~ A 6th Generation Flower Farm ~

8664 360th Street – St. Joseph, MN

Podcast Episode 27

How to Grow Cosmos for Your Flower Farm

Welcome back to another Sunny Mary Meadow podcast/blog post. I am your host Liz Fiedler, and today, we are going to talk about Cosmos. I

I love doing episodes on the complicated things/the advanced “flower farmer” things like ranunculus, dahlias, lisianthus, high tunnels, and all of those things. But I also know so many of you are beginner gardeners and you really want to know some of the basics like zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos. If you go back to some of my earlier posts, I talk about what I would grow as a first-time flower farmer and or what I grew my very first season. Cosmos is definitely on that list – they’re so easy to grow. I think sometimes that first year you are growing flowers, you need a little bit of a win.

Honestly, they can be kind of finicky … well, maybe finicky isn’t the right word. They are very delicate in some ways and that can make them not quite as simple and low maintenance as some of the others I recommend for first-time growers. They can turn really messy really quickly. I definitely got really lucky with my cosmos the first couple of years. Year one I probably had about 20 plants, or something like that, in my tiny garden. That first year I just kind of did this as a hobby with a little farmstand. Then year two, I had probably a 50-foot row of them and I think I got really lucky because I didn’t stake them at all and they did just fine. Then year three (last year) it was terrible. It was a disaster. I wanted to rip them out right away. I think that is why experienced flower farmers/gardeners/growers have such a love-hate relationship with cosmos, which I didn’t understand right away.

I would see people on Instagram say that cosmos were flowers and that they were never growing again, and I didn’t get it. I was like, “How are cosmos on that list? I’m gonna grow Cosmos forever and ever, Amen. They’re like my favorite flower. They’re so giving. They’re so great in bouquets. They’re so whimsical.” But last year I saw what they meant. I can honestly say that they will forever be on my list of flowers I will grow, but I considered getting rid of them after last year. The reason I tend to say they’re so easy is because you can just plop some seeds in the ground and within a very short time period, they are coming up.

If you are new to the blog, we also have a podcast where I share all of this same information. You can find it pretty much anywhere you get podcasts … Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, etc. Also, look toward the end of this blog post for more info about Sunny Mary Meadow Premium!

I also want to give a shout-out to my friend Beth for transcribing the podcast to get these blog posts. She types it up, edits the text to make it flow as a reader, and makes it all pretty and professional. So, thank you so much, Beth. It takes a lot of work to get this blog on this website, so if you do read it, I would appreciate it if you would let me know. Send me an email at podcast@sunnymarymeadow.com or send me a message on social media – @sunnymarymeadow on Instagram or Sunny Mary Meadow on Facebook – and just let us know that you read it so we know who our audience is. Plus, it’s always nice to know the work is worth the effort! Okay, now back to talking about cosmos!

They have this very distinct leaf structure. It kind of looks like tiny, little, quarter-inch lines coming out of them – they’re very distinct. That’s also really nice when they’re first coming up and we are weeding/planting. With a lot of plants, if you don’t know what they look like when they’re little, it can be really hard to decipher between the plant and a weed. That’s another reason I think that they are something great to start out as direct seed. You can start them in seed trays, too. In fact, I think I am going to try to start 72 of them in a seed tray next year and then transplant them out, rather than direct-seed them into the ground.

I never really understood why some of the people I follow wouldn’t direct seed more things into the ground. But now that I’m growing in such a large area, I realize that in order to keep up with the weeds and everything, it can be hard to direct-seed a lot of things. So, you can choose – you can easily just pop the seeds in the ground, and they come up quickly, or you can start them in a tray. Or you can buy these at a lot of nurseries and they still get fairly tall. So, no matter what, you’re going to be fine. Whereas zinnias or snapdragons are dwarfed varieties if you buy those at a greenhouse/nursery.

They do prefer very sunny areas with well-drained soil, but other than that they’re pretty easy to pop right into the ground or start them ahead of time. They also definitely need staking. Year one I had some twine kind of corralled around my zinnias and I think I did that around my cosmos as well. I just didn’t know at that point if I needed it or not. Then, the next year, I didn’t do any staking at all, and quite frankly I got lucky. Then last year, in 2022, we had a couple of windstorms and a couple of rainstorms. And they were completely growing sideways, which gives you 90-degree angles for stems, and that just does not work in a cut flower vase. So, this year, I used my netting with the squares that are 6 in x 6 in and some T-posts to support them. Here is a link to the netting that I use.

Supporting cosmos as they are growing is pretty critical. Otherwise, they can grow sideways and then you have to cut some of them off. They’re such dainty little stems that they’re going to look so wonky looking in the vase if you try to use them. One of my best friends calls them Dr. Seuss flowers and I can’t unsee it now that she has said that.

