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July 18, 2021
Are you a weather nerd? Try being a flower farmer. Your local weather will determine what’s blooming throughout the growing season and more importantly which flowers are used in arrangements each week.
We’re in Mid-July now and many of the cool season spring crops like ranunculus and anemones are finished and pulled out to make room for more plantings of Summer flowers. The heat loving flowers like basil, marigold and sunflowers are taking over and flourishing. Many growers in warmer regions said goodbye to Spring blooms many weeks ago, but in the Pacific Northwest with our long cool Springs and mild Summers, our ground takes much longer to heat up and warm loving flowers generally don’t peak until later in the season.
Like everything, that’s both good and bad. The good thing about our growing region is that we’re able to plant second and third successions of certain Spring crops like sweet william and snapdragons throughout the growing season, as our Summers are usually quite mild compared to other areas of the country. These cool annuals continue to grow side by side with the warm season annual flowers; something that isn’t possible for growers in warmer regions of the country. Or for areas that feel like they go straight from cold to hot weather and Spring seems to last for only a few weeks.
The challenging part is that even though we have a long growing window with our last frost date around April 10th and our first frost around October 25th growing heat loving flowers can be difficult. This year, even cool weather flowers struggled, and flowers were 2-3 weeks behind schedule because of night temps that stayed in the 30’s well into May. I’m in growing zone 8b, which is a bit deceiving if you look at the USDA zone map and see other 8b areas in California, Texas or in the South that have warm/mild climates. But your hardiness zone only tells half the story.
Having a hardiness zone of 8b simply means that temps in the Winter don’t drop below 15-20 degrees but if doesn’t tell you the average daytime highs or more importantly the night temperatures. So, comparing two growing regions that are both 8b becomes a useless endeavor as they often have completely different crop plans and times that those crops can be planted outside despite having the same hardiness zones. What thrives and grows in one region often doesn’t work in another.
The advice I often hear in planting warm season annuals like zinnias, cosmos, and dahlias is to wait until nighttime temperature are consistently above 60 degrees. I always laugh at that statement because we might have two weeks in August where that statement is true. Even now in mid-July we have daytime temps in the 80’s but with our maritime cooling effect, our nights drop down into the low to mid 50’s and will continue that trend most of the Summer.
Consequently, I ignore that guideline and start planning warm annuals in mid to late April, even though they will often just sit there in the ground as seedlings, not doing much until we get a bit of heat. Then right on cue, we will get random weeks of freakishly sunny and warm temps in April and May. Then June is cloudy and cold, and I jealously see pictures of sunny weather everywhere else, before Summer magically reappears in July.
We’re passed the Summer solstice, so the days are beginning to get shorter again. Being a grower so far North, we soak up and enjoy the long days in the late Spring, on the longest day of the year we get 16+ hours of daylight. By late September it’s less than 12 hours and continues to decrease into October. So even though we haven’t yet had a frost, the heavy Autumn rains and shortening daylight hours quickly shut down production.
I’m not complaining by any means, It’s still the most fun and challenging job. It’s a puzzle and you’re constantly learning, experimenting and trying out new ideas and methods. Ways to get an earlier crop next year and squeeze out a couple more weeks of blooms in early Spring or extend the season by protecting crops from that first frost of the season that takes out the dahlias just as they’re really producing those lush and abundant flowers.
The joys of growing are ever changing, adapting and evolving with the seasons. You’ll find me constantly checking the weather app on my phone to gauge the best times to plant or harvest, monitoring the wind conditions and rain forecasts. Are we getting a cold spell or a heat wave? But the key is to work with your local conditions and not against it. Accept the unpredictability of it, go with the flow and learn what crops grow best for you.
Thanks for reading,