Turn your Christmas or New Year’s Eve party into a floral spectacular by planting now! It’s not too late to plant seedlings which will be flowering by Christmas. You’ll need to get in quickly though, and give the plants extra care to ensure you have enough cut flowers to see you through the festive season.
How to get the biggest, healthiest cut flowers in 2-3 months
Choose fast growing annuals that suit the months leading up to Christmas.
Have your soil well prepared by digging in plenty of well-rotted compost, and a slow release fertiliser such as blood and bone, or Osmocote.
Choose a sheltered, sunny spot in the garden, and make sure the soil is well drained – it really will make a big difference as to how fast the seedlings will grow.
Only buy healthy seedlings. Most seedlings are sold in punnets. Avoid buying tall, spindly seedlings as they may have been left waiting for sale for a considerable time. It is generally better to buy smaller, but not too small, seedlings. These will usually establish and grow quicker, at least initially, than older stock.
Water punnets of seedlings well, a few hours prior to planting. This will ensure that the seedlings have time to take up plenty of water, and makes the growing media moist (but not wet), making it easy to remove seedlings from the punnet/container and to separate them.
Don’t overcrowd the seedlings when you plant them out. Follow the recommended spacing to ensure the plants are bushy and well developed, with more potential flowering stems.
Once the seedlings have been planted, apply a weak dose of a complete liquid fertiliser solution (eg. Thrive, Aquasol, Phostrogen, seaweed solutions) every week or two.
Ensure the soil is kept moist, but not over wet.
Check regularly for pests and diseases, and treat promptly if they are noticed.
Some quick flowering seedlings may produce larger, longer flowering plants if their first flower buds are pinched out.
If you decide to leave some of the flowers on the plant for a colourful outdoor display, make sure you regularly remove the spent flowers (‘dead heading’). This will prolong the display.
How to time it right
It can be difficult to accurately gauge the time from planting to flowering, especially if the weather is unexpectedly cool or wet, or a heat wave occurs. The accompanying planting guide will give you some idea of the timing for a range of popular annuals.
If you are worried about having all your plants flowering at once and then having nothing left for later in the season, you could plant the seedlings out over several weeks, in the same way that you would plant vegetables for a continuous harvest. Choosing a wide range of different annuals will also give you a long picking season.
Making the flowers last
Choose varieties that keep well as a cut flower (ie. last a long time in a vase). Popular quick-growing summer annuals that last well in vases include gypsophila, calendula, cosmos, globe amaranth, honesty, marigolds, sunflowers and spider flowers (Cleome).
Most flowers last better if you cut them early in the morning. Immediately stand them in a bucket filled with deep water and leave them there for a couple of hours. Before arranging the flowers in the vase, recut the stems to the required length on an slant, using a sharp knife or secateurs. Avoid placing the arrangement in direct hot sun and change the water every few days (sooner with marigolds and daisies because they may produce an unpleasant smell).
Various additives can be placed in the water to prolong the life of cut flowers. Some people use sugar or aspirins. Chemical preparations are also available, eg. Chrysal.
Another possibility for a quick colourful display is to buy potted colour already in flower or about to flower. The plants can be planted out in beds or in window boxes to create a mass display, or simply taken indoors to provide temporary colour.