Growing from seed is never instantaneous. We plan months in advance for every crop. On approximately July 1st of this year, the larkspur should be sending up spikes of pink, white, purple and blue. These amazing long clusters have beautifully mottled color that ranges from purple to blue in the same stem. They are also stunners in white and sweet as can be in pink. As great as it is fresh, the fully open flowers also dry spectacularly for use in everlasting bouquets and wreaths.
But before it can bloom, larkspur must undergo a vernalization period of 50 days at 50 degrees. Larkspur are one of those easy but not easy plants to grow as a commercial crop. In certain climates like the Pacific Northwest it thrives, but not really here in Upstate New York. The last few years, we have been skipping this crucial cool spring with daytime temperatures reaching 80 degrees in June.
I've never had much success direct seeding into the ground for the above reasons and was going to stop trying when I read a piece in Johnny's Grower Articles about successfully sowing bupleurum inside. Stacy Brenner at Broadturn Farms in Maine plants 3-5 seeds into cell trays, keeping it dark, cool and a bit dry under a potting table for two weeks, then brings them up to heated tables to germinate. That, along with Lisa Ziegler's recommendations to store the seeds in the freezer, has been a total game changer. Now I treat bupleurum, larkspur and bells of Ireland all the same way with satisfactory results. After germination, I grow them on for a few weeks under the lights then kick them outside as soon as I can. This batch is enjoying one last dose of fertilizer, then will be living out on the porch to harden off before transplanting under row cover in prepared beds in the garden about April 10th.
Transplant this one with drip tape to keep it continually moist. Larkspur has main shoots that are tall and wonderful but also sends up side shoots until it can't stand the heat anymore. Take deep cuts and it will honor you will repeated stems. Last year I tried to cheat by only cutting what I needed and the rest of the stems only shot up a foot or so. I had planned for it to bloom only into mid July and ended up turning the bed in August when I could have let it go longer. This year it will be planted with yarrow, statice and other hardy annuals that give us a second flush in the fall.
As always, honor the needs of the plant, not what is convenient for me. That is a mantra I'm repeating over and over again this season!
It takes planning to extend our growing season into June and July, but is always worth it. Hardy annuals reward our patience and attention to detail. The neigh sayers will always say we should not be planting annuals before Memorial Day, but we are part of a secret club that knows better!
The bouquet above also includes such lovelies as Pink Beauty Saponaria, Drumstick Allium, Cheerful Stock, Apple Blossom Snapdragon, blue Chinese Forget Me Nots, and Peony Leaves. We are looking forward to being able to go out and about by then and delivering these flowers and more to our customer and stores.