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Sowing & Growing Update - 7th July 2023



I love this time of year, lots of flowers to pick on a daily basis with lots more to come, but it's one busiest time of year in the cut flower patch: some of the autumn sown seeds have now past their best and need to be lifted from our patches to make way for some of our half-hardy annuals; lots of the plants in the patch are growing rapidly and need support, feeding and regular watering; and some of the later sown seedlings have only just been planted out and need nurturing.


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 (much of this is not relevant now as we are past this stage but have kept it in for reference), the second into planting out, the third into maintenance and the fourth into cutting and conditioning your 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 or around 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. Now, I no longer have any seedlings in my greenhouse as it's too warm and humid.


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. 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 too late in the season to do a second sowing of Cut Flower Patch seeds, however there's always next year1


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. However as you will see below I have now planted out pretty much all my plants, even those that are a little on the small side.


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. Last year I left it too late to add supports to many of my plants and I promised myself I wouldn't make the same mistake this year, I've had a slightly better year in that regard but could do better. There's always next year!


Probably the most popular and effective method for supporting 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.


For more information on watering your patch, check out this blog https://www.thecutflowerpatch.co.uk/post/top-tips-for-watering-your-cut-flower-patch



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. I've got lots on comfrey growing on my allotment, in fact it's a bit of a problem, there's far too much of it, but that's another story. I made a liquid comfrey feed by stewing the leaves but it smelt revolting. So now I simply chop up some leaves and add them to planting hole.

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 to work 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 early morning or evening as they will be under less stress

  • After picking your flowers they 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 48


Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: Over the last six weeks or so I've cut dozens and dozens of lovely corncockle but a couple of weeks ago the plants were past their best and started to look a bit straggly so I pulled them up to make room for some sunflower plants.


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: It's now too late to sow any further corncockle for this season. However Cut Flower Patch subscribers will be receiving a fresh packet of corncockle seeds in their August/September Subscription Boxes, which we will be sowing in September ready for next season.


Cornflower - Week 48


Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: yes when about 15cm tall.


Over the next month: It's been a great year for cornflowers, I've picked armfuls and armfuls of both blue and pink flowers. I picked the last of them this week and I am now going to pull up the plants to create space for some more dahlias.


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 continually.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.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It's now too late to sow any cornflower seeds for this season but in the August/September Seeds Boxes subscribers will be receiving a variety of cornflower seeds called Black Ball, which we haven't sown before. We'll be sowing these together in August ready for picking next year.


Iceland Poppy - Week 48

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: As I hoped my Icelandic Poppies have had a bumper year, I must have picked at least 10 poppy flowers, if not more, from each plant. Reluctantly I called time on my poppies a couple of weeks ago and pulled up the last of the plants.


I pressed a number of poppies this year and have just started to mount them ready for framing. If you'd like to try pressing, you can find out more here https://www.thecutflowerpatch.co.uk/post/top-tips-for-pressing-flowers


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: It's now too late to sow any further poppy seeds this year but subscribers will be receiving fresh, new Iceland Poppies in their October/November Subscription Seed Boxes.


Nigella - Week 48

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: do not feed


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: I am really enjoying the variety of nigella we chose this year, Delft Blue. The flowers are larger than most types of nigella and look great in the vase, through I regret not supporting them earlier on in the growing process with canes as some of the stems have bent slightly. I think within the next week or so I will pick the last of the nigella and remove the plants from my cut flower patch.


If you'd like to save some nigella seeds for planting next year collect the pods as they turn brown, leaving a bit of stalk so they can be tipped upside down making it easier for the pod to shed seeds. The pods will naturally start to split when ripe. Seeds are best stored in a paper envelope to keep them dry.


When to pick: Nigella should be picked when the petals start to unfurl.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It is now too late to sow any further nigella seeds this season, however a new packet of fresh nigella seeds (this time we'll be suppling a variety called Miss Jekyll) will be included in our October/November Seed Boxes ready for sowing in October..


Larkspur - Week 45

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: Although my larkspur were later flowering this year they were worth the wait, I've literally had bucketfuls from only a few plants. I've had enough to keep our vases topped up for weeks, I've given away lots and lots and also pressed a few to make some lovely botanical art. Sadly I think the crop is coming to an end and in the next week I will lift the whole plant to make way for some of my later flowerers.


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 please don't despair we've got a lovely variety, Limelight Light Pink, going into our August/September boxes.


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


Scabiosa - Week 43

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: My scabiosa have just started to flower and there's lots more to come. Apparently they make a great dried flower as the tight, compact heads hold their shape and can be picked at different stages of flowering for a varied mix. Over the next week I am going to pick some scabiosa to dry and will be using the air-drying method. for those who would like to have a go too I will be making a video to show you how.


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: Again it's too late to sow any further scabiosa for this season but they'll be fresh scabiosa seeds (a variety called Fama) in the December/January box ready to sow in December.


Snapdragon (Rocket Mixed)- Week 43


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: My snapdragon are starting to slowly come into flower, they are nice and tall and so are looking good in the vase.


When to pick; When one third of the flowers are open. I put mine straight into water to prevent them form wilting and bending.


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. Also there will be a variety of snapdragons called Potomac White in our October/November boxes which we will be sowing together in November.


Ammi Majus - Week 43


Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


Pinch out: no


Over the next month: I've fallen back in love with ammi majus, last year I planted out too many plants that grew so large they dominated my patch. This year I only planted out 2 plants so I've manged to contain them but they've still given me lots of cut flowers for the vase. Within a few weeks I think the ammi will be past its best and I will be removing the plants from my cut flower patch.


When to pick: When one third of the flowers on an umbel are open.


Second sowing/successional sowing: It's now too late to sow any further ammi seeds for this season but we'll be sowing fresh seeds from our October/November boxes in October ready for next season.


Calendula - Week 43

Classification: hardy annual


To feed or not to feed: not necessary


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


Over the next month: The week 43 photo probably doesn't do justice to the calendula as it's now coming to an end and I'll be taking it out of my patch soon. However for the last six weeks I've been cutting at least 10 calendula flowers everyday, they're so easy to grow and so rewarding.


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: It's now too late to sow any further calendula seeds for this season but we'll be sowing a new variety called Oppsy Dasiy in December ready for next season.


Orlaya - Week 43

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. probably only managed to cut a handful of stems before all 3 my orlaya plants died.


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 any further orlaya this year but if you have any spare seeds they can be direct sown or indoors from August to December. We've decided not to include orlaya seeds in next season's Cut Flower Patch Boxes, however if you'd like to sow any I can recommend buying from Chiltern Seeds, all their seeds are exceptional quality www.chilternseeds.co.uk


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


Sweet Pea, Tango - Week 39

Classification: hardy annual


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


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


Over the next month: They say 'the more you pick the more you get', and I've been picking handfuls of sweet peas every day for the last 5 weeks and they still keep on coming. I've been feeding them with a diluted tomato feed every 2 weeks or so and I think that's helped. Am not sure how long they'll keep producing for but for now, while they're producing so many flowers, they are earning their space in my cut flower patch.


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. And, of course we will be putting sweet peas in our subscription boxes, in November we'll be sowing Royal Family Mixed and in December we'll be sowing Winter Elegance Mixed.


Sweet Pea, Mammoth - Week 36