Growing your own flowers to cut for your home is a really wonderful thing to do and is becoming increasingly popular as we all spend more time in our gardens. You don’t need a big space – flowers can be grown in pots and troughs just as happily as in flower beds, but if you do have space, a dedicated cutting bed is a great addition to any garden. Many people have become aware that the cut flowers we buy are not always seasonally grown and are also often flown here from abroad. By growing your own, you are helping the planet not to mention the eco-system of your own back yard.
What you’ll need…
To grow flowers from seed is much easier than you might think. To make a start you’ll need:
- Something to sow your seeds into – this can either be the type of seed trays you buy with individual ‘cells’, coir pots, ordinary plant pots, old washed out yoghurt pots (carefully make a few drainage holes in the bottom), have a look around and see what you can repurpose. So long as your container is not too deep and has some sort of drainage holes, you should be good to go.
- Compost – this is the soil in which your seeds will grow. Always make sure the compost you buy is peat free.
- Seed trays without holes – once your seeds are sown in their containers you’ll need to water them. By standing them in a tray you can keep the plants watered without making a mess or wasting water.
- Seeds…this is the fun part! – look online or at your garden centre to see what you’d like to grow. Some flowers are better as cut flowers than others (see a list at the bottom for some great varieties to get started with). Look at the packet as it will usually say. Start with a few things and see how you get on… but beware it’s very hard to stop yourself from buying more and more!
Timing… when to sow?
Timing really is important when growing from seed. To put it simply, your seeds will need lots of light to grow onto healthy plants. Light levels in the UK start to improve in February and this is a great time to start off some seeds. You want your plants to grow slowly and strongly.
Get started…sow some seeds!
Take your growing container and fill it loosely with compost. Make sure the compost doesn’t have any big lumps or air pockets but don’t firm it down. Look at your seed packet. Seeds have different sowing instructions which it makes sense to follow so you get the seed to germinate successfully. If the instructions aren’t clear, do an internet search. For example: How do you sow Cornflowers?
You’re looking to see how deep the seeds should be sown, whether they should be covered in compost and whether they should be sown individually.
This part is really important.
Some seeds are big and easy to sow into individual pots or cells, such as sunflowers.
Some seeds are tiny, like snapdragons for example, and are quite tricky to sow just one seed into a pot. You can sow these tiny seeds in a flat seed tray and then once the seeds have germinated and have one set of ‘true leaves’ you can prick them out into a bigger pot to grow them on.
The first set of leaves to appear once the seed germinates and are called the seed leaves, but these are too fragile to handle. Once the seedling has its second set of leaves, its 'true leaves', it is usually strong enough to be moved.
‘Pricking out’ is the method of moving seedlings on from their initial container into something bigger for them to grow on, like an individual small plant pot. If you have no idea what to do there is masses of help and advice about this online and it’s a really relaxing and therapeutic activity.
Sow your seeds according to the instructions and then water them carefully. Seeds can easily be washed away if you are heavy-handed with the initial watering and this can mean they won’t germinate. TOP TIP: try watering your seeds from underneath using the tray they are standing in. The water will soak up into to the compost rather than compacting your soil from above. Try not to over water either as some seeds can rot.
Put your seed trays somewhere warm and bright like a sunny windowsill and see what happens. Give your seeds as much light as you can, keep the soil moist and keep an eye on them. If as they germinate they look tall and leggy they may need more light. Turning your trays regularly can help your seedlings get light on each side. Keep your baby plants growing indoors until they look strong and then get them outside in their pots to grow on. It’s important they get used to outside temperatures gradually, avoiding frost by bringing them back inside overnight if necessary. If you have a greenhouse or cold frame, this is the perfect place for your plants to grow on. But don’t be tempted to baby your plants too much! They need to get toughened up to survive outside. This is called hardening off. If your baby plants seem to be outgrowing their first container you can pot them up into a bigger pot until you are ready to plant them out.
Check the growing instructions on your seed packet about how, where and when to plant outside but try to make sure your plants look big, strong and healthy before you do. If you’re creating a cutting bed, prepare the ground well by mixing in organic matter such as well rotted manure. It helps if you choose a planting position where your plants will get plenty of sun. It sometimes takes time to figure out what works well in your soil and the best planting position. But creating a cutting garden is a learning curve and you can expect some things to work better than others. The key is to try things and just see what happens…TOP TIP: If you're planting your flowers for cutting, you can plant out in rows, like you would with vegetables. This saves space and means you can usually fit more in.
A word about pesticides…
Don’t use them. There is really no need and each insect in the garden is there for a reason. Aphids for example are food for ladybirds. Slugs are food for hedgehogs and birds. Yes, they are annoying and can be destructive but they have their role to play. If you lose some plants, so be it. You can plant more, and growing lots cheaply from seed to start with makes even more sense.
Give it a try and be adventurous but bear this in mind…
One lesson that all gardeners learn pretty early on is that some things are easy to grow and others are harder and a huge part of gardening is accepting that some things will work brilliantly, some will get eaten by bugs, some will be blown over in the wind and other such catastrophes… but that’s fine because for every fail there will be a success which will knock your socks off!
10 EASY CUT FLOWERS TO GROW FROM SEED –
Cornflowers, Calendula, Achillea, Poppies, Sunflowers, Zinnias, Nigella, Nicotiana, Cosmos, Snapdragons
Words by Vanessa @thefoxglovegarden