A Smart Start: Early Plant Investments

There is a whole lot of excitement amongst start-up flower farmers and serious home gardeners this time of year. Spring is coming up (or has already arrived for some folks!).

One challenge for any grower is figuring out exactly what works and what doesn't for them. Every farm is unique in size, weather, soil, humidity, budget, resources available and every "selling" market is unique in its needs, too. Those factors (and more, gulp!) will help determine what the very best investments for you are. I'll go a bit deeper into understanding your market in another blog post next month. 

Some things seem clear, though. Many flowers farmers will tell you not to forget the foliage! And when possible, they'll suggest that you purchase and establish perennial foliage sources like thornless raspberry, ninebark, and grasses. I'm also interested in adding some others that can serve dual purposes as wind-breaks and foliage sources, like juniper, willow, vine honeysuckle, forsythia. 

Ninebark foliage

Ninebark foliage

Perennial flower sources are also a good early investment, because they take time to grow, and can be divided over time to multiply your stock. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on buying established plants you can start many successfully from seed. When looking for perennial seeds, I appreciate Swallowtail Garden Seeds' online store- it is organized with separate tabs for perennials and annuals and every seed variety has growing instructions and a hardiness zone description.

I try to set aside some of our spring growing space each season for perennial seed sowing. Last year I started campanula, echinops (globe thistle), eryngium (sea holly), yarrow, Chinese lanterns, rudbeckia, columbine, delphinium, and a biennial foxglove (that will hopefully reward us this year!). This year I'll add more delphinium (we're running a seed-starting trial with it), some perennial foxglove, scabiosa fama blue and white, and goat's beard.

Last year, we also bought 100 bare root peonies (fall-planted), a small collection of garden roses to try, a few lilacs, four new hydrangea, seven winterberry shrubs, six ninebark bushes, and thousands of daffodils and allium. We'll be able to grow those collections when we have the time and money to do so. 

Another "smart" idea is to be sure that you've done some research and figured out which of your seeds can be saved for the following season. Take the time to collect those seeds and label them for winter storage. Or- prepare the ground and sow them right away in the fall if they are good "self-sowers." If you're not sure if you can get your saved seeds to germinate, start early and plant a small number as a test indoors in the winter. That way, you'll have time to order new seeds or sow more depending on how your test turns out. 

Seeds saved for the next season.

Seeds saved for the next season.

Store your seeds in small paper envelopes (plastic can damage them if there is too much moisture). I keep our saved seeds in "coin" envelopes from an office supply store. Put them in a cool, dry place. The bottom drawer of my office desk works fine for us. 

Our favorite perennial seeds to save are delphinium, foxglove, columbine, yarrow, echinacea, lupine, astrantia. For annuals, we collect: amaranthus, bupleurum, nigella, cerinthe (pictured in the banner), celosia, calendula, ornamental grasses, cleome, scabiosa, love-in-a-puff, sweet annie, zinnias (some of these cross-pollinate- like zinnias and celosia, but if you're OK with an experiment, go for it!). 

There are many more seeds that can be saved to produce reliable flowers the following season. Please share what you collect in the comments below! We'd love to put together (or find) a more comprehensive list.