|Posted on 20 January, 2016 at 16:30|
Picture: Geranuim Patricia gets underway, unbothered by ice
When I started growing flowers for sale I started small and inexpensively. My plan was to grow everything from seed initially and see how it went. So during the first Spring I planted lots of seeds for the plants I thought I needed. As well as annuals, I sowed perennial seeds, knowing that most wouldn't be cut that year but would flower the following year - delphinuims, sidalcea, scabious, armeria and lupins all sprouted away and showed willing in a very chilly spring. Once they were through in seed trays they were potted on and grown in the polytunnel before being hardened off.
Our land had been derelict and was covered in weeds when we first moved in and we'd made tentative attempts at clearing small areas, making a few beds for vegetables by ploughing and digging. The docks, couch grass and nettles were pretty formidable however and not to be underestimated. Any gardening book would tell you to clear any sign of perennial weeds before planting and I certainly tried. However, the old saying of 'one year's seed, seven years weed' is definitely true, never mind the dock roots that stretched to the centre of the earth and refused to be dug up.
It was into this infested soil that my delicate little seedlings were transplanted and I stood back and watched them struggle. Some did well - the lupins (how I love a lupin!), armeria and sidlcea did reasonably well and even flowered in that first late summer. Surrounded by a forest of docks and couch grass flexing its muscles the delphiniums and scabious sighed pitifully.
In the following years I've learned a lot about growing perennials for cut flowers from seed. This is what works for me:
- Plant in the late summer/early autumn to allow seedlings to fill out over the winter ready for planting out
- Pot on more than once - a bigger plant will be able to fight off competition more easily and will be quicker to establish. Again, late summer/autumn sowing allow plants to grow but mean they can be planted out before the heat of the summer (heat + summer = artistic licence).
- Remove every single sign of perennial weeds from the soil. Painstaking work and can only be done by hand, but it makes a huge difference.
- Don't plant weeds - this my seem obvious but is worth the reminder. That tiny weed seedling in the pot may look harmless but get it out or it'll grow too, and faster by far than anything you actually want to grow.
- Feed your plants - regular liquid feed, compost or manure gives healthy plants, healthy plants fight off bugs and disease and give lots of flowers.
- Avoid landscape fabric - I used this for 2 years thinking it would save weeding time. However, the docks pushed their way through the holes right next to the plants and were impossible to remove, it was hard to apply manure, harboured slugs and bugs and became a total mess. Bigger plants, closer together and a juducious use of the hoe is a less frustrating and more effective strategy.
- Keep plants in groups, in narrow beds for ease of cutting and management.
I'm now in the final stages of the Great Perennial Re-organisation, digging up those early years perennials and freeing them from the choking weeds that are restricting their potential. All established perennials, and some new ones, are being moved in blocks into 20m x 1m beds, carefully rid of weeds and roots, mulched with manure and are already pushing forth new leaves. While the annuals are still dry in the packets, perennials have set off on their way to Summer, never mind the ice and floods, and I have a shiny new hoe to keep those weeds at bay!