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Grow Flowers for Less!

by Kris Wetherbee

Longing for more flowers but have less dollars to spend? You can garden inexpensively without sacrificing beauty and blooms. All it takes is a small investment of your time, a few tools and these cost-cutting methods. Here’s how to add more color to your garden and more green to your budget.

Step 1 Grow flowers that reseed

Some annuals — such as morning glory, nicotiana, calendula, nasturtium, cosmos and cleome — produce seeds that fall from the plant in autumn and grow the next spring. Take advantage of their prolific nature by nurturing some of their offspring.

Grow the parent plants from seed or from a nursery plant. Remove spent flowers during the early growing season to encourage more flowering, but as the flowering season nears its end, let faded flowers remain so they can develop seeds. Either let the dry seeds fall near the parent plant or clip off the dry seedheads and scatter the seeds where you want these flowers to grow.

To keep order in the garden the next spring, pull out weak or closely spaced seedling, or seedlings that pop up where you don’t want them.

Step 2 Divide perennials

A fast and easy way to make more plants is to dig up an existing mature plant, divide the clump and then replant the divisions. Many perennials are good candidates, including asters, hostas, chrysanthemums, daylilies, liatris, black-eyed Susan, meadow rue and many ornamental grasses.

Spring- and summer-blooming perennials are best divided in autumn; divide autumn-blooming perennials in spring. Divide perennials on a cool, cloudy day. If the ground is dry, water the plant a day before dividing.

Use a sharp shovel or garden spade to dig up the plant, keeping the roots intact as much as possible. Gently remove loose soil. Either pull the plant apart with your hands, or use a knife, pruning saw, garden spade or garden fork to cut the clump apart. Each division should have at least a few healthy shoots with a mass of roots attached.

Replant each division in its new location, setting each plant at the same depth as before in a hole slightly wider than the division. Fillin the hole, firm the soil and then water thoroughly. Keep the soil evenly moist until plants show new growth.

Step 3 Grow flowers from seeds

One packet of seeds yields 10 to 50 plants and costs less than one nursery plant. You could sow seeds outdoors in garden beds, following the instructions on the packet. But for earlier blooms, start seeds indoors 6 to 10 weeks before your last spring frost — the instructions on the packet suggest the best timing. Here’s how to start seeds indoors:

1. Decide on planting containers. You can buy multi-cell trays or peat pots. Or use egg cartons with pencil-tip-size drainage holes punctured in the bottom.

2. Fill containers to within 1/4 to 1/2 inch from the top with a soilless seeding mix and moisten lightly. Sow one or two seeds per container on top of the seedling mix and gently press to ensure good contact with the moist mix. Cover with more mix to the depth the seed packet specifies.

3. Set the containers on a cookie sheet to catch drips and place them in a warm (68 to 75 degrees) location with bright natural or artificial light — a sunny window, a solarium, a greenhouse, or even a utility room with fluorescent lights hanging 2 to 6 inches above the emerging seedlings.

4. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked, using a fine mist sprayer. Never let the soil dry out. You can cover the containers with plastic wrap to keep moisutre in; remove the wrap when the tiny plants emerge.

5. To strengthen the stems, brush seedlings lightly with your hand once or twice a day. When seedlings are about 2 inches high, gently transplant to 2- or 4-inch plant pots (yogurt containers also work). Feed with a liquid fertilizer at half strength when seedlings are 4 to 6 weeks old.

6. Help the seedlings gradually adapt to the outdoors by setting the trays outside in the shade and out of the wind for a few hours a day, starting about two weeks before the average date of the last frost in your area. Each day, slightly increase the time and light intensity — don’t let the plants dry out. After all danger of spring frost has passed, plant them in an outdoor flower bed and water well.

Step 4 Grow from cuttings

Get free flowers by taking cuttings from an existing plant. Good candidates include geraniums, begonias, fuchsias, lupines, chrysanthemums and roses.

Take cuttings in late spring or early summer when the new growth is most pliable and active. With sharp scissors or pruners, snip 3 to 6 inches from the end of a stem at an angle, about 1/2 inch below a node (the point where a leaf sprouts from the stem). Gentle strip buds or leaves from the lower two-thirds of the stem. Then either dust the bare stem with rooting hormone or place it in very dilute liquid fertilizer for about 2 hours.

Fill plant pots about 3-inches deep with dampened potting mix. Plant cuttings several inches apart, leaving the top leafy part exposed. Firm the mix around the cuttings and mist with water.

Set pots in a bright indoor or outdoor location out of direct sunlight and wind. Keep the potting mix moist, but don’t overwater — you can place a clear plastic bag over the pot so the potting mix dries slower.

Roots take from several days to weeks to form, depending on the plant. After the cuttings form roots and the tops show new growth, plant outside.


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