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During the growing season several growers text or email me questions. I decided it would be a good idea to share some of them—and my answers—with you because I know many of you have the same questions at one time or another. These are listed in no particular order. Keep in mind that I grow in Zone 8b in Texas, and my answers are shaped by my own experiences. I hope they’re useful for you.
Q. Can you start ageratum from cuttings?
A. I grow ‘Blue Horizon’, and start my first batch from seed in September, I grow in a minimally heated greenhouse all winter. I take cuttings from established plants, and they root really well on my heated seed-starting table. I cut little two-inch or less shoots and put them in potting soil in trays. I do dip the cuttings in rooting hormone and they root quickly. I started growing ageratum over the winter because it has beautiful foliage and a bloom that pops in bouquets, and I needed a filler for my bouquets of dahlias, snaps and other early blooms.Q. How do you grow in this scorching heat?
A. I do everything early in the day—picking, planting and spraying. I start my day really early and have enough help to get those chores that need to be done by noon so we are out of the sun by then. In the afternoon we do our hand watering, bouquet making, seed starting, mowing, and bed making for the next crops. To plant beds in our Texas heat I make sure that the beds are plowed well, and irrigation drip lines are in place and running properly. Then we put our watered transplants within the drip circles of moisture so we know that they won’t be dry. We also water those newly-planted beds for the first few days to make sure they are established. I also take my transplants of zinnias and celosia out of the greenhouse and harden them off for a couple of days before planting them out in beds. Even with all these precautions, not all plants survive, especially when daily temperatures top 100 degrees. And then you have to deal with rabbits dining on your transplants or a deer clearing an eight-foot fence and munching on your nicely growing sunflowers. The plants aren’t the only thing to care for; we have to cover ourselves in sunscreen and mosquito spray, deal with fire ants, be on the lookout for copperhead snakes, wear long sleeve shirts and a good hat, and drink lots of water.
Q. Is white, green or Aluminet better than black shade cloth?
A. White is great as it reflects light. We have actually used a product called Kool Ray Liquid Shade; you spray on your greenhouses and wash off in the fall. I think it works really well, but there is that added work of having to wash it off. Aluminet is a very good product, lighter than regular shade cloth and easy to install but more expensive than regular black shade cloth. I would like to switch to Aluminet but have had my black 30-40 percent for 20 plus years so it’s a hard sell on my part to spend the extra money.
Q. Can you use black landscape fabric with the holes burned into it for flowers such as zinnias, celosia, lemon, cinnamon and African blue basil and lisianthus in the greenhouse or will the heat from the fabric make it too hot?
A. I personally don’t plant any of the mentioned plants into weed fabric in the greenhouse in Texas in the hot summer months, as they grow fast enough to shade out weeds fairly quickly, and I don’t want that added heat around the plants at transplant time. I just make sure they are watered well with the drip tape.
Q. What kind of millet do you plant, where do I get it and how do I plant it?
A. I buy ‘Lime Light’, ‘Purple Majesty’ and pearl millet from Johnny’s Seeds. I also plant ornamental mixed colors’ broom and colored uprights sorghum from Twilley Seeds, which is a sister company to GeoSeed. I plant some by direct seeding them out into rows, but I also start some as transplants because when it’s dry, like this year, it’s hard to get it germinated before the birds and mice eat it all.
Q. My lisianthus are blooming on 5 to 6 inch stems. Is this normal? The weather this spring was not normal and it was hard to stay on schedule.
A. No it’s not normal. Lisianthus usually grow anywhere from 24-36” tall. These plants were either left in a seed tray too long and became stunted, or they have some serious root issues going on, in my opinion.
Q. How many layers of netting do you use on Karma dahlias in the greenhouse?
A. Two, plus I have to use extra support to keep them inside of their rows. Zinnias get two layers, lisianthus one, and celosia usually one layer.
Q. How can I overwinter my Salvia leucantha?
A. I overwinter mine by mulching them good with fall leaves and when they get a heavy frost, I cut them back and cover them with Agribon. In the spring I uncover them and they come back. I also take cuttings which root really well, and plant some in our unheated greenhouses where into the winter they bloom till I get a really hard freeze. I try to keep some always alive or I just order more flats.
Q. Do you succession seed salvia ‘Blue Bedder’?
A. I make a couple of plantings of salvia during the year but in my Zone 8b, salvia tends to perennialize for me. I lost my oldest bed this spring when it drowned in unending rain. I’m not a big fan of ‘Blue Bedder’ because I think it shatters too easily. I use it in wedding work and I like having a blue flower when I need a touch of blue.
Q. What’s a true blue statice? I grew the Qis series last year and it was purple.
A. I find that several flowers listed as blue turn out to be more purple. You might try the Pacific series; Geo lists a ‘Heavenly Blue’ and a ‘Midnight Blue’ as well as a purple. I’ve grown the Pacific strain as well as the Qis series and was happy with both varieties.
Q. When do you start your cool season flowers?
A. I order my Rocket, Chantilly and Madame Butterfly snaps, ‘Amazon Duo’ dianthus, Champion campanula, Pacific Giant delphiniums and bells of Ireland as plugs through Gloeckner and let the plug growers grow them for me. I have them scheduled to come in a couple of times in October and November. It is way too hot for me start my own when they need to be so I leave this up to professionals. I order them in May when the previous year’s crops are finishing up. I start my other cool annuals such as ammi, bupleureum, scabiosa orlaya and statice by seeding them in October and November. I start my Crane series kale, and ‘Cheerful White’, ‘Cheerful Yellow’, and Katz stock in September. I direct seed my larkspur in November when my beds are ready.
Q. When do you plant dusty miller?
A. I planted my first batch years ago in early March. It took the cold well and it did well into the summer but once it got hot, it just sat there. I planted the ones that survived in five-gallon pots in my greenhouse; they’ve done well and have given me many cuttings to use for my wedding work.
Q.When do you plant your Karma dahlias in the greenhouse and how far apart?
A. I have the plugs shipped to me in early August and then I transplant them into 4” cups and grow them in the cups until they’re ready to be planted in my greenhouse in September. I plant them one foot apart down the row.
Q. When do you expect to harvest from the dahlias you planted in September and do you plant them in pots, raised bed or in beds in the greenhouse?
A. I plant them in beds and they start to bloom early November. I also have some planted in five-gallon pots, which also works well.
Q. What is wrong with my dahlia in this picture?
A. This picture (left) was sent to me by a grower trying to grow a spring crop of dahlias. Planting should have been earlier; unfortunately it had been raining and it became spindly waiting for the beds to be ready. I told her to plant deeper than normal and I would pinch it to encourage more shoots.
Q. What do you spray on your dahlias for spider mites and mealybugs?
A. I was using Organicide and it seemed to be working great, but winter came along and I found out that I was using cool water, which wasn’t mixing well. My insecticide salesman told me to start using warm water and that did the trick to a point, but I had let the pests get away from me and had to step up my game. He recommended another spray called Tetrasan which stopped the mites dead in their tracks. For mealybugs I spray rubbing alcohol right on them with a little spray bottle and it works great.Don’t be afraid to post questions like these on the ASCFG Bulletin Board, if you have done a search and couldn’t find the answer you are looking for. The ASCFG is a great group of very helpful growers and I’m sure someone can help you along the way. I hope everyone has their beds filled with fall seasonal flowers and finishes off the year with a bang.