cut constantly if you want them to flower all summer. If you pick them too early the flowers may not open, if you harvest them when fully open, they will only last a few days in the vase. Cornflowers also press and dry very successfully so, for those who'd like to give that a go, I'll be showing you how that's done over the forthcoming weeks.


Second sowing/successional sowing: If you still have some cornflower seeds left ideally they should have been direct sown before the end of May, however as the season is a little late this year you could try direct sowing in early June, but, again, as with all seed sowing there's no guarantees


Iceland Poppy - Week 43

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: One of my favourite cut flowers, Icelandic Poppies and happily it looks like it's going to be a bumper year. I have just five poppy plants in my patch and another two in pots, and already I have harvested around 20 poppy flowers and looking at the buds still to bloom, there's lots more to come.


When to pick: For maximum vase life pick poppies when the floral casing has started to split and the first petals are visible. If you wish you can gently pull away the casing as the bud starts to open.


Second sowing/successional sowing: If you still have some poppy seeds left ideally they should have been direct sown before the end of May, however as the season is a little late this year you could try direct sowing in early June.


Nigella - Week 43

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: do not feed


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: After a slow start my nigella is coming good.


When to pick: Nigella should be picked when the petals start to unfurl, so mine isn't quite ready but I'll be keeping a close eye on it as I think it won't be too long.


Second sowing/successional sowing: If you still have some nigella seeds left ideally they should have been direct sown before the end of May, however as the season is a little late this year you could try direct sowing in early June.


Larkspur - Week 40

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes, pinch out the growing tips when around 10cm tall


Over the next month: This time last year I was already harvesting lots of lovely larkspur but this year, like many plants, it looks like the season is going to be a little later.


When to pick: For the longest vase life pick when the lower flowers first open.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It's too late now to sow any larkspur for this season but if you have any seeds left you can sow them August to November ready for harvesting next season.


The September Seed Box - Scabiosa, Snapdragon, Ammi Majus, Calendula, Orlaya


Scabiosa - Week 38

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: Looking back on the week 33 photos the scabiosa were looking a bit peaky but it's good to see that 5 weeks later they are now lovely and healthy.


When to pick: Scabiosa can be picked at any stage, the flower buds look great in a floral arrangement but please be aware they may not fully open if picked at this stage.


Second sowing/successional sowing: If you still have some scabiosa seeds left ideally they should have been direct sown before the end of May, however as the season is a little late this year you could try direct sowing in early June.


Snapdragon (Rocket Mixed)- Week 38


Classification: half-hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes, pinch out the growing tips when they have four sets of true leaves


Over the next month: As snapdragon are half-hardy I waited until after our last frost date in early May to plant them out into my patch. As you can see they are thriving in the patch. I'm expecting the snapdragons to flower early summer.


When to pick; When one third of the flowers are open.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It's a little late to sow snapdragon for this season but if you have any spare seeds you can sow them in September ready for next year.


Ammi Majus - Week 38


Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: The ammi majus must take the prize for the biggest growth spurt over the last five weeks. Looking at the photograph, it looks in need of water, it's a large, easy to grow plant and I've probably taken it for granted slightly.


When to pick: I will start to pick it when one third of the of the flowers on an umbel are open.


Second sowing/successional sowing: Ammi can be direct sown up and until the end of June.


Calendula - Week 38

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes, when they reach around 10cm tall


Over the next month: Already I have picked dozens of calendula flowers and it looks like there's lots more to come. So easy to grow and easy to look after, they need very little attention other than watering when the weather is very dry.


When to pick: When they start to bloom and continue to pick the flowers constantly and they will bloom for months.


Second sowing/successional sowing: Calendula can be direct sown up until the end of May,


Orlaya - Week 38

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes, pinch out the growing tips when they have four sets of true leaves


Over the next month: Orlaya is the only sown hardy-annual that has disappointed this year, not many flowers and those that I have harvested have had a short vase life. I know some growers think it's better to direct sow orlaya rather than sowing in trays or pots, something to consider for next year.


When to pick: Pick stems when they are fully open but before there is any sign of pollen drop. Avoid picking underdeveloped buds because they will most likely wilt after picking.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It is now too late to sow ant further orlaya this year but if you spare seeds they can be direct sown or indoors from August to December,


The October Seed Box - Sweet Pea Tango, Sweet Pea Mammoth, Achillea, Lavatera, Cerinthe


Sweet Pea, Tango - Week 34

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: yes sweet peas are hungry plants.


Pinch out: yes, pinch out the growing tips when they have four sets of true leaves


Over the next month: Over the last month I have continued to tie in my sweet peas to encourage them to attach themselves to the structure. Also I have been feeding them every two weeks or so with a tomato feed, sweet peas are hungry plants.


When to pick: Pick sweet peas when the flower is just about to open, and please remember, the more you pick the more you get.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It is now too late to sow any further sweet peas this season but if you have some seeds left you can sow them in October ready for next year.


Sweet Pea, Mammoth - Week 31

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: yes, with a liquid tomato feed


Pinch out: yes, pinch out the growing tips when they have four sets of true leaves


Over the next month: My mammoth sweet peas have not done as well as the tango variety. However I haven't given up on them yet. Again I will continue to tie these to the structure and feed them with a tomato feed every two weeks or so.


When to pick: Pick sweet peas when the flower is just about to open, and please remember, the more you pick the more you get.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It is now too late to sow any further sweet peas this season but if you have some seeds left you can sow them in October ready for next year.


Achillea - Week 34

Classification: hardy perennial


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes


Over the next month: A few of my achillea plants have been eaten by something but the others are doing very nicely, as you can see from the photograph. Am expecting them to flower within the next month.


When to pick: Achillea should be harvested throughout the summer at the height of flowering.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It is now too late to sow any further achillea this season but if you have some seeds left you can sow them in February and will flower the same year.



Lavatera - Week 34