About Good Scents

The cut flower business ended in 2011 but I continue to post other items about gardening.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)

elegans (ELL-eh-ganz) Elegant

Zinnias really are easy to grow and they make nice cut flowers. After trying a few different kinds I now only grow Benary's Giant Series, sometimes called BluePoint strain. They are quite mildew resistant have the largest flowers. My zinnias are not necessarily all that large because they grow best with good fertility and plenty of water and I can't always provide those conditions at the farm.

Zinnias can be started ahead and transplanted quickly before becoming pot bound but that doesn't seem to work much better than just direct sowing them. They cannot tolerate any frost so they shouldn't be sown until all danger of frost has passed, usually around June 1st here in SE Michigan. I usually plant mine about 6 inches apart in rows a foot apart but that is probably a little too close.

You can find seed for Benary's Giants at Johnny's, Stokes and other mail order outfits but I have never seen them in retail seed racks. They come in 13 different colors including three different reds (Scarlet, Crimson and Deep Red). The other colors are Bright Pink, Lilac, Salmon Rose, Carmine Rose, Yellow, Orange, Coral, White, Purple and Lime Green. I usually grow White rather than Lime Green because the White is quite greenish itself and is more robust than the Lime Green. I also really like Orange, Salmon Rose, Purple, Crimson and Scarlet. I probably should just buy packets of mixed colors but am always thinking I want more of one color or another.

The flowers should be cut when the center petals are still unfolding and before the yellow stamens appear in the center. The first flowers are on fairly short stems but the plants will re-bloom repeatedly throught the summer with longer stems. Some growers succession sow zinnias. I have done this a few times but have not noticed that the flower quality for the later sowings is much better than the re-bloom on the first sowings.

Just because they are cheap and easy to grow does not mean zinnias are not impressive, people are always asking me what they are.

Sunflower (Helianthus annus)

annuus (an-YEW-us) Annual

Sunflowers are supposed to be one of the easiest things to grow. If you feed birds you have probably found them coming up here and there all over your yard. How much can there be to know? I am a bit ashamed to admit that after growing sunflowers for the past 6 years for Good Scents, this was the first year I felt like I got the results I wanted. When it comes to growing sunflowers, as with so many aspects of gardening, the more I know, the more I realize I don't know.

I am only going to write about ornamental sunflowers, the ones grown for pretty flowers, not for seeds or oil. These started to become popular in the 90s with the appearance of pollenless F1 hybrids. Pollenless varieties are desireable for cut flowers because sunflowers produce copious amounts of pollen. When growing outside, bees collect and remove the pollen, but if cut and brought inside, the pollen instead collects on tables and counters creating a mess. Pollenless varieties produce little or no pollen and do not have this drawback.

Branching or Non-Branching?
Ornamental sunflowers can be either branching or non-branching. Branching varieties produce multiple stems growing out of the side of the main stalk, while the non-branching varieties grow a single stem and produce one flower at the top of it. If you are growing sunflowers to be enjoyed outside in the garden, the branching varieties are probably better. Branching sunflowers produce flowers over a longer season and have multiple flowers blooming at once at different heights on the same plant.

Each has its advantages, but for cut flowers I prefer the unbranched sunflowers. I experimented quite a bit with branched sunflowers, and while they produce many stems over a longer season, the stem length and the size quality of the flowers is variable. Because of their growth habit, branching varieties need to be planted quite far apart, at least 18 inches and up to 2 feet. This means they are not more space-efficient than the single stem varieties which can be planted quite close together unless you want the largest flowers possible.

In the case of sunflowers, bigger is not always better. A 6 or 8 inch diameter flower can be quite impressive outside but unless you are creating very large arrangements, a single flower that size can be hard to work into an arrangement. They are also so heavy that vases containing these huge sunflowers often tip over. Catalogs say to plant a foot apart for the largest flowers so this year I planted them about 6 inches apart and they were still about 4-5 inches across, plenty big for my purposes.

Most sunflowers are some flavor of yellow or another, from almost white to dark gold. On some the disks are brown and on others green. There are also some bi-colors with a ring around the disk like a giant black eyed susan, and quite a few that are described as "red" with names like Moulin Rouge and Claret. Red sunflowers are really a dark reddish brown mahogony color, like your grandmother's dining room table. For my taste they are too large and too brown to easily combine with other flowers for indoor arangements but they can look quite striking combined with other things outside. From what I can see all the red varieties are branching.

