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Chelsea Green Blog

Tip: Cutting Flowers Early to Prevent Insect Damage

The following is a tip from Lynn Byczynski from her book The Flower Farmer, Revised and Expanded: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers.

One of the tricks to growing flowers organically is to cut them before insects have a chance to destroy their beauty. I learned this the hard way during the first summer I grew sunflowers commercially. The guidelines I had received from various sources said that sunflowers should be cut when about one-fourth of the disc flowers—the tiny flowers in the brown center—were open. But by the time this happened, cucumber beetles had chewed holes in all the petals.

So I started to cut sooner. I harvested the sunflowers when the petals had just opened, and they held fine. But a few beetles were still getting their bites in, so I started cutting earlier and earlier, until I was cutting the flowers before the petals had even unfurled. Those flowers eventually opened in buckets, were just as vibrant as those that had bloomed outside, and were cosmetically perfect.

This trick works well with nearly all the composite flowers, which have large, flat outer petals subject to insect damage. Rudbeckia, cosmos, gaillardia, and tithonia all can be cut early and bloomed indoors. Zinnias, although they are in the same family, aren’t as attractive to insect pests and don’t suffer the same kind of chewing damage, so it’s best to cut them once their blooms fully open. I also have found that some sunflower cultivars are less receptive than others to cutting early, so I recommend that you experiment with a dozen or so of each type that you grow in order to find out just how early you can cut. On the other hand, most of the spike-type flowers (delphinium, larkspur, etc.) can be cut when just one or two flowers on the stem are open. The alphabetical listing of recommended cut flowers in appendix 1 gives specific instructions about the best time to harvest each type of flower, and there you will find many others that can be cut in the bud.

It’s better to cut unopened flowers in the evening, when their stems are full of starches and sugars that will help them continue to open. You also should use floral preservative, which contains about 1 percent sugar. Some preservatives can be used at double strength to prompt buds to open; check the label. You can also make a bud-opening solution that contains 2 percent sugar by adding 5 ounces of sugar to 2 gallons of water. Leave the flowers in this solution in a cool place out of the sun (but not in a cooler) until the flowers open.


New French edition of The Resilient Farm and Homestead available

Great news for French-speaking fans of Ben Falk’s The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. The French language translation is now available from Imagine Un Colibri, from French booksellers, and on Amazon.fr. Falk’s book is a technical manual that details the strategies he and his team have developed for […] Read More

How to Make Biochar

Doing some spring cleaning around your property? By making biochar from brush and other hard-to-compost organic material, you can improve soil—it enhances nutrient availability and also enables soil to retain nutrients longer. This excerpt from The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume 3, explains how to get started. To make biochar right in your garden, start by […] Read More

Generosity as Activism, and Other Homesteading Principles to Live By

“Like everyone I know, we occasionally find ourselves faced with a decision to which there is no obvious answer,” says Ben Hewitt, coauthor of The Nourishing Homestead. “Do we borrow money to build a bigger barn, or do we keep getting by with what we have? Do we spend our meager savings on trees and […] Read More

Pass the Walnut Syrup?

Everyone knows and loves maple syrup, and in some states (like Chelsea Green’s home state of Vermont), it’s big business. However, it’s a widespread myth that maples are the only trees that can be tapped to produce sap, according to Michael Farrell, sugarmaker and director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest. Sap can also be collected […] Read More

4 Books for Growing Food in Winter

Don’t let cold weather stop you from producing and enjoying your own food. For many, the coming of winter simply means cultivation moves indoors or under cover. Small farmers, homesteaders, home gardeners, and commercial growers can extend the growing season with techniques outlined in these essential books. There’s no need for urbanites and small-space dwellers […] Read More
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