In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Dahlias are the quintessential cutting garden flowers.

The Joy of a Cutting Garden

Have a sunny spot that you want to dress up for the summer? Imagine bright orange Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia); exquisitely yellow, copper-edged 'Karma Corona' dahlias and red-purple 'Karma Thalia' dahlias; 'Seashell' cosmos; fragrant 'Stargazer' lilies; prolific 'Cut and Come Again' zinnias; and clusters of Verbena bonariensis. These are double-your-pleasure flowers -- long-stemmed and cutting-garden perfect. They shine in the garden, on the table, and as gorgeous bouquets for friends.

I'm taking a leap of faith this season. Rather, a longtime garden client is. Betsy has delightedly agreed to experiment with cut flowers in her sunny backyard garden. The soil's already organically rich so will only need a sprinkling of slow-release mineral fertilizer.

"Must-Haves" for Cutting
With soil prep done, we can focus on creating a colorful palette of annuals with 16-inch stems or taller. Zinnias, cleome, cosmos, larkspur, amaranthus, and gomphrena do well from seed directly sown after last frost. For the elegant lisianthus, we'll look for long-stemmed cultivars (Echo series, 'Rose Bouquet', or Cut Rose series) available as plants in 6- or 8-packs. These popular, rose-like flowers come in yellow, pink, lavender, blue, and picotee-edged.

Some cutting garden annuals benefit from a head start so it's best to start their seeds indoors: cockscomb, Mexican sunflower, dwarf sunflower, Chinese aster, ageratum 'Blue Horizon'. We'll transplant those seedlings outdoors after Mother's Day (and threat of frost).

For late-summer into autumn blooms, we'll look to bicolor dahlias, specifically the Karma series developed as cut and display flowers. Planting those tubers around April 20 will give them time to pop up by mid-May.

Red Wiggler Update
Vermiculture suits me. For two weeks I was foster mother to a friend's worm bin in addition to tending my own from January's Tyler Arboretum workshop. My vegetarian friend, Dorothy, had decided keeping worms wasn't for her. She'd expected the worms to devour all her vegetable scraps, eliminating trips to the frozen compost pile. The wrigglers didn't meet the mucho food challenge. So I gave them a temporary home atop my original bin.

One bin was fine. Two, though, started to smell a bit moldy. As luck would have it, a former biology major and his gardener wife were considering getting worms. Now Dorothy's wrigglers have a new home in a suburban kitchen.

My original worm bin requires little maintenance. Every 3 or 4 days I lift the lid, checking to make sure there's condensation on the bin sides and top. I move the straw aside and check for moving worms. If the lid's not covered with water droplets, I mist the straw with room temperature water. Then I serve up dinner -- vegetable scraps, green and herb tea leaves and tea bags, plus moldy refrigerator finds. Amazing how all that disappears in a week!

After more than two months, the straw's nearly gone, too. Do I harvest the meager castings in mid-April or add straw and harvest a larger output in May/June? I'm adding straw and may scoop out castings for spring containers.


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