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A Flower Garden From Seed

by Cliff Sharples (chief cultivator)

In Racine, Wisconsin, the growing season is short, but gardeners like Kris Reisdorf make the most of summer's long, sultry days with lush annual plantings. The front yard of her home on the north shore of Lake Michigan sprouts a living tapestry in broad-sweeping beds brimming with ready-made bouquets of floral beauties. The best part of her showstopping garden is that it's all easily grown from seed.

A seedy paradise
Kris creates what she calls a "perennial look-alike garden" using annuals that are all grown from seed. Since she works as the head of marketing at Milaeger's Perennials in Racine, Kris simply picks up her flats of flowering plants at the garden center (mostly because her spring is so busy at the business). But she admits that any gardener could easily duplicate her cottagey look armed with nothing more than some seed-starting kits, some seed starting soil mix, and some seeds.

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The mix of blooms includes old-fashioned favorites, such as zinnia and cosmos, along with newfound bloomers, like 'Italian White' sunflower and 'Indian Summer' rudbeckia. The result is a 50- to 60-foot-long, 6-foot-wide bed of dancing, swaying blossoms that are as carefree as a summer afternoon on a hammock. The color lingers from planting time until frost. To learn more about the design tips Kris uses when planting her garden, click here.

Planting
Tucking transplants into soil usually occurs the first week of June, when soil is warmed up and the beds are prepared. "In my younger days, I was so anxious to plant that I would put things in too early," Kris laughs. "The soil was cold and wet, and the plants would just sit there. If we hit a rainy spell, they would all defoliate, and I'd have to start over."

Many of the beauties Kris uses in the garden are warm-weather bloomers (cleome, cosmos, Zinnia angustifolia), so waiting to plant is crucial. "With the shorter annuals, many are budded and ready to flower when you plant them," she says. The taller types come into their own in a couple of weeks. By late June, the beds bloom in a breathtaking display of colorful flower forms. Click here to learn about Kris' favorite flowers.

No-maintenance beauty
Maintaining the blossoms requires short-term and long-term effort. The short-term effort is the on-going deadheading-removing flowers as they fade. But even that is not a do-or-die task, Kris admits. "As I cut flowers for bouquets, I clip off dead blooms. And if I don't get out there just to remove the dead flowers, it's still okay. The plants are really forgiving: They just keep blooming."

The long-term effort is actually a series of activities that takes place prior to and during planting, but that have an effect all season long. "The most important thing to understand is that plants need food. Generally, soil is not adequate to supply all the nutrients a plant needs," Kris explains.

"If gardeners are going to do anything, they should fertilize." She incorporates a granular, slow-release fertilizer into soil at planting time. "Liquid feeds are great for blooms in containers, but too diluted for flowers in beds."

The annuals bloom until frost, and then just fade into winter. Kris does no winter clean-up in beds in fall, but waits until spring to tug out the biggest stalks. Then, it's simply a matter of rototilling flower remains, along with a dose of peat moss, into beds. The peat moss helps the sandy soil to retain moisture. After that, it's ready, set, sow.

Click here to read about Kris' annual flower bed design tips.
Click here to learn of her favorite flowers.
Click here to see annual flowers.

Tags

Annuals, flower beds, summer flowers, cutting gardens, country garden

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