The other thing that you do need to worry about with them is that the lower part of the plants is susceptible to powdery mildew, just like zinnias can be. They can get those dark, brownish spots on them. Honestly, it doesn’t really spread to other plants, it doesn’t affect anything for next year, it’s going to be just an annual plant anyway. Once frost comes, it’s gonna kill it anyway, so you just kind of deal with it. One thing that really helps is to continuously keep pinching them.

I don’t want to do multiple rows of them in my You Pick area, because I know they get cut pretty easily. So, I think in years to come, I’m just going to wait until the first of June … like two to three weeks after our last frost in the spring … to start planting them. I really don’t need them until around August anyway, and they just get so ugly-looking once they’ve been growing for a long time. The other option, if they are not in a high-traffic area or an area where your customers are going to see them if you’re a flower farmer, would be to plant them in multiple successions. So on May 15th, you’d plant some, on June 10th you’d plant some, and you could even wait until around the end of June to do one more, depending on what your last frost date is. So, you could do two to three successions, but I’m just going to wait to plant all of them until a little bit later because I don’t need three successions of them. Also, once you cut them, they keep producing. They start getting tired later in the season and then they can really get out of control quickly. I don’t need more than a 5 ft x 60 ft row of them. I just don’t need them.

Another thing that is really nice about them is you can use them for foliage/greenery. That is wonderful because they can be good texture and fill out the bouquets and look really nice. I will say a lot of our bouquets that we do for our subscriptions, or even just a one-off sale, what makes them look so cute and unique, and kind of that whimsical wildflower look, is that we use so many different ingredients. We don’t do three of these, three of these, three of these, one of these. We don’t do perfectly symmetrical arrangements. It might have one strawflower, two statice, one snapdragon, one cosmos, etc.

If you’re using the cosmos flowers themselves, and not just the greenery, and it’s really whimsical, then one (or two or three or five) is fine. But if I’m just using it as the foliage or greenery, it kind of sticks out if you only use one. So, I like to have three of those in any type of bouquet that I do when using it as greenery. If it’s spaced out within the whole bouquet, I feel like you don’t really focus on it and it’s just kind of background or filler, as it should be. But because it’s such a bright, vivid green (almost a lime green-looking color) compared to a lot of the other leaves, I like to really spread out the stems within the bouquet. Otherwise, since a lot of the other foliage is darker green, if it’s not spread out your eye gets drawn to it. Whereas if it’s everywhere, it’s not something that you focus on.

Another thing is you’ll see cosmos in a lot of wildflower mixes. I’ve started really paying attention because I’m trying to decide what I’m going to do with my 20-acre cornfield. I’m trying to decide if we should just turn it into CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) land or if we should turn it into wildflowers. I don’t know what we’ll end up doing. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed some … I don’t want to say disasters, but … what happens is a lot of the wildflower mixes are so cute the first year because they’re a mixture of annuals (like cosmos and zinnias) and perennials (like Black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, bee balm, etc.). And unfortunately, a lot of the mixture is actually annuals, so, then year two is pretty much all Black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and bee balm, and the cosmos and zinnias aren’t there anymore because they have to drop their seed in order to reproduce.

Because of this, I am hesitant to turn it into a wildflower field. Now that I’ve seen how some in the area have turned out I’ve thought, “Well, I don’t want a whole field of Black-eyed Susans and I don’t want a whole field of coneflowers.”  But you will see a lot of cosmos in those initial wildflower mixes. This also leads me to believe that maybe they’re a little more hardy to frost than we think, depending on when they’re planted.

Now I want to talk about when you harvest them. You really want to cut them before they open, when they’re barely past the cracking-bud stage, otherwise they will not last long. They’ll get brown and they’ll get ugly quickly. You really have to cut them when they’re barely opening. Now, my “You Pick-ers” don’t understand that. They don’t want that. They want the flowers that are fully open, so I’m like, “Yep, go ahead and pick 10 of them. They’ll last a little while and just take them out as you need to.”

So again, you do want to cut them when they’re barely opening for a longer vase life. What we do is go through and cut a bunch of them. We do have to deadhead quite a few of them that are too far open. So if one stem has three flowers/buds on it, and one is fully open, but two little buds are not quite cracked open yet, I’ll just disbud or cut off with a scissors, the one that’s fully open. So, then at least we have two small buds left to open yet and can use those. We also cut very, very deep. Sometimes we cut three-foot stems. These things get really tall! They’re like four-and-a-half to five-and-a-half feet tall. Some are almost my height … at least certain varieties are. So you cut a really deep stem because you want them to keep producing. Cut low, cut low, cut low. Sometimes the netting can be frustrating, but we do put the netting about two feet off the ground, so it’s pretty high.