Varieties I Grow
The thing I didn't understand about sunflowers until this year is that to get a full season of sunflowers I needed to succession sow but also to grow varieties with different maturity dates with each sowing. In this way I got a continuous assortment of varieties coming into bloom all summer. I'd like to take credit for figuring this out myself but I read it in the Johnny's catalog.

These are the varieties I grew this past year with the number of days to maturity. All are single stemmed:

Premeir Lemon Yellow - pale yellow, black center - 40-50 days
ProCut Yellow - yellow, brown center - 50-60 days
ProCut Orange - dark yellow, brown center - 50-60 days
Orange Mahagony BiColor
Sunrich Orange - dark yellow, black center - 60-70 days
Sunrich Yellow - yellow, black center - 60-70 days
Sunbeam - yellow, green center - 70-80 days

How I Grow Them
Over the years I have tried starting sunflowers ahead in liners and direct sowing them. When started ahead and transplanted after a few weeks it seemed like the plants often ended up short and stunted. When I sowed them directly outside it seemed I never got them to sprout quickly or evenly. This year I compromised by starting them in liners and then transplanting them to the field as soon as the seed leaves had fully opened. This seems to be the best method for me. I get high germination quickly, and then by also getting the seedlings outside quickly, there is almost no transplant shock or stunting.

Botanical Names 101

I order most of my perennials from a wholesale company called Bluebird Nursery in Nebraska and their latest newsletter contained a short glossary of names frequently used as botanical species names and their meanings. I'm lazy about looking up stuff like this and thought it was quite useful. Here they are:

argentea (ar-JEN-te-a) Silvery.
carnosus (kar-NO-sus) Fleshy
glabra (GLA-bra) Smooth, without hairs.
gracilis (GRAS-i-lis) Graceful, slender
japonica (ja-PON-i-ka) Of Japan
majalis (ma-JA-lis) Of May, Maytime
officinalis (o-fis-i-NA-lis) Medicinal
sempervirens (sem-per-VI-renz) Evergreen
sylvestris (sil-VES-tris) Of woods or forests
vulgaris (vul-GA-ris) Common

I knew a few of these like sylvestris, vulgaris and japonica, and might have guesses at gracilis but officinalis, argentea, majalis and glabra were new to me. Now some of the names I knew make more sense. For example, I knew lily of the valley was Convallaria majalis, and knew it bloomed in May, but didn't realize the name could have told me that. I knew American inkberry holly was Ilex glabra, and knew it didn't have spiny leaves like many hollies, but the name could have told me that, too.

Years ago I ordered a book called How Plants Get Their Names from J.L. Hudson Seeds - maybe I'll finally crack it open!

Monday, October 13, 2008

What to Expect Here This Winter

I originally started this blog so that my customers could identify the flowers in their bouquets and read about how I grew them. I won't be delivering any more flowers in 2008 after this Friday, but I plan to actually be posting more often. I really only have time to write about how to grow the flowers and what I like about them during the off season, so that is what I will be focusing on between now and next April when I get started again.

The non-gardening season is one of the most fun parts of being a cut flower grower because that is when I get to plan next year and reflect on what worked and didn't work this year. I hope to be sharing more of those things this winter as well.

Bouquets for Monday, October 13th

I have missed posting for the past couple weeks. No excuse really, I guess I am just wearing down. This is the last week, though, so I felt I had to post a few pictures.

Most of the flowers are chrysanthemums now. There are also forced lilies, a few snapdragons and even some small sunflowers. There was a hard frost at the farm on October 3rd so all the zinnias and dahlias were killed.

These 3 bouquets all contain about the same materials except for foliage. This first one uses leaves from a Purple Smoke Bush.
This one uses peony foliage. Sometimes peony foliage gets spotted and ratty looking by this time of year but on some plants it stays clean and just changes color to red or orange. This one had turned a really nice deep red.

Lastly, here is a bouquet with some of that eucalyptus that I first wrote about 7 or 8 months ago. It is finally ready! You can see one of the small black centered sunflowers dead center in the bouquet.