Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers
Planning a wedding can be very exciting, but can also be quite costly. Fresh cut flowers, simple or extravagant, add an essential natural feel to both ceremony and reception. But, fresh cut flowers, not to mention arrangements, can cost anywhere from 100 to 300 dollars per table—often more! Growing your own wedding flowers enables you to cut this cost almost in half, as well as adding a personalized touch your friends will envy. There are three main approaches to growing your own wedding flowers. You can either force spring bulbs into bloom, grow larger ornamental bushes, or take cuttings of naturally blooming trees and shrubs.
Grow From Bulb - Tulip, Hyacinth, Amaryllis, Iris, Calla Lilly, Daffodil, and More
Time: Anywhere from four to seven months, depending on bulb type.
If you want your wedding flowers to look fresh and youthful, consider forcing a mix of spring bulbs into bloom. This is a project great for beginner DIYers. However, if your wedding is going to be very large, you may want to combine this method with another one of the two below. A huge amount of bulbs means many pots and lots of space.
Step 1 - Choose Bulb Types
Forcing bulbs to bloom can take almost half a year, but with the proper planning this is a very simple method of growing your own wedding flowers. If your wedding is coming up, you should consider using bulbs that don't require a simulated winter or cooling time such as amaryllis, any daffodil/narcissus, Dutch iris, or the snow crocus. If you have eight or more months, you have many choices including tulips, hyacinth, bearded iris, and calla lilly.
When coordinating bloom types, consider both the wedding colors and style. Tulips come in virtually unlimited colors and styles which make them very versatile. Paperwhite narcissus and hyacinth emit a wonderful fragrance and the common bearded iris has striking color and elegance. No matter which type of bulbs you choose, make sure to pick the largest, which will produce the best blooms. Ordering bulbs from a bulb catalog could cut down on the price as well.
Tulip bulbs only produce one flower per season. If you have limited space, consider planting daffodils, crocus, or iris which should produce more than one flower per bulb. If you need 10 flowers per arrangement and you plan on having 10 tables, you need to plant around 150 bulbs (so you have extras for the ceremony and accent tables, or in case some do not bloom). Of course, you will also harvest leaves and other foliage to add texture to the arrangements so don't worry about needing more than 10 flowers per arrangement. You can also supplement your arrangements with hand-cut natural blooming trees and shrubs, as discussed below.
Step 2 - Choose Containers
Many containers can be used to force bulbs. Bulb containers have a short neck that suspends the bulb over water and are great for forcing hyacinth. Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus can be forced using only a shallow dish filled with pebbles and water. You can also use terra cotta or plastic containers that have adequate drainage. Large weddings should consider using flats, plastic containers that are used in the nursery business. Usually, retail nurseries will have a million of these on hand and will be happy to get rid of them. Just ask at the front desk.
You can plant bulbs one finger-width apart. In the ground, bulbs need to be planted a few inches apart, but these constraints don't apply for container gardening. If you use flats you should be able to fit roughly 10 bulbs per flat and will need around 15 of these flats for a medium-sized wedding. This is a substantial amount, so you need to clear some space in a warm and sunny room in your house a little later in the growing process.
Step 3 - Make a Soil Mix
Typically, garden soil or potting soil holds too much moisture for developing bulbs and can promote rot or fungal infection. Instead, commercial "soil-less" potting mixes are ideal. They can be made at home organically by combining equal parts soil, spaghnum moss, and organic vermiculite.
Step 4 - Plant
Fill three-quarters of the container with soil mix. Face the flat side of the bulb out, towards the container. After arranging, fill in with some more soil mix. Do not fill the container to the surface; the bulbs should be about two-thirds covered in soil with the tops protruding. Water well after planting.
Step 5 - Create a Cold Period
Some types of spring blooming bulbs (listed above) can be planted, watered, and placed in a sunny indoor window immediately. Some, however, (also listed above) need a simulated winter, called a cooling period. This cooling period is integral for flower development. The length of the cold period depends on the specific type of bulb. Consult your nursery or bulb catalog on how much time your exact bulbs will need. To accomplish the cooling, potted bulbs can be stored in a refrigerator or an unheated garage or basement. Soil should be kept slightly moist and away from bright sunlight. Be careful because pots in refrigerators tend to dry out quickly and can be effected by the gases emitted by fruits. Keep pots especially away from apples!
If the weather is cold outside you can dig a shallow trench in your yard, around the same depth as the pots. Place your pots inside the trench and cover loosely with dried leaves, straw, or moss. Cover again with plastic and anchor with rocks or bricks.
Step 6 - Create a Warm Period
After the bulbs have chilled for the appropriate amount of time, bring them inside for blooming. It can take anywhere from three to eight weeks for a chilled bulb to bloom, depending on the type. First, move the potted bulbs into a cool area of the home with indirect sunlight. Water until the mix is moist, but take care not to overwater. Once active growth begins, you can move the pots into a warm, sunnier indoor location, as placing them there initially might shock the chilly bulbs. Continue to keep the soil moist, and do not fertilize.
Sit back and watch your flowers grow! As long as they are getting adequate sun (bright, not direct) and have an evenly moist soil, they will grow quickly. Many varieties will be forming buds in six weeks or so. Read up on the cultivator you choose so that you can plan accordingly. If your flowers bloom too early and you want them to last, move the pots into a cool room at night. If you stagger your plantings by planting some bulbs early and some late, you will be covered in case they take more or less time than you anticipated.
Step 7 - Harvest
Cut your flowers as early in the morning as possible to keep them looking fresh. Immediately place the cut flowers in cold water and allow them to sit there for two hours before arranging. Before the wedding mist the arrangements with a mister for a dewy look!
Growing Larger Ornamental Shrubs - Peony, Rose, and Hydrangea
Time: Seven months to one year
Many popular wedding flowers grow prolifically on small to medium-sized shrubs. An easy way to grow and harvest these flowers is to buy mature bushes and plant them yourself ahead of time. This method is very easy, but takes time and is best suited to a long engagement. You also need plenty of yard space. Each ornamental plant or shrub should produce enough flowers for two large arrangements.
Step 1 - Plan Ahead
Although many ornamentals can be bought cheaply in very small sizes, the chance of a young shrub being able to produce bountiful amounts of flowers within the first year is very low. It is recommended to buy a larger and more mature plant, and spend the extra money. Remember, it is still going to be much cheaper than paying for custom arrangements. And these bushes will be in your yard forever as a constant wedding reminder! Hydrangeas prefer partial sun while roses and peonies produce more flowers in very sunny locations, so make sure you have the right growing conditions in your yard.
Make sure you have enough yard space for all the bushes you will need. You can plant peonies two feet apart, hydrangeas three feet, and roses anywhere from one to four feet, depending on the type. You will need six or seven bushes (roses and hydrangeas) or eight to 10 large peonies for a medium-sized wedding. You can plant these bushes in containers, as long as the pot you have is well-draining and is at least twice the size of the container your shrub is already in.
Step 2 - Choose Your Ornamentals
Most ornamental shrubs should be planted in the early fall. Peonies bloom from April through June, depending on your USDA zone, and roses and hydrangeas can bloom almost any time in the spring or summer, depending on the type. The best way to choose a type is to gather information on when different varieties of bushes will bloom in your area and pick them depending on your wedding date. If you have ever seen a stunning rose or hydrangea, just ask the owner when it usually blooms. Or, talk to your local nursery. The best way to be sure your bushes will bloom in time is to have them a season in advance so that you can observe them.
Step 3 - Plant
In late September, buy your shrubs and bring them home. You are looking for shrubs that are at least three feet in height, are green and healthy, and are planted in at least an eight-inch pot. Dig holes in your yard that are big enough for the roots to spread out comfortably and add two or three handfuls of organic compost and one cup of organic vermiculite to each hole. Your hydrangeas should be getting morning sun and afternoon shade, while roses and peonies can take afternoon sun as well. Water well immediately after planting.
Once a week after planting, place an open hose at the base of the bushes, one at a time, and turn on a steady stream. Allow each shrub to be soaked for about five minutes. A deep soak once a week is much more beneficial than a light daily spray. Continue this watering routine until late November. Stop during the winter and resume once every two weeks after last frost.
Step 4 - Wait
When the time is drawing near for the flowers to bloom, keep a close eye on your bushes. Make sure you are watering thoroughly once every two weeks. Fertilizing is not recommended because it may burn your newly transplanted roots. The compost you used to amend your soil with earlier should do the trick.
Step 5 - Harvest
Early in the morning, clean a pair of sharp gardening shears and head to the garden. Cut as many flowers as you can and place the cuttings immediately in a bucket of cold water. Submerge the heads in cold water for up to half an hour to preserve them, then gently shake them dry. Store flowers in an air conditioned room for two hours before arranging.
Also, cut stems with attractive leaves and buds for accents by making a high vertical cut on the base of the stem, exposing the white pithy interior and allowing the stem to absorb more water.
Cutting Naturally Blooming Trees and Shrubs
Time: One morning plus planning time
Fresh-made cuttings of naturally blooming trees and shrubs can be a wonderful addition to any wedding arrangement. But, this whole premise hinges on beautiful shrubs already being in bloom for your wedding date. If you are getting married in spring, summer, or early autumn, chances are some beautiful trees and shrubs will be in bloom. These include lilacs, magnolia, camellias, hydrangea, roses, peonies, lilies, cherry trees, pear trees, tulip trees, forsythia, rhododendron, and many more. Many non-blooming shrubs have attractive foliage that can be used as arrangement accents, like weeping willow, Japanese maple, weeping cedar, pussy willow, and euonymus. Since you may not be able to get huge quantities of any particular kind of flower, this method will give your wedding a natural feel by including a large variety. It may be a good idea to combine this method with the bulb growing method outlined above, so that you have one constant flower element to tie everything together. Variety is good, but too much may look messy.
Step 1 - Planning
If you are fortunate enough to know your date one year in advance, take a walk around your neighborhood the week you want to get married next year. Take a look at some of the trees and shrubs that naturally look their best.
If you don't have a whole year, take some time to consultant your neighbors about when their showy ornamentals usually bloom. Then, ask them if it would be okay for you to take some cuttings for your wedding bouquets. You will find that most people are delighted to help. Chances are they feel that some of their beautiful blooms go to waste every year. If you own a favorite blooming tree or shrub yourself, take good care of it during the engagement so that you get the best possible blooms next season.
Step 2 - Harvest
The morning of your wedding, you (or your maid of honor) will need to get to each flowering site. Because most of these cuttings will be coming from you or your neighbor's yard (or sneakily from a park!) you may need to visit multiple places. But you will also be getting most of these cuttings absolutely free!
Use a pair of clean sharp shears to take the cuttings, aiming for branches with buds as well as flowers. Cut longer pieces than you think you will need because you can always cut them down. Score off two inches of bark above the cut to expose the fleshy interior. Keep buckets of water with you and immediately submerge as much of the stem as possible in water. Store the cuttings in an air conditioned room for at least two hours before arranging. Before the ceremony, mist the arrangements to keep the blooms looking fresh!
For all cut arrangements, use cool water, a quarter cup of 7-Up, and a few drops of bleach in your bucket for each arrangement. The soda adds needed sugar while the bleach kills off bacteria that could cause the flowers to wilt prematurely.
Growing your own wedding flowers can be strenuous and time-consuming, but is also extremely rewarding. Home grown flowers will add an original and personalized feel to your wedding. Flowers symbolize new beginnings, and the ones you nurtured yourself will be all the more special (and cost-effective) for your special day.