Now I’m going to talk about varieties. My favorite kind is definitely the Double Click. It’s almost like two layers of petals coming out of the center, which makes it really full and whimsical looking. They’re super dainty. I have a lot of the blush and white colors, but they also come in a dark maroon color. The Versailles variety looks a lot more like a daisy and they’re both part of the Aster family, so that makes sense. They’re these dainty little flowers. Sometimes they have a darker rim/outline and then they get lighter as they go toward the petal. It’s pretty fun to have that variety of color in those. You can do a lot of things with them … you can dress it up, dress it down. It gives it that wild, whimsical look with those dainty little petals. My daughter, Vidalia’s, favorite variety is the Cupcake variety. It literally looks like a cupcake holder, or a muffin holder, right there in your bouquet. I love the cupcake variety, too. Those are my three favorite varieties that I grow.

There is also a Chocolate variety that I love.  I bought seeds this year, but I did not get them planted. I’m really sad about it, but I will just plant them next year. I bought them from Johnny’s Seeds. I’m not sure if you can buy them anywhere else. It’s this chocolate color … it’s not brown, but it’s like a little rosette-like bloom of a very, very dark maroon if that makes sense. They’re found growing in the wild in Mexico. Cosmos also comes in a really bright yellow that a lot of people like to plant and those are the Sulfur varieties.

Cosmos are so pretty and whimsical, but if you don’t stake them, if you don’t prune them if you don’t care for them, they can get out of hand really quickly and look incredibly messy. If you are a home gardener, when you get sick of them or when they start getting ugly, you have a couple of options. You can cut them out completely and be done with them for the year or you can just cut them down. I’ve seen a lot of people cut them down to around eight inches off the ground and just start fresh. They’ll just start again and branch off. In fact, I’ve seen people literally take a chainsaw and just cut off the whole patch and then let them grow back. It’s essentially like a really deep pinch if you want to think of it that way. So that’s what I have to share about growing cosmos. I know it’s kind of a short, quick little episode, but I think it’s important that we talk about some of the basic things and don’t just talk about things like high tunnels and dahlias. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about dahlias, but I also want to cover some of the easier-to-grow options. In fact, for both of the dahlia podcast episodes, we had something like 1700 downloads for both of them – part one and part two. I cannot believe how close the numbers are between them. There was like a four-person difference. I keep checking the numbers and they keep going up by like 20 a day. People go crazy about dahlias so that’s super fun to see. I like to see what people like and what they are listening to. That being said, I do think it’s important that we get back to the basics a little bit.

One last thing … podcast listeners & blog readers, I have an ask of you. Between planning these episodes, recording, editing, uploading, and transcribing the podcast to a blog, and the fees to even have an account, this podcast/blog takes a lot of time, effort, and resources. I’m fortunate to have a team helping me out but it’s time to evaluate where this podcast is going and if we can continue doing this. I have had so many messages and emails letting me know that this podcast/blog has brought some bit of joy to people’s day or week and is entertaining, inspiring, or on some other day just improves their life, their drive, whatever it might be. I want to keep this podcast/blog focused on content that informs, entertains, and is mindful of your time. One way to accomplish this is through direct listener support. Your support would help the podcast & blog not only continue but grow. Because of these, we are introducing Sunny Mary Meadow Premium. Here is a link where you can quickly and easily support the podcast/blog and the whole thing takes about 60 seconds. We are asking for $7 per month to help continue our mission of educating and entertaining you. If the Sunny Mary Meadow Podcast and/or Blog is a part of your day or week, and you love what you’re hearing/reading, please consider supporting us. As a special thank you, you will receive access to weekly bonus podcast episodes of what we did on the farm that week. They will be anywhere from 5 to 15-minute episodes. So, think of that $7 as a high-five to keep us going and creating the episodes. It’s less than $2 a week just to keep us going and allow us to share this information with you. Thank you for your support!

Bonus Note from Liz: Hey, everyone! I want to talk quickly about my course that I’m launching this fall, Peddling Perishable Products. Essentially, if you like the episodes where I tell you how to grow the flowers, I really think you’re gonna like the episodes where I tell you how to sell the flowers. Ultimately, I tried creating some podcast episodes talking about how I do things, and it just felt incomplete, and I really want to make a difference. I want to make it easier on you, and I don’t want you to find out how to do things the hard way.

If you want more information on how to sell your flowers and turn them into a comprehensive business, go HERE and sign up for a Calendly call. I promise it’s not intimidating. It’s 15 minutes where I’m going to tell you the stats on my sales, and I’m going to ultimately give you information on the course. If, at the end of the phone call, the answer is no or not yet, I promise no hard feelings. I just really, really want to help you turn your flower hobby into a successful business if that’s what you want to do. Again, no hard feelings. Just sign up on the Calendly link. Thanks!

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