Grow your own wed­ding flow­ers

Host­ing a wed­ding – or spe­cial event – in your back­yard? Re­mem­ber to fol­low these sim­ple rules about when to plant, what to grow, and how to ma­nip­u­late plants to flower on cue for the big day.

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It’s not hard to grow your own wed­ding flow­ers – it just takes care­ful plan­ning. Get friends on board to help make the whole process go as smoothly as pos­si­ble.

Choos­ing your flow­ers: Keep it sim­ple. Grow only two or three dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties and choose flow­ers that are a sure bet. An­nu­als such as sun­flow­ers, zin­nias, snap­drag­ons, cos­mos, sweet peas and cal­en­du­las are a breeze to grow. Dahlias and anemones are dead easy too. Lisianthus, on the other hand, are not.

Grow va­ri­eties that are specif­i­cally bred for long stems if you want them for bou­quets – dwarf cul­ti­vars may look cute but their short stems won’t give you much to grip. Se­lect plants that are la­belled as “tall” – not “bed­ding”.

Se­lect flow­ers that bloom as close to your wed­ding date as pos­si­ble. Ra­nun­cu­lus and anemones are per­fect for Au­gust, Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber wed­dings; sweet peas are in their prime in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber. Don’t ex­pect to get anemones in Jan­uary or sweet peas in April – it just won’t hap­pen.

Plant fillers too. Scented gera­nium leaves, hon­ey­wort ( Cerinthe ma­jor), lady’s man­tle ( Al­chemilla mol­lis) and lamb’s ear ( Stachys byzantina) are great for bulk­ing out bou­quets if nec­es­sary.

When to plant: Some seed pack­ets and cat­a­logues state the time it takes from sow­ing to flow­er­ing. Each plant is dif­fer­ent, so pay at­ten­tion to these fig­ures. Cos­mos takes around 12 weeks from sow­ing to flow­er­ing, whereas snap­drag­ons take about 16 weeks. How­ever, that 12 or 16 weeks as­sumes per­fect grow­ing con­di­tions – late frosts or cold weather will set back flow­er­ing. De­vise a re­al­is­tic sched­ule, adding on a few weeks to al­low for all even­tu­al­i­ties. Then plant in suc­ces­sion. Sow the same flower ev­ery two weeks for a cou­ple of months to en­sure some­thing is in bloom at the time you want.

Grow­ing bulbs: Bulbs are tricky to get right. To make spring-flow­er­ing bulbs flower later, you can’t just plant them later. They must have win­ter chill­ing and they have to be planted in au­tumn. Plant­ing them in March or in May, says Paul Hoek of nzbulbs.co.nz, makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence to the fi­nal flow­er­ing time as it is more de­pen­dent on how cold the win­ter is, how much rain there is and how early or late spring comes.

“The only way you can make them later than nor­mal is to plant them in pots and then hold them in a chiller, pro­gres­sively low­er­ing the tem­per­a­ture from 9°C to 0°C over 10 weeks. Then hold them at 0°C and take them from the chiller two to three weeks be­fore you want them in full flower.

“To make spring-flow­er­ing bulbs flower ear­lier, you can use the chill­ing method above, and sim­ply take them out early rather than late. But a min­i­mum of 12 weeks’ to­tal chill­ing is needed, so you can’t have them flow­er­ing in May.

“You can also get your springflow­er­ing bulbs to flower ear­lier by plac­ing them in the chiller as they are, not planted up in pots. This has to be done at about 4°C. Do this in March, then plant them out in late May. The bulbs think they’ve had a win­ter and will roar into growth, flow­er­ing about three to four weeks ahead of sched­ule.”

Tim­ing roses: The con­sen­sus among rosar­i­ans to get roses to bloom on time is to prune them six to eight weeks be­fore they are re­quired – but this varies from lo­ca­tion to lo­ca­tion and is de­pen­dent on tem­per­a­ture, fer­tiliser, light and water, plus in­di­vid­ual va­ri­eties. Lo­cal rose so­ci­ety mem­bers are a good source for ex­act tim­ing for lo­cal ar­eas. Some do a sum­mer trim, cut­ting off all flow­ers and stems by one-third, fer­til­is­ing and then wa­ter­ing con­stantly, es­pe­cially dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods.

CON­TIN­U­ING CARE

An­nu­als grow quickly and flower gen­er­ously but they need all the help they can get. Feed and dead­head reg­u­larly. Use a bal­anced fer­tiliser ini­tially, then, in the last month be­fore your big event, switch to one that's specif­i­cally for flow­ers, such as Thrive Sol­u­ble Flower & Fruit Plant Food.

If your plants start flow­er­ing be­fore the event, dead­head the blooms once they've faded. If you don't, your plants will put all their en­ergy into pro­duc­ing seeds at the ex­pense of flow­ers.

Pay at­ten­tion to wa­ter­ing too. A dry spell can stress plants and set bloom­ing back a few weeks. If the weather is un­sea­son­ably cold, erect a makeshift green­house us­ing plas­tic sheets.

FLO­RAL BACK­DROP

This makes a stun­ning back­drop for any cer­e­mony. You'll need a ton of flow­ers, so choose blooms that have a large sur­face area, like lilacs and hy­drangeas, which take up a lot of space. At­tach wet flo­ral foam tiles (large sheets of foam) to a gridmesh panel. Insert prong hooks (these are made spe­cially for gridmesh) and sit your foam panel on top of these. Se­cure the foam with ca­ble ties, push­ing them through the foam and se­cur­ing them at the back of the gridmesh.

Leave a gap be­tween each foam panel so that the water doesn't leach from one panel to the next.

Cut the stems of the flow­ers then insert them into the foam pan­els. When fin­ished, spray the flow­er­heads with Crown­ing Glory, a so­lu­tion that holds in mois­ture, greatly re­duc­ing water loss.

To pre­vent your flo­ral back­drop from top­pling over, se­cure it to a heavy base like a stan­chion. If sit­u­ated in­doors, po­si­tion a drip pan at the base of the back­drop to catch drip­ping water.

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