Early Flower Care
13 April 2005
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Charlottesville/Albemarle County Office
460 Stagecoach Road, Charlottesville, Virginia 22902
phone: 434.872.4580 fax: 434.872.4578
Even though we are still two weeks shy of the average last frost date for this area the stores are already selling enough annuals and perennials to tempt most of us. If you can wait until May the chance of frost will be less but there are other concerns to consider as you get started on a new growing season in your garden. If you pamper your plants early you will be rewarded with beautiful blooms during midsummer. There are several jobs you should perform to produce sturdy vigorous plants.
Fertilizing: Most flowers will need some extra fertilizer after they start active growth unless your soil is very rich. Observe the color of the leaves. If they become light green or yellow, you should apply a side dressing of a fertilizer containing nitrogen. Use about 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 100-foot row. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly around the plants covering the entire space between the rows. Scratch it into the top inch of soil with a rake. For quick action, water the garden thoroughly to dissolve the nitrogen and move it down to the root zone of the plants.
The amount of side dressing you use must be adjusted according to the fertility of your soil and the needs of your flowers. The 1 pound of 10-10-10 per 100 feet of row is suggested for an average garden soil. If you have an infertile, sandy soil, use 1.5 to 2 pounds. On fertile, loam soil, use only half the suggested amount. If the leaves of your flowers have nice, dark-green color, you may omit the side dressing entirely.
Plant Height: Low, compact, flowering plants are more attractive in the flower bed or border than tall rangy ones. Also, tall ones may be broken during wind or rain storms. Therefore, when your plants are 5 or 6 inches tall, pinch off about 1 inch of the main stem. Several side branches will develop. These may then be pinched back when about 4 inches long. The result will be a bushy plant that will produce a large quantity of flowers. This pinching practice is particularly useful for the taller growing varieties of aster, larkspur, marigold, snapdragon, and zinnia. Alternatively, you can select some of the shorter cultivars available to control plant height.
Disbudding: If you prefer a smaller number of larger flowers than the mass of blooms you get for the double-pinched, compact plant described above, pinch only once and allow not more than four stems to develop on each plant. As the stems grow tall, remove the side buds that develop in the angles of the leaves. This is called disbudding, and it allows the top flower bud to grow large and have a long straight stem. Disbudding is commonly done with dahlias and chrysanthemums and for producing specimen blooms for a flower show or exhibit. Inspect your plants every few days and remove the side buds as soon as they are a half inch or more long. They will break out easily if pulled sideways on the stem.
Support: If your plant stems grow tall, tie them with soft cord to a stake for support. Unsupported stems with a large bloom on top may be easily broken in windy weather.
Moisture: Your flower garden needs adequate moisture to promote continued vigorous growth. During periods of drought apply water by using a sprinkler or special perforated irrigation hose. Wet the soil thoroughly to a depth of about 5 inches whenever it becomes dry. A light sprinkling will give only temporary relief, while deep watering allows water to get to the plant roots where it is needed most.
Aesthetics: During the entire summer remove all faded and dying flowers. This will improve the appearance of your garden or border and promote continuous blooming.
If you are looking to purchase plants, consider your local garden centers, nurseries, farmers markets, and plant sales. This area has a good variety of garden centers and nurseries as well as markets plant sales. The garden centers and nurseries you can find in the phone book. Here are a couple markets to try:
- Nelson County Farmers Market, Saturday mornings 8 am to 12 noon from May through October, Route 151, Nellysford
- Charlottesville City Market, Water & First Streets - 7am-12noon, Saturdays, mid-April to end of October
Some local plant sales in the next few weeks are as follows:
The Fluvanna Master Gardeners Third Annual Seminar and Plant Sale will be held on April 30 from 8:30 to 3:30 at the Beaver Dam Baptist Church on Rt. 250. Seminar topics include heirloom apples and vegetables and native plants. Seating is limited. Call 591-1950 for details.
The Nelson County Master Gardeners along with the Rockfish Valley Community Center and the Rockfish Valley Ruritans will sponsor their Fifth Annual Pre-Mother's Day Plant Sale on Sunday, May 1, 2005, from 10am -4pm at the Ruritan Park off Rt. 151. There will be plant and garden craft vendors. The Master Gardeners will sell plants and answer gardening questions. Call 361-9147 or 361-1309 for details.
On Saturday, May 7, from 9am to 12pm, the Piedmont Master Gardeners of Charlottesville & Albemarle County will have their plant sale at the Meadowbrook Shopping Center. The Master Gardeners will sell plants and answer gardening questions. Call 872-4580 for details.
For more information about landscape topics contact your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office. The local Virginia Cooperative Extension office numbers are Albemarle 872-4580, Fluvanna 591-1950, Greene 985-5236, Louisa 540-967-3422, and Nelson 263-4035.