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Growing flowers for cutting.

Growing flowers for cutting

Flashy blooms, long stems, long vase life--what are the ideal cutting flowers? Last spring we asked readers to tell us their favorite flowers to grow for bouquets. More than 250 responded, nominating several hundred annuals, perennials, and bulbs. The 21 described in the chart on page 104 were the top vote-getters.

What made these winners? Long vase life was a key ingredient (the ones listed last 5 to 10 days), as well as abundant bloom and easy-care plants. Most offer a wide range of flower colors to appeal to different tastes, and two (delphiniums and bachelor's buttons) earned votes primarily for their vivid blues. All have long, stiff stems that make them easy to arrange.

Cutting flowers in the landscape

Plant in raised beds, by an entry, or along a path or driveway. As spring flowers fade, some gardeners poke in new plants for summer bloom.

The top selections in our chart are attractive enought to grow in the limelight; traditionally ungainly plants such as cosmos, delphiniums, and dahlias are now widely available in dwarf varieties.

You can start your cutting garden this month. Many of the spring bloomers listed are still available as bedding plants. Begin summer gardens as soon as plants are available in nurseries, or sow seeds indoors now in flats. Wait until weather is warm to sow heat lovers such as zinnias in the open garden. Plant spring bulbs and bulb-like plants in fall.

Choose a sunny spot, and amend soil with plenty of organic matter (at least one-third the total volume). Since crowded plants bloom poorly, thin seedlings or space plants so that each one will have room to develop to its mature size. Place tall growers toward the back of borders or in the center of open beds.

For mixed bouquets, grow a combination of spiky, round, and filler flowers. Several gardeners suggested selecting flower color to complement furnishings: "My flowers are all from colors in my Persian rug.'

How to make cut flowers last

Experiments by UC Davis researchers and cooperative extension specialists indicate that many of the traditional ways of prolonging the life of cut flowers have few benefits. For instance, crushing woody stems with a hammer "is good if you want to get rid of your tensions, but doesn't help the flowers,' says Michael Reid, professor of environmental horticulture at UC Davis.

For best results, start with a scrubbed vase. Pick flowers in early morning, before they are stressed by heat. Strip off any foliage that will be below the water line. Fill a broad bowl with water, and use sharp shears to cut about an inch off the bottom of each flower stem while holding it under water. Transfer the flower immediately to a vase filled with warm water or preservative solution.

As shown in the large photograph above, cut flowers can be dramatically affected by different water types and solutions. Hard water with a high mineral content can produce dismal results in a bouquet. If you have this type of water, increase flower vase life by switching to distilled or purified water; do not use softened water, which contains salts. Flowers also last longer in commercial preservative, available at some garden centers and florists. These provide the proper acidity, a bactericide to reduce cloudiness of the water, and sugar to "feed' flower buds so they open. An interesting discovery made by UC researchers is that a solution of lemon-lime soft drink (not diet types) and water produced similar effects, as shown above. In some cases, it outperforms commercial products. Occasionally, you may see some minor discoloration at the base of stems.

Vase life is also extended by using water or solution that is warm. Even partially wilted flowers sometimes revive if stems are recut under water, then are immediately placed in warm water of solution.

Table: Rating the most lasting, most colorful flowers for cutting

Photo: Roadside border yields armloads of summer flowers. In David Brewer's garden, white Shasta daisies alternate with yellow gloriosa daisies. Purple-leafed cannas march the full length; other blooms include purple lythrum, yarrow, roses, and daylilies

Photo: Tidy raised bed holds cutting garden of red, pink, yellow, purple, and peach dwarf dahlias. At corners are dwarf French marigolds; in front center, a Signet marigold and baby blue eyes. Sides of 8- by 10-foot beds are half-lapped 2 by 10's

Photo: Front-yard flowers welcome Marde Ross's guests, provide spring bouquets of tulips, white and rose ranunculus. Dwarf white candytuft and gold wallflower border them

Photo: Choice cut flowers in Nancy Lingemann's garden include zinnias (she's holding one), pink and purple asters with yellow centers, dwarf sunflowers, spiky blue delphinium, pink and yellow cosmos, fluffy gold-red double gaillardia, large gloriosa daisies, small blue bachelor's button, dwarf red dahlia

Photo: Typical results of test are shown by rosebuds after five days in different solutions. Bud in hard water never opened

Soft-drink solution (1 part lemon-lime soda to 2 parts water): bud completely open, leaves fresh, water clear

Hard tap water: bud unopened, petals darkened, stem bent. Foliage droopy, water cloudy

Commercial preservative solution: flower full, color good, foliage green and fresh, water clear

Low-mineral tap water: bud partially open, petals dark, stem bending, leaves wilting, water murky

Photo: To test reactions, cut blooms were placed in baby bottles filled with different solutions
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Mar 1, 1984
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