• Everbloom Fields

 

Dahlia Cornel

When I started flower farming, I saw my northern neighbors grow Dahlias by the bucket load. But when I began to research, what I read about growing Dahlias in the south was a little off-putting and somewhat disheartening. My first year attempting to grow them did not bolster my spirits. Almost all of them rotted. I thought pots were the answer (I read of a flower farmer who used pots for better drainage) but my potted ones rotted too. The few that survived looked sickly through our scorching summer and bug-ridden. Blooms in the fall were few (though pretty!!)

 

My data analyst mind took over and I began to look at every variable possible and set about improving each and every angle of the process. Though I've thrown in the towel on other crops (parrot tulips for instance) - I'm not moving on from Dahlias!!

 

1. Shade vs. sun: you'll traditionally read 'full sun' for Dahlias but I almost always question full sun recommendations. They were likely not made by someone as close to the equator as we are! :D We plant our Dahlia's in partial shade and they thank us for it when we have months of triple digit dry scorching heat. Even the night time temperatures here are hot!

 

2. Soil - our soil is clay. This is a huge consideration and makes the approach to growing much different than loam or sandy soil. Dahlia's grow from tubers and tubers are easily rotted when sitting in moisture. Clay loves to hold moisture for a long time. When is our clay holding moisture? Spring rains. When is our clay dry? Summer.

 

3. With the above in mind, I ditched the traditional wisdom of planting your tubers after the first frost and instead planted mine after the spring rains. Even though our last frost is typically March 15th, we have such a long growing season that putting off Dahlia planting for several months didn't hurt the time they'd have to mature. I planted mine mid-May in raised beds amended with lots of nice compost for drainage. No rot!

 

4. Here comes the southern twist - just when you've escaped the spring rains you're thrown into near drought conditions. So the dahlia's had to be watered. Alot. Ironic. :D [By the way, this is an excellent argument for rain water harvesting, just use your spring rains in the summer!]

 

5. Fertilize. When the tubers sprouted nicely, they needed nitrogen to grow. The soil was amended with lots of compost but we also fed them fish fertilizer once a month and compost tea almost as frequently.

 

Dahlia Cafe au Lait

 

6. Pinching. As July started heating up, we severely cut back our dahlia's. By cutting them back from 12-18 inches to 6 inches, it promoted more growth, more branching, and cut out some bug issues that had started.

 

7. More water. Through-out August and into our unseasonably hot September, we watered our Dahlias for about an hour every other day. This was double last year's watering amount and it made a humongous difference in the health of our plants. With water scarcity issues, we had to really consider how sustainable this crop was and determine if our rain water would be enough to make up for the thirsty plants. Considering the rest of our crops are pretty drought hardy, we decided the Dahlia's could stay.

 

8. Though we have a long enough growing season, our bloom season is still pretty short. Dahlias like to bloom when the days are warm but the nights are cool. Also, once day-length falls below 12 hours, they go into tuber-production instead of flower production. We start cooling down here about the same time that day-length falls close to 12, so the harvest season isn't super long. In the middle of September, we switch from feeding them nitrogen to feeding them a bloom promoter - basically potash and which encourages them to set bloom.

 

 

9. The last, and perhaps most important consideration when growing Dahlias in the south is variety. This has been once of the most difficult things to find information about. The number of varieties are staggering and not all have been tested on a large scales in warm climates. So we're still learning. Hopefully soon, I'll be able to write a post about the best varieties!

 

10. The analyst in me had to get a round number! Support: we use tomato cages - at $2.50 per cage at Home Depot, they're affordable for us on a small scale. As we get a larger patch or try out bushier varieties we may experiment with other methods of support.

 

Happy Growing!!

Sarah Jo

Everbloom Fields

 

  • Everbloom Fields

On May 23th, our little plot will officially receive 14 hours of daylight. And that will be true until July 21st. This little bit of information, strangely, matters quite a lot! Many plants are day-length sensitive. This means they initiate flowering when the day-length is 14 hours or more, or they flower when the days are shorter in length. To complicate things, some plants MUST have a certain day-length while others are simply affected by it as a preference. Some plants need only 10 hours of day-length, some prefer 12+ hours. Some will go ahead and flower anyway if the temperature is hot or cold enough even if the day-length is not what they prefer. Usually, there's some downside, like shorter stems or poorer quality. Plants can be picky :D

 

The rich colors of cosmos.

