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.
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.
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.
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.