Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Choosing, Using and Growing Edible Flowers

Edible flowers add not only color but tang to many dishes.
There are many types of beautiful edible flowers. They grow on annuals, biennials, perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines.

Annual flowers complete their life cycle—from seed, to vegetative plant, to bloom, to setting seed, to death of the plant—in one growing season. Most annuals need to be replanted each year, but others easily re-sow themselves. Their seed is scattered by wind, weather, and wildlife to “volunteer” the next season when conditions are favorable. Calendula and Johnny jump-ups are two edible flowers that are easy to grow and readily reseed. Gardeners love annuals for their riotous colors. They perform quickly, especially if transplants are used, and provide relatively long periods of bloom. At the end of an annual’s growing season, the entire plant can be put in the compost pile and something else can take its place.

Biennials are typically planted in the fall and complete their growing season the following spring.

Perennial plants live more than two years and, once established, bloom each year. Some die back to the ground in their off-season; others retain foliage year-round. Perennials require more maintenance than annuals. They may need to be cut back during their offseason and divided and replanted as they increase in size. Some of their blooms are tall or heavy enough to require staking. Unlike annuals, which have a lengthy flowering period, most perennials display peak blossoms for a two- or three-week period.

Vines can be an annual or, like shrubs and trees, grow for many years, flowering each year.

Growing edible flowers is essentially the same as growing flowers for ornamental purposes, except that only pesticides approved for edible crops are used. Most flowers require a nutrient rich, well-drained soil with a pH around 5.5 to 6.5. Use the directions in “A Gardener’s Guide to Soil Testing,” found at, to conduct a soil test. For more information, visit the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ website on Soil Testing at Amend your planting bed as recommended based on the results of your test. For more information on soil testing, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension center by visiting http://www.ces.

Use a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to reduce weeds, conserve soil moisture, maintain uniform soil temperatures, and reduce the amount of soil splashed onto the plant during heavy rain. During the growing season, from spring through fall, most plants will need 1 inch of water each week. If rainfall is inadequate, provide needed irrigation. If possible, avoid overhead sprinklers because moisture on the leaf surface for extended periods of time can increase the chances of disease development. Irrigate with a soaker hose or drip irrigation.

Many edible flowers can be successfully grown in containers.

Avoid using chemical pest control, if possible. Handpick harmful insects from the plant instead of spraying. Promote beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and green lacewings, which can help decrease insect pest populations. Growing a variety of flowers provides diversity to support a healthy beneficial insect population and keep pest problems low. Many gardeners locate their edible flower gardens away from other plants to avoid chemical spray drift.

To prolong the bloom period, remove spent blossoms weekly. Use Table 1 to help plan for year-round color and interest in your garden and your menu. See the entire growing guide with flower chart with: 
AG-790 Choosing and Using Edible Flowers 
Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

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