By Helen Dake, U. C. Master Gardener of Napa County
Something changes when you put fresh flowers or foliage in a room. I have always believed this and have always tried to include plants in my garden that I could cut for the house throughout the year.
I loved learning about recent behavioral research that supports this belief. Studies suggest that bringing nature indoors leads to measurably better emotional well-being. People who have flowers indoors report improvement in their moods and stress levels. People who lived with flowers in their homes for just a few days reported a significant decrease in their stress levels and improvement in their moods.
Additionally, flowers in a home induce positive feelings in visitors. The space feels more welcoming.
These findings are part of a growing body of research demonstrating how the natural environment affects well-being. Recent studies found that walking in nature at lunch improves people's creativity and attention span in the afternoon.
The message for those of us who garden is to include flowers and foliage that we can cut and bring indoors. And now is the time to plant seeds for annual flowers you can cut this summer.
Although many favorite cut flowers (dahlias, lilies, roses) require planning, expense and preparation, annuals suited for cutting can be sown directly in the garden over the next couple of weeks.
Whether you set aside an area in your garden for cut flowers or add them to an existing vegetable garden, prepare the soil first. Remove all weeds in the planting area, work in some compost and a balanced fertilizer, following package directions. Rake smooth.
Most flower seeds need warm soil (at least 70°F) to germinate, so wait until the ground has warmed up. I usually direct-seed summer annuals in early May. After sowing, keep the bed moist. Think of the planted seeds as tender babies and check on them daily or even more often.
Once the seeds sprout and grow a bit, you can worry less about them.
If you have birds in your garden (and who doesn't?), you may need to cover the emerging seedlings with floating row cover from your local nursery or tulle fabric from a sewing or craft store. Snails and slugs love baby seedlings. Hand-pick them in the evening or use an iron phosphate snail bait.
Sunflowers can cheer up any room, and they are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. As long as the ground is kept moist, they will pop up in 7 to 10 days or less. You can choose from many colors and shapes. For cutting, choose varieties labeled as “branching.” A single plant will produce multiple flowers.
Cosmos are tall, airy plants with multiple blooms. Seed catalogs offer new varieties every year, but the classics (Purity and Sensation) germinate more easily. Cosmos will generally bloom in less than three months from the date you sow them.
Sometimes gardeners don't cut flowers because they don't want to lose their beauty in the garden. However, with many flowers, including cosmos, the more you cut them, the more they bloom.
Zinnias are the queen of summer annuals. If you are accustomed to regular zinnias, you will be impressed with some of the new varieties. Benary's zinnias produce giant double flowers with long stems in wonderful colors, including pastel salmon and pale green. The zinnia variety Persian Carpet starts reliably and covers bare patches with airy bright color.
Herbs can be brought inside, too. Basil Amaretto starts easily and produces lovely scented purple foliage with small, spired flowers that mix well with others.
You can find flower seeds on racks at local nurseries, but there is still time to order online for May planting. If you don't have the time or energy to start plants from seed, visit a local nursery and buy some flower starts. A six-pack or two of State Fair zinnias will provide bright, colorful bouquets all summer. A six-pack of almost any cosmos planted in a blank space in the garden will lift your spirits in the garden and produce blooms to bring indoors.
Think about sharing your flowers with a friend or neighbor. Studies suggest that when people receive flowers, their mood brightens and stays brighter for days.
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will hold a workshop on “Flowers and Foliage in the House” on Saturday, April 27, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m, at University of California Cooperative Extension, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. Something changes when you put fresh flowers or greenery in a room. This workshop will cover choosing and planting annuals and perennials that work well for cutting, starting seeds, preparing your soil, direct-sowing seeds, selecting pollinator-friendly flowers and flower arranging. Participants will take home seeds and flower starts. Online registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (check only or drop off cash payment).
UC Master Gardeners of Napa County have begun the process of re-establishing a demonstration garden in Napa Valley. For further developments, please visit the Demonstration Garden link on our website ( http://napamg.ucanr.edu/).
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County (http:/napamg.ucanr.edu) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.