Growing a Cut Flower Garden

A slew of research and attention has been given to peonies in recent years, but research on growing other cut flowers in Fairbanks and Alaska has been limited in the last decade. To get an idea of which cut flowers are growing well in Fairbanks in recent years, I asked a few farmers about their go-to cut flowers for creating unique, locally grown bouquets. 

buckets of dahlias and zinnias in a market display

Caitlyn Huff with Arctic Blooms and Bouquets has loved flowers since she was a girl, but got into the flower farming business when she moved into a house in Fairbanks with 600 peonies. She grows flowers and arranges bouquets for weddings, the farmers market, a CSA, and bazaars (as dried flower arrangements). She loves the beauty and joy they bring people. 

She uses caterpillar tunnels to give her flowers a three-week jump start in the spring, and to give some heat-loving flowers (e.g. cosmos, zinnias, amaranth and celosia) an extra boost. Last fall, she planted hundreds of tulips and is eagerly waiting to see them pop up this spring. Growing tulips and other bulbs in Fairbanks can be hit or miss.

Dialing in bloom times for some flowers like dahlias has been a challenge — because it varies by type and with the growing season. She said establishing perennials has also taken some work. Cyndie Warbelow gives some excellent advice for perennial flower gardeners in Fairbanks: Northern Garden Symphony: Combining Hardy Perennials for Blooms All Season.

boquet of peonies, zinnias, delphiniums
A mixed flower bouquet featuring peonies, delphiniums, snap dragons, zinnias, marigolds, and dianthus. Photo by Krista Heeringa.

Megan Schulze at Frontieress Farm likes to grow vegetables and flowers. She offers a CSA, sells flowers at the farmers market, and makes beautiful wreaths with dried flowers. She grows flowers as a way to express her creative side and feed the soul. She grows flowers “For celebration, commemoration, acts of love, healing, or pure pleasure, flowers express emotion when words falter and cultivate positive connections to each other and nature.” Megan also likes to incorporate foliage from the surrounding boreal forest to make the bouquets feel wild and unique.

Krista Heeringa at Far North Flowers is a peony farmer (and also my sister!) with her husband, Nate, but began offering mixed flower bouquets, featuring peonies, for a CSA five years ago that now has 50 members. Some of her favorite flowers are snapdragons because they cut and come again, bachelor buttons because their super bright blue color contrasts with the peonies, and salvia because of its hardy flower, long bloom time and vase life. She says her customers like flowers that they can dry such as paper daisy or strawflowers.

Here were some of their recommendations along with some of my own to get you started on growing your own cut flower garden:

Best showstopper/centerpiece flowers
Anemones
Asters, Chinese
Dahlias
Gladiolas
Peonies
Ranunculus
Roses
Tulips
Sunflowers

Best texture/filler flowers or foliage
Amaranth
Bells of Ireland
Cosmos (a bonus, as sometimes they do not have many blooms)
Dusty miller
Orlaya
Raspberry leaf
Yarrow
Queen Anne’s Lace

Flowers that hold up in the vase the longest
Anemones (keep growing after they’re cut)
Ranunculus (keep growing after they’re cut)

Flowers that don’t last long in the vase
Cerinthe
Poppies
Sweet peas

Best perennial flowers
Columbine
Delphiniums
Lilies
Peonies
Poppy (Icelandic or Oriental)

Best flowers for a beginning gardener
Bachelor button
Calendula
Cosmos
Orlaya
Sunflowers
Sweet peas
Zinnia

Best direct seeded flowers
Bachelor buttons
Bupleurum
Cress
Giant poppy
Love in a mist
Orlaya
Star flowers

Starting seeds
One of the big considerations when growing cut flowers in Fairbanks is growing healthy starts. First, this involves starting them at the right time for optimal bloom time. Megan says she starts almost all over her flowers indoors to take advantage of our short growing season. She said, “The very early varieties, like Icelandic poppies, ranunculus, and rudbeckia [I] start in March but are so worth it.” 

Caitlyn has tried lisianthus before, and would like to try it again but that requires starting seeds in January and she is not keen on starting early. 

Krista began with direct-seeded varieties, but realized she needed to start most of the flowers indoors to be successful. Unfortunately this last spring, she lost about 40% of her seedlings so she is still working on growing healthy starts. 

Here are some seed starting date suggestions for when to start annual flowers and perennials grown as  annuals in Fairbanks, albeit a bit out of date. Johnny’s seed starting calculator may also be helpful, but may not be accurate for flowers with particularly long bloom times or heat-loving flowers. To further extend the season, you could consider frost-tolerant flowers.

Growing flowers
Flowers should be planted in well-drained, fertile soil, deadheaded regularly, and staked. Here are some more tips for growing flowers successfully in the Alaska’s Sustainable Gardening Manual. Drip irrigation works well with flowers (and many other vegetables). 

Creating beautiful bouquets
If you’ve never heard of some of these flowers, here is a nice visual for some of the more common flowers discussed here. Although some of these flowers may be a challenge to grow here, like lisianthus, here are some other ideas for designing your cut flower garden to make beautiful bouquets.

Extending the vase life
Cut flowers when they are not fully in bloom or past the optimal bloom. To extend the vase life, cut the stems at an angle, recut them every few days and change the water regularly, add a little sugar or 7-Up and a few drops of chlorine bleach, and chill the flowers at night.

Buying local flowers
You can find other sources of local flowers by consulting the Alaska Grown source book or the Interior Agriculture Directory.

Published in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer March 20, 2022.

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