If you garden at all in the fall, you probably think primarily about leafy greens and root crops. The big focus is garlic, perennial onions, and tough vegetables that can overwinter in hoop houses and cold frames. However, fall is also a great time to start working on next season’s flower garden.
Fall sown seeds will bloom earlier, helping you create a colorful garden throughout spring and summer. They won’t grow during the winter but will take off in the spring much faster than spring-sown flowers. Fall sowing can also allow you to direct sow more seeds rather than start them indoors in the spring.
Cool-season annuals, flowers that readily self-sow, perennials, biennials, and native flowers are generally good choices for fall sowing. Some flowers like certain varieties of echinacea and Dara will grow better when fall sown. This is because these seeds require a cold period to germinate well.
Generally, it’s best to sow or transplant these flowers 4 to 6 weeks before your first fall frost. You’ll notice that many flowers are dropping seeds around this time. This gives them time to establish a good root system before winter begins. Sow these flower seeds in beds that receive full sun. Prepare your bed ahead of time by loosening the soil with a garden fork or broad fork, adding a couple of inches of well-aged compost, and raking it smooth. Plant each variety as usual, according to packet instructions.
Northern gardeners may need to provide their plants with extra protection such as low tunnels or wait until early spring.
You may also want to consider preparing for next summer by gathering materials for staking or trellising flowers that require it, such as sweet peas and hollyhocks. If you’re growing cut flowers, setting up a horizontal netting while the plants are still small and allowing the flowers to grow up through it can help keep them straight and tidy.
Having fresh flowers on the table can help make a home feel pleasant and inviting. Store-bought flowers can be expensive, but growing your own may not be as hard as you’d think. Gardeners can grow and create their own cut flower bouquets with surprisingly little time and space.
What Types of Flowers Should I Grow?
There are many flowers that are suitable and easy to grow as cut flowers. These include:
Especially if you’re new to flower gardening, we recommend growing zinnias and cosmos as they produce tons of flowers over a long season. The more you cut and deadhead, the more they produce.
Just as you need healthy soil to produce a good vegetable crop, you need healthy soil to grow quality cut flowers. Forking your flower bed, adding compost, and testing your soil before planting can help ensure that you get a great harvest.
Plant Early & Plant Successions
Many flowers need to be started indoors weeks before your last frost. Be sure to read the growing instructions for your chosen varieties well before the season begins and stay on top of spring planting.
You can also use the fall to do some extra-early planting. Tuck in bulbs like daffodils and tulips and sow self-seeding flowers like poppies. Visit our post, Fall-Sown Flowers for Spring Blooms, for more ideas.
Throughout the beginning and middle of the summer continue sowing, if you have space. Some quick-growing flowers like zinnias can be sown every 2-3 weeks until midsummer. For more details on how to succession plant flowers, check out our post, Succession Planting Flowers.
Keep the Weeds Down
Keeping the weeds at bay, especially while plants are getting established, is essential. Plants won’t produce as many flowers if they’re competing with the weeds for nutrients and space.
Consistent watering is key to good flower production. Soaker hoses or drip irrigation are an ideal low maintenance way to keep flowers watered. They’re also more efficient!
You can also mulch around flowers once they’re up. Mulch will help block weeds and keep the soil cool and moist.
Harvest & Deadhead Regularly
It may seem counter-intuitive, but for many “cut flower” varieties, the more you harvest, the more they will grow. The same goes for deadheading. Not letting flowers go to seed will encourage them to keep producing. So even if you don’t need another bouquet, cut your flowers and give them to a friend.
There are a few things you should know when harvesting cut flowers. The first is that your flowers will last the longest and look the best if you harvest them in the morning after the dew has dried, but while it’s still cool.
Always use clean cutting tools. Cut stems at a 45° angle and bring flowers into the shade as soon as possible. When arranging flowers, remove all foliage that’s below the waterline.
Early in my gardening career I made the decision that I wasn’t going to “waste space” in my meager garden on flowers. Foolishly I thought that all they were good for was looking pretty. Slightly older and wiser me knows that flowers are for so much more than looks. Flowers are key to a productive garden. Some varieties are loved by pollinators, others draw in beneficial insects, and some even help repel unwanted pests!
However if you’re a super practical gardener with some serious space restrictions you can get even more benefits out of your flower plantings. These varieties of flowers provide all the typical advantages and are either edible or medicinal.
While sunflower seeds are an obvious edible benefit to growing sunflowers few people know that most of the plant can be eaten at different stages. Sunflower sprouts and very young plants are wonderful tossed into salads. The petals are a bit bitter but can also be used sparingly in salads. Young stalks can be peeled and used like celery, the leaves can be cooked like greens, and the unopened buds can be used like artichokes.
Bachelor’s buttons are a great way to add a lot of beauty to any dish. They can be eaten fresh in salads or used as a garnish. They’ve even been used to adorn cakes. They also hold their color well when dried and make an excellent natural food dye.
The only part of this flower that’s edible is the seeds. Breadseed poppy pods are filled with poppy seeds that are great for baking. If you love lemon poppy seed muffins this might be the right flower for you!
This one usually surprises people but hollyhocks are entirely edible! The roots, leaves, and flowers can all be eaten though it’s typically just the young leaves and flowers that are eaten fresh. They’re actually related to the mallow plant and the entire plant has a variety of medicinal uses.
Nasturtiums are hard not to love. Their bright orange flowers and lilly pad like leaves add a bit of charm to even the most organized vegetable garden. They’re also delicious and the flowers and leaves make wonderful salads.
A lovely little flower that makes a wonderfully relaxing tea, chamomile really deserves a spot in every garden. It’s easy to grow and easy to use. It has an apple-like flavor and fragrance and is also anit-innflammatory, anti-microbial, and anti-spasmodic.
Though it looks much like chamomile, feverfew is a seperate medicinal herb and as the name suggests has long been used to treat fevers. More recently a study published in the British medical journal Lancet reported that 2-3 fresh leaves of feverfew eaten daily over a period of time reduced the severity and frequency of migraines.
Bergamot is often used to make tea and was used by several Native American tribes as a carminative. It’s also a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies making it definitely worth adding to your garden.
Generally thought of as a calming medicinal herb (try making some tea) lavender is also a tasty culinary herb. It can be used to flavor beverages, breads, cookies and more.
If your space and time are limited it can be really important to get the most out of every square in of garden space. Thankfully there’s no reason to give up the beauty of flowers to do that. These varieties can help you grow a productive garden by providing you with food, medicine, and food for pollinators and beneficial insects as well.