Sweet William Dianthus: A Biennial Showstopper!

Whether you consider to them to be grown as an annual, biennial, or short-lived perennial; Sweet William, or dianthus barbartus, is absolutely lovely in the garden. Who could have imagined that one little flower could make such a huge difference in the cut flower patch?Since establishing a patch of Sweet William, they've become a staple of the cut flower garden. Most Sweet William seeds I've sown in the past have had a hardiness zone of zones 3-9. This makes it a great option for those looking for fragrant early season flowers for pollinators.

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When I first began gardening, the idea of growing biennial flowers was somewhat mysterious. I wasn't quite sure where to start, or what I should expect. As it turns out, the process of growing these flowers couldn't be more simple. 

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Essentially, a biennial plant is one which lives for two seasons. In the first season, the seed germinates and the plant begins to produce green growth. During the second season, the plant will flower and make seeds. This is the manner in which Sweet William generally behaves, however, there are some exceptions. Hybridized options, such as the 'Amazon' series, will allow for planting and blooms in the same season. This is a perfect option for us, impatient gardeners, who are eager for a beautiful display! 

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Biennial seeds can be started in either spring or mid summer to produce the best results. Sowing the seed is simple, in many cases, direct sowing will yield nice results. Once Sweet William plants become established and are allowed to drop seed, they may reseed themselves quite freely in the garden. As always, be sure to check any local invasive species lists before planting.

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Most Sweet William seeds I've sown in the past have had a hardiness zone of zones 3-9. This makes it a great option for those looking for fragrant early season flowers for pollinators. 

Winter Sowing: Easy Seed Starting for Beginner Gardeners

When I first started gardening, there was one huge obstacle that stood in my way when it came to growing the garden of my dreams - seed starting. Though starting seeds can be done in a variety of ways, I quickly realized that not all plants can be direct sown. Without an indoor growlight system, I simply assumed that there were things I couldn't start from seed. Imagine my disappointment! 

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After a couple growing seasons, I stumbled upon the "winter sowing" method. Simply, the winter sowing method is a way to start seeds by which recycled containers serve as "miniature greenhouses". 

The process is simple:

  1. Find a container. The container needs to be clear or lightly opaque. Two liter bottles and milk jugs are great winter sowing containers. Ideally, we want light to be able to easily pass through the bottle. There also needs to be an opening at the top of the bottle for ventilation, and so that rain and snow can enter. 
  2. Cut the container in half, leaving a small hinge so that the cut bottle and "open" and "close". Add drainage holes to the bottom of the bottle. Be careful during this step. Some plastics are much harder than others and may be difficult to cut. 
  3. Fill the bottle with 3-6 inches of seed starting medium or potting soil. Make sure that the soil is moist at the time of planting. 
  4. Sow seeds into the container according to package instructions.
  5. Tape the bottle closed and place outside in direct sunlight. Wait until the seeds begin to germinate. 

That's it! It's really that simple. Depending upon what you're planting, some containers can be sowed in even the harshest of climates. This technique is especially useful for starting hard-to-germinate perennial flower seeds and herbs. 

Want more information about winter sowing? Check out this free .pdf guide by clicking here!

How to Grow Bachelor's Buttons

Over the last few years, much of the focus in my garden has shifted towards growing flowers from seed. While the main reason for this was initially cost, I was so excited to find that there were other rewards, as well. Each year, the profusion of blooms (started from seed) turns my garden into an urban escape - both for me, and for the pollinators!

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One of my absolute favorite flowers to grow are bachelor's buttons, also known as cornflower. Compared to other flowers, these beauties come in a somewhat limited range of colors (blue is most common). However, it's likely there's enough choice in variety to suit most landscapes and grower tastes.

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The process of growing these plants couldn't be more simple. First, as always, I prepare the planting bed with a high quality compost. Bachelor's button plants don't seem especially particular about their growing conditions in my yard. This also makes them an excellent choice for containers and raised beds. Make sure that the planting location receives ample sunlight, at least six hours, each day. 

After determining the location in which you'd like to plant, now is the time to determine when to plant. Bachelor's buttons are cool season annuals. Cool season annuals are a group of plants that thrive in cooler temperatures. 

This concept can become somewhat tricky for those of us who experience cold winter weather. Here in my Kentucky garden (zone 6b/7), I am able to easily plant bachelor's buttons in the fall and overwinter them in my garden without protection of any kind. These plants are surprisingly cold tolerant and robust. The seedlings in my garden have survived both snowfall and freezing temperatures without much loss. Fall-planted flowers will bloom early the following spring on plants reaching 3-4 feet tall.

For gardeners who live in colder climates in which bachelor's buttons may not be planted in the fall, the flowers may also be direct sowed in the spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Depending upon the climate, spring-sown plants may be somewhat smaller. However, they'll still provide the garden with loads of beautiful blooms. 

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Beyond planting, these flowers require very little attention or care, aside from occasional watering and weeding. I believe that their carefree growing habit make bachelor's buttons a perfect addition to both beginner and expert flower gardens alike!

 

Easy Chrysanthemum Cuttings

Chrysanthemums!  Some people love them, and some people hate them! Chrysanthemum plants are grown from cuttings. I really don’t know the specifics of this, but apparently, the best flowers come from plants with fresh root stock.

While you can order cuttings online, I find that it's best to take cuttings from the plants from last year's garden. Often you'll see new growth coming from the base of these plants when the weather begins to warm in the spring. The plants we'll take the cutting from is known as the "stool". Here in my zone 7 garden, the stools usually begin to produce new growth towards the end of February. If last year's mums didn't overwinter, cuttings from new plants will work wonderfully, too.

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A quick search for taking cuttings online will reveal gardeners propagating plants using grow lights and heating mats. For the novice gardener (and me) this might seem a little intimidating. The good news, however, is that there is a much simpler way! In a sense, winter sowing containers are nothing more than mini-propagators, acting to provide the best conditions for seed germination. With this thought, I had one of those awesome eureka-light bulb-type moments! I would put my cuttings into winter sowing containers, and root the cuttings outside! Even though the weather had still not turned and I was far from being frost-free, this was a HUGE SUCCESS. 38/38 cuttings. 100% SUCCESS.

Here’s how I did it:

End of February – I notice new growth on the chrysanthemum stools (last year’s chrysanthemum plant after being cut back). I dig them up and place them into winter sowing containers to encourage new and more rapid growth.

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End of March/Early April – Stools have produced enough new growth to take cuttings. I wasn’t specific about this. I simply snapped off 1-2 inch stems from the plants, usually directly under a leaf node. Then, I put the cuttings into their own winter sowing containers. After I sealed the winter sowing containers, I placed them into cool spot. I chose a place that receives sunlight in the early morning and shade in the afternoon and evening. Keeping the containers moist was also a key aspect. I used normal potting soil, and went without rooting hormone (I didn’t have any, lol).

Beginning of May – By the beginning of May. All 38 of the cuttings had taken root. During hot days (80F and above), I sometimes removed the tops of the winter sowing containers. In fact, after the cuttings had rooted, I permanently removed the tops of the containers.

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That’s it! I hope that this was somehow helpful! If you’re more of a visual person, definitely be sure to check the YouTube video that accompanies this post! As always, be sure to leave any comments below. I'd be happy to help!