Late June in California is a funny time for summer flowers. The early spring-blooming bulbs like ranunculus and anemones are long gone, the peonies have just passed, and many of the heat-loving summer annuals are still small plants in the ground, far from flowering. Without careful planning and manipulating their season a bit, it’s a time that I’m likely to be without much blooming.
But fear not, for there’s still plenty of time to start a round of annual summer flowers that will bloom their heads off for you for months to come. I’ll focus on three of my favorites for their easy, fun, and prolific natures. With a garden full of zinnias, cosmos and dahlias, it’s hard to go wrong.
Zinnias tend to be a ‘gateway flower’ for a lot of people. I see them popping up as the only flower in many vegetable gardens, the afterthought or the ‘maybe I’ll plant just a few flowers’ flower. They’re super easy to grow, can withstand a lot of heat and neglect, and will make your garden scream SUMMER in no time.
You can either direct sow zinnia seeds in the ground, covering them with about ¼ inch of soil and spacing them 8-12” apart, or you can start them in trays in your greenhouse or windowsill to be planted out about 5 weeks later. I frequently use both methods, as they’re really not too picky.
As zinnias are growing in the field, many growers come through and ‘pinch’ them when they have about four sets of leaves. This entails snipping off the top few inches of growth, to promote more branching deep down in the plant and subsequent longer stems. The other thing about zinnias (as with cosmos and dahlias as well), is that they’re truly a ‘cut and come again’ flower. In other words, the more you cut, the more they’ll flower. So don’t be afraid to pick flowers whenever the mood strikes!
An old English garden favorite, cosmos are the perfect easy, fluttery flower to mix in with your more substantial zinnias and dahlias. They too, can be either transplanted or seeded directly in the garden. You’ll find that they self-seed quite readily, so wherever you choose to plant them may well be the spot they pop up year after year.
If you choose to transplant, make sure not to let them languish in their pots or trays for too long, as their roots don’t enjoy being stifled. Plant about a foot apart as these guys get super big. Cosmos also enjoy a pinch, though if you forget, they’ll forgive you.
To me, although they’re really grown everywhere, dahlias are the quintessential California flower. They’re big, bold, showy and easy all at once. You can plant them as early as May 1st or even late April if the soil has warmed up a bit. But here we are in mid-June and I still have a few left to plant, and they’ll be just fine. The only real drawback of planting them late is that you won’t get flowers as early. But the beauty of dahlias is that no matter when you plant them, they’re all but guaranteed to flower all through fall until the frost.
You can get either tubers or plants, and space them about two feet apart. I plant mine closer at about 18” spacing, but I cut pretty heavily and deeply from them. If you’re looking for a more showy garden plant rather than maximum cut flower production, I suggest giving them more room.
If your ground is sloped or you’ve got really sandy soil, you may be able to leave your dahlias in the ground year after year. Just dig them up every few years in order to divide the tuber clumps that expand rapidly with time (giving you tons more stock each year). But if you’re in a low spot or have really heavy soil, it’s best to dig them up each fall just after frost. Let them dry then store in a dark dry place throughout the winter to replant each spring.
There are all sizes and shapes of dahlias under the sun, and you really can’t go wrong. Check out Swan Island in Oregon for all your dahlia inspiration needs. I bought a bunch this year from Nicole with The Painted Tulip in Vermont – a great small farm with a really good selection of hot varieties.
Any questions about your summer cutting garden? Feel free to post below and I’ll see what I can do to help you!