We have been sowing seeds non stop for the past week now at the farm. Seeding is one of my favorite activities. I can visualize how beautiful and full of color our fields will be once they begin to bloom! Here in zone 8b, we start our heat loving fall flowers now with the goal of having blooms by late September through first frost. The list is long and filled with new varieties we're trialling this season. In a few short weeks these babies will be ready to head out of the greenhouse and into the fields!
We start nearly all of our tender annual flowers in plug trays. We use two main sizes, 98 count trays for the larger faster growing plants (sunflowers and zinnias) and 128 count trays for most everything else. Starting them in the greenhouse gives us more control over temperature, watering, and more of a head start on the weeds. Our plugs take an average 4 weeks to form strong roots that are ready to pull and plant into the fields. Starting plants in a greenhouse is helpful, but not absolutely necessary. All of the flowers in this article would be happy to be directly sown into a clean and weed free garden bed as well. When seeding, keep in mind as a general rule that seeds should be planted at a depth that is 1.5-2 times their size.
Once the plants pull easily from their trays we transplant them into raised beds in the field which have been prepared with compost. We like to water them in with dilute seaweed and fish emulsion, which can make for a stinky planting process, but ultimately happy, healthy plants. We plant most of our flowers pretty densely with 4 rows per bed. After they are planted, each bed gets two lines of drip tape for irrigation.
The following 5 flowers are some of my favorites for fall blooms.
Sunflowers: We plant lots of sunflowers in the fall. They are easy to grow, reliable and easy to schedule successions in our planting calendar for continuous flowers from first bloom through first frost. Many varieties are quick to bloom in just 50-60 days while some can take up to 80 days. Check the days to maturity to be sure you have enough time for them to bloom before frost. In the fall I’m drawn towards the darker colored varieties including Red Hedge, ProCut Red, ProCut Bicolor, Chocolate, and Moulin Rouge. I also really love the Strawberry Blondes,ProCut Plum and a Teddy Bear type with a dusty brown center called Starburst Panache from Territorial Seed. We plant our sunflowers 4 rows in the bed 6 inches apart. This dense spacing produces slightly smaller flowers which are more manageable for our bouquet work. We grow mainly single stem varieties, but there are some lovely branching types available as well.
Zinnias: Zinnias are one of the most cheerful flowers in the garden and provide armloads of color until frost. We plant ours 4 rows in the bed 6 inches apart. Some of my favorite varieties include the Persian Carpet Mix for their daintiness and unique color palette, the Cactus Flowered Mix for their distinct petal shape, and the Queen Series, including Queen Red Lime, Queen Lime, and Queen Lime with Blush. I also highly recommend the Oklahoma series which has demonstrated itself to be extremely vigorous in our climate and less susceptible to powdery mildew than some of the other traditional varieties we grow. We plan to plant about 3 successions in the fall.
Celosia: Celosia comes in several different forms including wheat, plume, and crested types. Each one has it's own character and add's a different element to garden beds and bouquets. We plant our celosia densely with 4 rows in the bed with 6-9 inches between plants. This plant sets seed readily and will self sow easily in a garden if blooms are left to mature. This season we are growing 10 different varieties including one unnamed variety from my friend Jon at Cottage Gardens who saved seed from a beautiful crested type he had in his garden. Others we're trailing include the Supercrest Mix, Celway Salmon, Cristata Orange, Chief Persimmon, Bombay Pink, and Sunday Orange. Many celosia come in bright and bold colors, and I've been on the hunt for some more subtle and muted tones we can incorporate into our wedding design work. We source the majority of our flower seed from Gloeckner, but also use Johnny's, Territorial, and Baker Creek . You may also check our Floret Flower Farm's collection of seeds for some new and unusual varieties.
Cosmos: A bed of cosmos in full bloom is a pretty dreamy place to be. These cut and come again beauties produce more the more your harvest them and have beautiful lacy airy, foliage. This fall we are growing 8 varieties including Xanthos (meaning yellow in Greek), which ranges from pale ivory to a beautiful buttercream color. Another fun variety were growing for the second time is Capriola which is white with a light rose picotee. Other varieties worth trying include the Cupcakes mix, Versailles Mix, and Double-click Mix.
Basil: To compliment our blooms we love to incorporate interesting greenery and fragrant foliage into our planting schedule. Basil meets both these criteria for our bouquet work. In our hot humid climate, we've had some issues with basil downey mildew the past few seasons and have been searching for resistant varieties. A clear winner for us has been Cardinal Basil which resisted mildew as our traditional Genovese varieties were ruined along side them. This Thai variety produces big beautiful burgundy colored flower heads atop lush sturdy plants and has a wonderful anise aroma. Other varieties with amazing aroma are Citrus Basil and Aramato.
There are lots more fun annuals to grow for fall including marigolds, amaranth, gomphrena, salvia, ageratum, nasturtium, and lots of fun ornamental grasses to name a few. Trailing any new fun varieties in your garden this fall? I'd love to hear about them! Happy growing!