Flowers cheer up a home's interior and are an instant mood-lifter. But even better than going out to buy a bouquet, is growing the blooms yourself.
With a little planning, the right plant selection and care, there's still time to create a beautiful cut flower garden for yourself this summer and maybe for a neighbor or friend who could use a pick-me-up. With people feeling socially distant and sometimes isolated at home due to COVID-19, flowers can be a touchstone, says LaManda Joy, founder of City Grange in Chicago, an education-based garden center.
"Nature and flowers remind us that there's some things that will always happen … there's some continuity to life,” she says. “That process of nurturing something is so healing for people…. We think we're nurturing the garden, but the garden really nurtures us.”
Invest in flower power
Flowers make excellent gifts, and leaving a bouquet of homegrown flowers on a friend or neighbor's porch brings instant cheer. A 2010 Rutgers University study on mood showed flowers have both an immediate and longer-lasting positive impact than other popular thank-you gifts, such as a fruit basket or a candle.
Joy says the act of giving is rewarding for both the giver and receiver. She recalls giving an older neighbor who was sheltering-in-place a pot of flowers this spring, putting them on the neighbor's front porch. “She saw them, opened the door and she was just so grateful,” Joy says.
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What to plant
It's getting late to start most plants from seed, but bright, multicolored zinnias, which often come in a variety of vivid fuchsias and reds, are still an option, says Melinda Myers, author of more than 20 gardening books. From seed to bloom, zinnias are ready in eight weeks and gardeners can plant seeds where spring plants are fading or sow them in a vacant space.
Buying established plants will get the cut flower garden going immediately, especially if you buy annuals that are already blooming. Kathie Hayden, manager of plant information service at the Chicago Botanic Garden, says easy-to-grow annuals such as low-maintenance cosmos, cheery purple gomphrena, celosia, blue salvia and taller varieties of pom-pom-shaped ageratum are all good for cutting and should be available in multiplant packs in local garden centers.
Joy recommends sunny black-eyed Susans, bachelor buttons, giant marigolds and sunflowers for cutting purposes. Her tip for sunflowers is to seek the single-stemmed version that are pollen-less, if possible, as sunflower pollen can be a bit messy.
Perennial plants, which return each year, are another option for cut flower gardens. Native coneflowers, goldenrod and asters are good choices, as are some grasses for bouquet accent pieces, such as purple fountain grass, millet and Northern sea oats.
The pandemic has increased interest in gardening since many people are staying home, so garden centers may not always have all the usual plants in stock, Myers says. She recommends keeping in touch to find out when shipments arrive.
Plant care tips
To establish plants in their new homes, water at least weekly, and occasionally use a basic, organic fertilizer to encourage blooms.
Match the plant to your garden's condition, putting sun-loving flowers where they can catch all-day rays, while planting those that tolerate some shade in areas that get mixed light. Most flowers prefer sun, but they will still bloom in light shade, Joy says, though they may not be as prolific.
If you have a lot of deeply shady spots, forgo blossoms that need all-day sun and consider flowering plants like delicate toad lilies and black snakeroot, Hayden says. Myers points out that colorful coleus has beautiful leaves, while hardy, shade-loving hostas have flowers and leaves that can be used in bouquets.
Cut blooms often to encourage new flower formation and deadhead spent blooms that remain on the plant. The best time of day to harvest flowers is in the morning when they are full of moisture. Select flowers just as the petals start to unfold to last longest in a vase.
The prettiest bouquets have a mix of flowers and greenery. To save money, consider small additions from common houseplants like a sprig of ivy or prayer plant, Myer says. To add structure and scent to a bouquet, consider herbs and vegetables, such as dill, basil, lavender or rosemary, Joy adds.
"Swiss chard has very pretty, heavy, shiny, crinkly leaves and the stems come in all sorts of really incredible colors. Kale is also pretty, like a purple kale,” Joy says.
Newly cut flowers can last seven to 10 days with frequent water changes.
"Flowers are great any time,” she says, “especially now that there's so much uncertainty in the world."
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