Bouquet Builders that Beat the Heat
We’ve just passed the longest day of the year – Summer Solstice. Here in western North Carolina the heat is on from now until fall frost, and I’m not just talking about humidity and daily rising temperatures. Summer heat can take down the last leg of our warm season tender annuals, abruptly ending our growing season and halting sales for the year.
As our growing season moves from July toward fall, the battle begins with humidity, pests, disease and weeds. In addition, the passing of the Summer Solstice (usually around June 20-21) brings shorter days. This means our window is starting to close to succession plant warm season tender annuals in time to harvest them before fall frost.
We are still a new farm without established perennials, woodies and structures to extend parts of our season and fill harvest gaps that happen with planting annuals. During our first season, we found ourselves scrambling from late July into early September to make mixed bouquets for orders. Our cool flowers were extinguished by the heat. We lost entire beds of zinnias and basil to powdery mildew that we needed to fill our mixed bouquet orders. Much to our disappointment, I had to go to our commercial customers and tell them we were finished selling for the year.
I took good notes that season because I never wanted to go through that again.
The following year I planned, prepared, and strategized for the field meltdown that happens here in late July until September. I made a list of the annual flowers that I knew we could grow and count on for the hottest parts of summer to build the mixed bouquets that are the heart of our farm sales.
Once July begins, I know I need to look for flowers and bouquet fillers that both: a) are easy to start from seed (no time to baby seedlings in the middle of the season), and b) have a seed-to-harvest window of less than 90 days.
My flower friends, if you’re in the same boat you need look no further than these easy to grow flowers: zinnias, celosia, sunflowers, and marigolds. If you carefully plan your colors and varieties within these groups you’ll have a winning combination to carry your customers and sales until your fall frost!
On our farm we grow multiple varieties within the same flower family to help build our bouquets. Over half of our mixed bouquet is filler and foliage flowers, and within these flower groups there are varieties that can be filler and foliage ingredients.
Here is my list of favorite varieties in each family for mixed bouquets.
Sunflowers as a Focal Flower
Procut Orange is our biggest weekly seller right up until our fall frost.
In July we start these varieties to add to our offerings: Procut Bicolor, Procut Red Lemon Bicolor, Procut Plum, Marley.
Sunflowers for Filler/Foliage
As the days get shorter so do sunflowers, and these varieties can help fill bouquets. Start them 2 seeds per cell in 128 trays to get small blooms that florists love to use:
Procut White Lite, Procut White Nite, Sun-Fill Green, Sun-Fill Purple.
Celosia cristata (cockscomb) will not work at this point in the season so you’ll want to plant the plume varieties which work great to fill out bouquets. Their texture is a great addition to fall mixed bouquets or just on their own.
Marigolds as a Focal Flower
Marigold blooms are the colors of fall! These varieties produce well under the heat of summer and are productive right up to fall frost. Make sure to pinch these varieties since the center stem can shoot out top heavy blooms that snap off in bouquets:
Xochi Orange, Coco Yellow, Coco Gold, Coco Deep Orange.
Marigolds for Foliage/Filler
Some people are turned off by the scent of marigold leaves but did you know there’s a new variety that doesn’t have this issue? ‘Nosento’ is not only a great lime green color that helps fill out bouquets but it’s also nearly scentless!
Zinnias as a Focal Flower
We can sell any and every zinnia right up to our fall frost. Once August begins, all our customers start grabbing the richer colors of late summer and fall and pass on pink and purple colors. Benary’s Giant Zinnias: Deep Red, Yellow, Orange, Scarlet Red.
Zinnias as a Filler Flower
I’ll let you in on a little secret: we double the number of our Benary’s Giant Lime Green Zinnias at every planting to help fill bouquets. When I told our florists they worked great as a flower to add greenery to arrangements, they began doubling their orders as well! They’ve become workhorses for us and our florists. The ‘Queen’ series works fantastic to fill out bouquets and for florists’ fall weddings: Lemon Peach, Lime Orange, Lime Blotch, Lime Red, Queen Mix.
If you’re looking for detailed growing information, check out Vegetables Love Flowers, Lisa’s book about a three-season cutting garden. Lisa’s annual online school also offers detailed growing tips as well as vital business skills for flower farmers.
The key for us was gaining an in-depth understanding of our area’s growing seasons by taking good notes throughout the season. Once we learned more about what grows well for us at different times we stopped coming up short on bouquet ingredients during the hottest part of the season. I would encourage all flower growers to do the same: take good notes, keep growing and reframe the “failures” as learning opportunities.