Category Archives: Garden Advice

Succession Planting Flowers

Having blooms in the garden all summer long is the goal of many flower gardeners. Whether your aim is to keep fresh bouquets on the table or a banquet in your pollinator garden it will take a bit of planning. Many flowers can be succession planted to provide a steady supply of blooms.

Sweet Peas

Sweet peas are an excellent flower to start the season because they germinate at 55°F. Soak seeds for 24 hours and direct sow as soon as soil can be worked in the spring. Plant a second batch 2-3 weeks after the first. Those in cooler climates may be able to fit in another succession but sweet peas generally do best in cool, spring weather.

Bachelor’s Button

These adorable little flowers should be direct sown in mid-spring. Their ideal germination temperature is around 60°F. Like Sweet Peas, you can plant 2-3 successions early in the season.

Larkspur

Larkspur also prefers cool weather and germinates best when the soil temperature is around 60°F. It can be direct sown as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. You may be able to get a couple more successions, planting every two weeks, before the weather gets hot depending on your climate.

Breadseed Poppies

Another spring favorite, poppies can be sown in late fall or early spring and germinate best at about 60°F. You may be able to get two or three successions planted before the weather gets too warm. The dried seed pods make a nice addition to cut or dry flower bouquets.

Cosmos

Cosmos are one of the best choices for those who want a lot of cut flowers! Cutting flowers and deadheading encourages cosmos to continue blooming. They’re highly productive. For extra early blooms, cosmos can be sown indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. They germinate best when the soil temperature reaches about 70°F. Sow outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and sow every 2-3 weeks until midsummer if desired.

Zinnias

A workhorse in any flower garden, zinnias can be sown every 2-3 weeks until about midsummer. Zinnias will provide more continuous blooms if you “deadhead” them, removing blooms that are past their prime.

Sunflowers

Just like zinnias, sunflowers may be sown every 2-3 until around midsummer. Note that different varieties vary in their days to maturity. Ornamental varieties like Velvet Queen are great choices for cut flowers as they are poly-headed and offer multi-color blooms. Silverleaf Sunflowers are highly attractive to pollinators, heavily branched, and bloom until frost.

Asters

Asters can be direct sown or transplanted after the danger of frost has passed. They germinate best when the soil temperature is around 70°F. They bloom in about 85 days and can be sown every 2-3 weeks into July for continuous blooms.

Tithonia

Great for attracting butterflies, Tithonia germinates in a wide range of soil temperatures, 68-86°F. It can be sown indoors 3-4 weeks before transplanted or direct sown. Plant after last frost. It can be sown every 2-3 weeks until midsummer.

Marigolds

Marigolds offer a long bloom period. Our earliest variety Lemon Drop will bloom from June until frost. Marigolds can be direct sown or transplanted after last frost. Multiple successions can be sown every few weeks. How many successions will depend on the variety (days to maturity vary greatly) and your climate.

These are just a few of the flowers that you can succession plant to keep your garden blooming all season long. When planning other flowers just keep in mind the days to maturity and ideal planting conditions.

Additional tips for a full season of flowers:

Planting for Hummingbirds

In the past we’ve discussed the basics of pollinator gardens, planting for Black Swallowtail Butterflies, and 5 butterflies common to the Mid-Atlantic and how to support them. We’ve also covered 10 beneficial birds and how to attract them. However, a Facebook follower recently pointed out we haven’t done a post about hummingbirds! So without further adieu, here’s what you should know about planting for hummingbirds.

Hummingbird Species

If you live in the Eastern U.S., the hummingbirds you see are likely to be Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Occasionally, Black-chinned Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds are seen during the winter, primarily in the Deep South.

A great resource for bird lovers is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology Macaulay Library. You can find photos, videos, and audio recordings of birds from all over.

Habitat and Diet

Hummingbirds spend a lot of their time in open woodlands but they’re easily tempted into yards and gardens with flowers and feeders. You can make your garden and yard more appealing by avoiding large, open areas. Birds prefer to have shelter in the form of clusters of trees, shrubs, or even vines on harbors. They also prefer a varied garden. Opt for plants in a variety of heights. Hummingbirds migrate to Mexico and South America each winter.

Hummingbirds are pollinators and are known for their habit of eating nectar and sap. They may also help keep pests down in your garden too. Hummingbirds are omnivores and sometimes feed on small insects and spiders. They need to eat about twice their body weight per day due to their high metabolism which helps them sustain their rapid wing beats.

Keeping your lawn and garden free of chemicals like insecticides helps keep hummingbirds and other important wildlife healthy.

Flowers

Hummingbirds tend to have a preference for long, tubular flowers that hold a lot of nectar. They also rely heavily on sight to find flowers so those that are brightly colored are excellent choices. It should be noted that though they love the color red you shouldn’t buy or make red “hummingbird food.” Red dyes and food coloring are harmful to hummingbirds.

Here are a few great choices:

They’ll also visit flowering shrubs, vines, and trees like Honeysuckle, Cardinal Vine, Rhododendron, and Butterfly Bush.

Having flowers available in the fall can be especially helpful as hummingbirds prepare to migrate. They sometimes double their weight in preparation for their long flight south! Take a look at blooming times and opt for long-blooming varieties or experiment with multiple successions of annuals.

What’s a Nitrogen Fixer?

Nitrogen fixing plants have a symbiotic relationship with specific bacteria. The bacteria colonize the plant’s roots and pull nitrogen out of the atmosphere. The bacteria uses the nitrogen and then it becomes available to the plant.

Nitrogen fixing plants include most plants in the legume family. They also include certain grasses like buckwheat but legumes are generally the most efficient. 

Why are they important?

Nitrogen is key for plant growth. Plants require it in order to perform photosynthesis. Yellow or pale leaves can be a sign that your soil lacks sufficient nitrogen. Rotating nitrogen-fixing crops through your garden replenishes nutrients in the soil without resorting to using synthetic fertilizers. 

Many nitrogen fixing crops, like those listed below, are used as cover crops or green manures. Like other cover crops they help prevent moisture loss, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for beneficial insects and fungi all while adding nitrogen to the soil. Using cover crops is in investment in soil health.

Nitrogen Fixing Cover Crops

Other legume crops like beans and peas are also nitrogen fixing. Pole beans are grown in the “Three Sisters” garden technique because they help provide nitrogen for the heavy-feeding corn.

Growing Cover Crops

Nitrogen fixing cover crops can be used in different ways. Biennial or perennial crops like clover are often grown for a season or year and then tillled under. This process adds organic matter to the soil and makes the plants’ nitrogen and other nutrients available to your crops. Alternatively winter-kill or annual crops like Sunn Hemp die back on their own and can be used as mulch. As they decompose they add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. 

These nitrogen fixing crops are also perfect for permanent pathways between rows or beds. Clover pathways in particular can be mowed through the summer. The clippings make excellent mulch for the adjacent beds.  

You can find more individual information under individual variety descriptions.