Let’s get to the point: In this blog, we want to share one of our secret tricks that has helped us get beautiful early spring blooms! Yes, this is a little more of a core blog designed to educate you and maybe serve some flower farmer enthusiasts too.
(Photo) Ranunculus, snapdragons, Orlaya, Nigella (in the back right) and Dom holding tall Floxgloves blooming in full stride 3rd week of May!!
As a flower grower, pretty early on in the process we realized that everyyyyooonnne wants to have flowers in early spring!!! Coming out of the dreary doldrums of winter we all seem to crave the color and greenery that spring plants provide. This cyclical rebirth is refreshing beyond belief to us and it seems we all want to be immersed in nature's gifts during the spring months. We definitely feel this way!!
Now, as flower growers, it’s a challenge to get an abundance of early blooms to satisfy these early season cravings. Our answer to alleviate these cravings has come from Hardy Annuals and an interesting technique to overwinter these plants. Growing hardy annuals requires a few steps to follow and he key to this challenge with hardy annuals boils down to a couple components; what varieties to grow, timing, where to grow them and how to care for them.
Ok let's take a quick step back for a second and talk about what the heck is a Hardy Annual. Hardy annuals (sometimes referred to as cool flowers) are a special type of annual plant that can handle really cold temperatures. They are not perennial because their life cycle is only one year long compared to a perennial that will come back year after year from the same root stock. Some hardy annuals will reseed themselves however and act like a perennial but the root stock that flowered the year before will not regrow (productively) for a second season.
(Photo above) Cut and come again for at least two or 3 weeks with this patch of Nigella)
Since these little buggers are so hardy, flower farmers have developed some nifty little techniques to seed these varieties during late summer/ fall and overwinter them for the spring. The trick is allowing them to grow enough to put down some good roots, but not grow so much that they flower before the day length gets too short and conditions cease growth. During this down time from Mid November to Mid March, the plants are literally in standby mode. They’ll freeze solid at night and thaw out during the day and be completely fine with it. It’s absolutely incredible to us that they can handle this!! Again, (not to sound like a broken record) the key here is to seed them early enough in the late summer so that they can set down some solid roots for the overwintering time frame but not too early that they flower that fall. Once the flowering process starts it will change the plant's life cycle, vigor and inevitably its productivity. Timing is everything and each plant variety will need its own timing of sowing and care.
We prefer to plant them in high/low tunnels as this will help us get blooms earlier than an outdoor planting with simple row covers and it also protects them more to help the success rate of overwintering. During the winter months we even keep them covered with fabric row covers inside the tunnels for a bit of added protection on the really cold nights that dip into the negatives.
One problem that we have encountered with overwintering plants in the tunnels are voles and mice. These pests have wreaked havoc on our hardy annual crops in the past to the point where we have gone to great measures to rodent proof our tunnels. You can't blame them for this as the tunnels are 65 degrees on the coldest, harshest days if the sun's out and an endless green food source. It’s like an all inclusive vacation to the tropics for them!!! Traps can work well too, to keep these pests at bay, but exclusion is best if possible.
Other than keeping them pest and weed free and covered they really don't require much care throughout the season. We monitor the soil moisture and water them very intermittently but the soil moisture seems to hold better through the winter months and the plants demand for water is minimal due to the fact they are not really growing much at this time.
(Photo Above) Snapdragons grown as hardy annuals are straight up bodacious!
Let's talk about some of our favorite hardy annual varieties
Snapdragons: Snapdragons can be grown as annuals but when overwintered as hardy annuals you can have really early and really tall blooms that can be planted tight, providing a lucrative amount of blooms per bed. We find that snapdragons, and for that matter all overwintered hardy annuals, grow much taller, larger and vigorous compared to the same varieties grown as annuals. This equates to high quality early season blooms when the demand is high and local supply is low.
Orlaya: Beautiful white lace flower and one of the earliest bloomers. It's usually ready for Mothers Day to accompany Daffodils and Tulips and thrives even with Maines cold winters.
Cress (Penny Cress and Persian Cress): Must have filler that's also ready for Mothers Day when grown as a hardy annual. For early bouquets it's a must.
Digitalis (AKA Foxglove): Blooms in late May and has striking spire blooms.
Nigella: One of our favorite spring flowers for its unique shape, seed pod, productivity, and ability to grunt it out through Maine's winter.
Feverfew Virgo: Clusters of small white flowers that are great for filling out bouquets or design work.
Agrostemma: Super early, mega producer of seashell shaped blooms that are essential in our production.
Dara Dill: Productive, maroon lacey blooms with great stem length.
Carnations: Productive, comes in all colors and the vase life is ridiculous – up to two weeks!
Bachelor Buttons: Not always the most fun to pick but incredibly productive and the blue color is like a tractor beam drawing you in.
Forget me nots: Classic blue clusters of blooms that just seem to make everyone smile. We recommend growing them as a hardy annual because when grown as an annual it can be difficult to get longer stems when harvesting.
This blog has just scratched the surface of Hardy Annuals on our cut flower farm but it's a trending topic that has a lot of promise for farmers and home gardeners to achieve early high quality blooms.
Here’s a few references that we have used on the subject that can serve to help you dive a little bit deeper into the subject: