Fill Your Yard with Flowers for Free (practically)!

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Birds, bees and butterflies rejoice! It’s the season to fill our yards with blooming fragrant flowers. Whether it’s flowerpots brimming with colorful blooms or beautiful flowerbeds adorning a house – flowers and plants are a great way to make every yard more attractive.

I love having lots of flowers in my yard. I always feel a twinge of envy when I pass a home that has a yard filled with flowerbeds and flower gardens. But, these well tended lawns with matching mulches and weed free edging take lots of time and money to create and maintain.

Personally, I like my yard to look like the flowers were always there. I am not a big fan of super manicured lawns. I live in a home with kids – not a golf course or country club estate. I love to see carefree blooms waving their fragrant blossoms in the breeze to attract all manner of pollinators. So, how do I go about creating a yard with tons of flowers, for free?

As a single mother of 3 young girls, I manage a tight budget. It is just not possible for me to spend hundreds of dollars on flowers, mulch, fertilizer and all of the other supplies necessary required for landscaping. Heck, I don’t have $100 extra to spend on flowers. Colorful flowers surrounding my home transform it into a colorful and cheerful farmhouse. During the summer, I grow tall happy sunflowers in the back of the flowerbeds and lots of zinnias and marigolds in the front.I have elegant Love Lies Bleeding bowing gracefully at the corners of my vegetable gardens. In the spring, Daisies pop up everywhere and during summer Black-Eyed Susans (my fave) appear in surprising places.

How do I manage to grow all of these beautiful flowers on such a tight  budget? All of my flowers are started from seeds that I saved from last season’s flowers!

I moved to my current home about 6 years ago. It is an older farmhouse-style home situated perfectly amongst cornfields and grazing cows. During the summer months, I can’t even see my neighbor’s houses due to the height of the growing corn. Our trees are filled with a melody of songbirds that migrate to Ohio to raise their offspring. Owls and Red-Tailed Hawks perch high in the old trees, patiently watching their territory. The first I saw this house, I fell in love with it. The only heating source for the 2 story home was a wood stove, the windows were rattly and drafty and the crawl space under the house helped keep it nice and cold during the winter, but I didn’t care. All I could see were my future vegetable and flower gardens. I could visualize my girls playing on a tire swing and giggling.

In my quest to plant as many flowers as possible, I had to get creative. I knew saving my seeds was my best option to guarantee continuous and bountiful blooms. The first step was to prepare the existing flowerbeds for planting. I used a spade shovel to turn over the soil. This loosens the soil and helps aerate, as well. I incorporated peat moss into the soil to help moisture retention during the hot summer. I didn’t have any saved to seeds that first planting season, so I purchased the most inexpensive zinnia, marigold and sunflower seed packets I could find. All of these plants work great to use for saved seeds.

Zinnias are a fantastic annual flower to grow. The come in a dazzling array of colors, sizes and textures.  You can buy Thumbelina which is a small single bloom variety all the way to the Giant Cactus variety. You can choose the traditional red and pink hues or go for green blooms, yellow, white, striped and spotted. I grow a pretty Lime Queen variety which has a green double bloom and red stripes. It looks pretty to group one color together, such as red, and then separate the groups with some visually interesting striped flowers. Zinnias are a hardy annual that are pest and disease resistant. They hold up well during those long, hot and dry summer days. The butterflies and bees will have a choice of plants and colors to drink their nectar from, pollinating life as they go.

I start the seeds directly into the prepared soil after it has warmed. I live in a Ohio Zone 4, so this is usually early to mid May. I just sprinkle the seeds over the ground and cover with a fine layer of peat moss. Keep your seeds uniformly moist for the  first week or so. The seeds should sprout within 7-10 days depending on weather. Once they sprout, I give them a drink of organic all-purpose fertilizer, which will give them a growth boost. If the seedlings are too dense, gingerly pluck out a few and gently transplant to a bare area. Small plants and seedlings can’t hold much water, so make sure they don’t dry out. At the same time I plant the zinnia seeds, I also plant marigold and sunflower seeds. They require the same basic care, so they are perfect to plant together. Just be aware of the height the mature plants will be and put the taller plants in the back. You don’t want tall sunflowers to create too much shade for your smaller plants.

All three of these flowers also make beautiful cut flower arrangements. Sunflowers look stunning in a vase. They will start dropping pollen after they have been in the house for a few days, so be careful where you place them. Zinnias and marigolds both hold up well in cut flower arrangements. Remember to change the water every couple of days and you will extend their shelf life. By growing my own flowers from seed, I can have fresh flowers all over the house. It feels like such a luxury to have beautiful flowers on the stand next to my bed or to see them first thing in the morning on the bathroom sink. Also as you cut the flowers for use in the house, you help the plant. By removing the mature flower, the plant can use its energy to grow new flowers and keep it’s roots healthy. You can extend your flowers well into early Fall.

As the end of Summer approaches and early Fall is beckoning, you will notice your plants are slowing their growth and turning brown. This is the time, you let some of the flowers grow into full maturity. Select some of the biggest and healthiest flowers and resist cutting them.

Now, you just need a little patience. The leaf petals will turn brown and start to fall off. The seed heads will dry out and turn brown also. Select flowers intermittently throughout the gardens to allow to turn brown. Your gardens will stay pretty while you are cultivating seeds for next season. You will be graced with lingering migratory Monarchs and Swallowtails getting ready for winter discovering a respite in your gardens.

After the flowers have turned brown and crunchy, you can either snip off the top halves or pull the plants out, roots and all. Tie the uprooted plants together. Hang upside down in a protected area to finish drying.

‘Once the seeds are completely dry, the next step is to package them in secure containers that will last all winter. I use clean and dry coffee containers, large spice containers, or any containers that are heavy plastic with secure screw lids. I store my seeds in an unheated laundry room.They are vulnerable to chipmunks and mice looking for a winter meal.As long as the containers are heavy plastic and have secure lids, they will remain unscathed during the cold months.

The more flowers you plant, the more seeds you will be able to harvest. Every year, I slowly increase the size of my existing flowerbeds or start a new one. Last year, I started a new flower garden in the front yard. I planted all saved seeds and those plants provided a whole new crop of seeds.

It is so gratifying to look at your beautiful gardens filled with blooming flowers of all colors and textures, and know, you did it all for FREE!

I hope you try saving seeds. Let me know if you have any tips or tricks on saving seeds or other gardening wisdom.

 

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