Pick home-grown heirloom flowers
Whether you want wildflowers or roses, you’re bound to be able to grow unique flowers in your own garden to create a personalized bouquet. Whatever your choice, be sure to grow heirloom varieties to perpetuate the earth’s biodiversity and consider opting for native plants suitable for your climate.
How to grow heirloom flowers
To choose the right heirloom seeds and plants for your region's growing conditions, answer the following questions:
- How much rainfall do you get? If you live in an arid or drought-prone area, choose plants with low-water requirements. If your climate is damp and rainy, check out the "expanded search" option of Virtual Plant Tags to find water-loving plants that don't mind getting their feet wet.
- How long is your growing season? If you live in a northern climate with a limited number of frost-free days, you'll want to select seeds and plants carefully. Some flowers won't make it to maturity if your garden's in Maine. Find out the number of days in your growing season and the dates for first and last frost by consulting The Old Farmer's Almanac's Frost Chart for the United States.
- How hot does it get? While some plants wilt in high heat, others thrive. Learn which plants are native to your area: consult the Native Plant Database, which contains over 6,000 trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, and is searchable by state or province.
- How cold does it get? Some perennial flowers won't survive if the thermometer dips too low. Learn what gardening zone you're in by consulting the National Arbor Day Foundation's Hardiness Zones Map.
- Do you live at a high altitude? Successful alpine plants must tolerate very short growing seasons, as well as extreme temperatures, wind, and snow. If you live in the mountains, check out Colorado State University Extension's Flowers for Mountain Communities.
- Do you live near the ocean? Seaside gardening requires special planning—brisk winds and salt air can wreak havoc on many plants. Salt is corrosive and can result in salt burn on tender leaves. Wind-tolerant plants often have small or waxy leaves that prevent water loss. For coastal California gardens, consult the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener FAQs (questions two and four). Coastal Floridians should read the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's "Rules for a Green Thumb at the Coast."
Before you buy
- Avoid plucking free-range wildflowers: As eco-friendly as picking wildflowers from the side of the road may seem, it could actually harm your local ecosystem. Many wildflowers are endangered, so picking them might hurt their chances of survival in the wild. Get to know the wildflowers in your area that are threatened or endangered by checking this easy-to-use plant profiles map from the US Forest Service or this comprehensive database that helps you identify those mysterious blooms in your alley or backyard (search by flower and leaf shape, color, bloom month, and much more!)
- Weed them out: Perhaps you’ve got some pretty little unidentified lavender flowers growing in a field next door that would make a charming bouquet or be a good addition to your home garden. What looks harmless, though, might actually be an invasive plant, so be informed before you pick one to propagate in your yard. Learn more with these resources:
- This state noxious weed list will give you tips on how to identify the invasive species in your area.
- Check out Invasives 101 from The Nature Conservancy's Global Invasive Species Team to learn more about this problem and how you can help. This site also has an interesting pictorial presentation about the problem.
- Consider becoming an invasive plants volunteer with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Find it! Heirloom flower seeds
Here are some ideas for flowers to grow in your garden, depending on your particular climate. You can find these and many more from online seed stores like those listed below:
- Some like it hot: Flowers that thrive in hot climates include dusty miller, pinks, yarrow, and zinnias.
- Some like it cold: Examples of cold-tolerant flowers include asters, bleeding hearts, columbine, coreopsis, crocuses, daylilies, foxglove, hardy geraniums, hostas, irises, phlox, sedum, tulips, and yarrow.
- Some like it dry: These flowers prefer dry growing conditions: morning glories and portulaca (both annuals), as well as perennials like coreopsis, irises, narcissus, verbena, and yucca.
A California-based online garden store with a wide selection of heirloom flower seeds that can be delivered nationwide. Choose from among several seed varieties, including California Poppy, Black-eyed Susans, and Dragon's Head.
Seeds of Change cultivates and sells hundreds of open-pollinated, organically grown, heirloom, and traditional vegetable, flower, and herb seeds. Its eco-friendly plastic seed envelopes can be recycled, resealed to save unused seed, or reused.
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sells heirloom seeds and other open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds with an emphasis on vegetables, flowers, and herbs that grow well in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Growing heirloom flowers helps you go green because…
- Preserving and cultivating heirloom and native plants promotes biodiversity, which means there will be a wide variety of unique, healthy flower species to choose from for future generations.
Biodiversity is an often overlooked component of planetary health. The dizzying array of plants on our planet is the result of 3.8 billion years of evolution. Plants make all life possible, provide the basis for every ecosystem, and can resist almost any destructive threat except humans. About 250,000 of the estimated 300,000 species of plants have been identified so far. Unfortunately, many of these plants are disappearing at an alarming rate. One-third to two-thirds of all plant and animal species (primarily in the tropics) will be lost during the second half of this century if preventive action isn't taken. Of the 1,300 species on the US endangered list, 60 percent are plants, yet only 4 percent of federal recovery funding goes to protecting them.
Human impact on the earth has increased extinction rates (of plants and animals) to levels rivaling the five past mass extinctions. Genetic diversity helps plants endure harsh environments and enables them to compete with weeds, and thereby survive. When one plant species becomes extinct, it can contribute to the disappearance of up to 30 other plant species and wildlife.
"We are living in an era when our great-grandchildren may live in a world in which more than half of the plant species that exist now will be known only as specimens," said Dr. Peter Raven, a world leader in plant conservation, while presenting his findings at the Sixteenth International Botanical Congress. For instance, luffas and coneflowers that were once abundant, have now been lost or are considered endangered. Currently, about 30 percent of the world's plant species are being cultivated. Gardeners are becoming ever more aware of the need to preserve the many plant varieties in the world, and as a result are choosing to cultivate heirloom and native species to prevent further gene pool erosion.
- biodiversity: Biological diversity in an environment as indicated by numbers of different species of plants and animals.
- heirloom plant: A plant variety that was cultivated commonly during earlier human history, but is no longer in everyday use in its native habitat because modern large-scale agriculture increasingly relies on a select few varieties of plants.
- invasive species: In the case of plants, invasive species are those that spread inadvertently from gardens and other agricultural areas into the wild. They often reproduce rapidly, are very adaptable and aggressive, and can displace important (sometimes endangered) species of plants.
- native plant: A tree, flower, grass, or other plant that has occurred naturally in an area for many years and is specifically adapted to the growing conditions. The introduction of exotic (non-native) species into a region can threaten the survival of these native plants.
- Rocky Mountain Institute - A Tale of Two Botanies
- The Green Guide - Better Blooms, Bon-Bons and Fine Wines
- GardenGuides.com - Facts and Tips about Heirloom Plants
- azcentral.com - Three organizations' guides differ on plant-hardiness zones: Find out how climate change is affecting the traditional planting zone maps used by gardeners.
- Center for Plant Conservation: Working to protect and restore native plant species nationwide.
- Cooperative Extension System Offices: Contact your local Cooperative Extension Office: Get your soil tested and find out what plants grow best in your area.
- Invasive Species.org: Another list of invasive and exotic weeds to watch for.
- US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library - National Invasive Species Information Center: Plants
- US Fish and Wildlife Service - Why Save Endangered Species?: Find out why biodiversity is important and why we should save endangered plants.
- Virtual Plant Tags: If your climate is damp and rainy, use the "expanded search" option of this site to find water-loving plants.
- Wildflower Information.org: Search for wildflowers suited to your region.