 

Some of the plants we grow which have day-length sensitivity are:

 

Sunflowers - many sunflowers prefer 14 hours. If you plant them after May in the Texas heat, chances are they'll bloom sooner for you than your seed packet indicates.

 

Asters - they are tricky. They like to grow during long-hour days and flower under short-days that are cool. This means if you can nurse them through our summer heat, you should get beautiful fall blooms.

 

Cosmos - they also prefer to flower under short-days but they like it hot. If you plant them after May, you'll only get bushy growth but wonderful flowers once August hits. Before that, you may get flowers now, on tiny plants barely grown.

 

Foxglove - they like longer days but cooler weather. This means if we have a hot spring, not so good. But a cool spring will give us a nice one-time harvest. Those lucky northern gardeners often get a second harvest because it's still cool for them as the days grow long. No such luck here!

 

Strawflower - they also like longer days but can handle warmer temperatures than the foxglove. Our strawflower is really really tall but refuses to bloom until the days get longer! We've been patiently waiting and while it looks like we'll get nice strawflower on super long stalks, we'll likely only get one harvest of it and not a secondary harvest. Since space is short, there's some question as to whether we'll give it space next year. :)

 

Strawflower waits to bloom until the days are long.

 

Stock - Likes to flower under long days but cool temperatures. That's really tricky here because the warm short-days often trigger flowering on really short plants. We're working with different fall plantings in the hoop house and different varieties to find the best approach.

 

Snapdragons - depending on the variety, they flower under shorter days and cooler temperatures but only after a long juvenile period. So we have to make sure to plant early enough before the spring heat comes!

 

Statice - it likes to grow during long-days and flower during short days and warm weather. That's a super big problem here :) Unless you grow it for more than a year, or (like we did) grow the seedlings under a grow light early in the year to give it long-days and then transplant it outside during our short-day, cooler weather early spring. So I guess you could say we tricked it. *snicker* But it's giving us flower stems! We'll see if it noticed our trickery and how tall and pretty the flowers are. We're not sure yet who'll get the last word.

 

Basil - even if you were to grow these in the warmest heated greenhouse, unless they get 10 hours of daylight, they will not like you (honestly, sometimes I feel that way also :) Thankfully, we're now at 12+ hours of daylight and they're super happy.

 

Rudbeckia (black-eyed susan) grows vegetatively during short days and flowers when days are long. If you plant it out too late, it will bloom on very short stems because the day length is long.

 

All of this can make your head spin a little. But in another life, I was a data-analyst so I'm a nerd that likes all of this :) It might be a bit much for a home gardener to worry about but if you've ever wondered why some of these plants were being a little weird for you, this post might explain why. If you're really nerdy, like me, and want to read some technical data on these and other day-length sensitive plants, this study by Purdue is excellent: https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/HO/HO-249-W.pdf

 

Happy Growing!

Sarah Jo

Everbloom Fields

 

  • Everbloom Fields

 

 

 

If you come across a bag of ranunculus corms at your local nursery and the picture on the bag is stunning (they are!) but the spidery looking lumps are just creepy (or worse: intimidating), let me assure you that they are worth the risk! Ranunculus can over winter in our mild Texas weather and use the cool chills to develop a robust root system, giving delicate, layered, colorful flowers in early spring, just when we're all tired of the mud! 

Ranunculus have the best chance of growing if you pre-sprout them first. Get a bucket of water deep enough to submerge the amount of corms you have. It's important that the bucket be very clean, bacteria is never good when it comes to flowers. Then soak the corms for 4 hours. Leave the bucket under a constant drip or put an aerator from a fish tank in the bucket - you want constant movement in the water to prevent rotting. In 4 hours, the spidery corms will plump to twice their size. Fill a tray or  box or crate with moist potting soil and bury the corms gently, they can be close together but not touching each other. The potting soil shouldn't be too wet so that it clumps, that will produce rot, but you do want some moisture in it. Then place the box in a cool dark environment for 10-12 days. Check it occasionally to make sure the soil didn't completely dry out and wet it a little if needed. Honestly, we just make sure our soil is moist and then we neglect it - haha! Farmers don't often have extra time to check on things. :p We used our unheated garage and it worked fine even with a couple 80' days thrown in there (thanks Texas!) 

When they've sprouted, plant them with the little legs facing down into the dirt and the new green shoots facing up. We don't plant them super deep, maybe 1/2 an inch, but if the temperature drops below 20' then we'll throw some plastic over them for good measure. Next spring, we'll be drooling over the results!!

 

 

 

#ranunculus #fallchores