How Do Flowers Grow?

How do flowers grow... an important question whose answer will make you a better flower gardener in addition to putting you in closer touch with the world around you.

First, plants will only begin to flower when they are sufficiently mature, and flowers are produced to ensure that the plant species will survive. For some plants, this can be in their first years of growth, but for others like bamboos, flowering may mean they’re about to die.

To complicate things further, throughout the years gardeners have developed knowledge and techniques of manipulating flowering plants to change flower timing and to increase flower volume, quality and variety.

4 Stages of flower development

Knowing what to do at each of the five stages of a flowering plant’s development can help you achieve better results when trying to grow them…

  1. Germination
  2. Pre-flowering growth
  3. Pollination
  4. Seed Dispersal

1. Germination

Flowering plants grow from seeds. Each flower variety needs a special combination of light, temperature and water to begin to germinate. This is a critical time in a plant’s growth and needs careful attention.

Over time, gardeners have found ways to give some seed varieties a helping hand. For instance, some hard-shelled seeds like Sweet Peas will germinate quicker if small nicks are made in their shell before planting. Other varieties such as Irises need exposure to a cold temperature (stratification) before they can germinate. Some seeds, such as those from Morning Glories, will begin to grow sooner if they’re soaked.

Making sure germinating plants have enough water is essential. But overwatering can lead to damping off. This is caused by fungi present in the soil.

Too much moisture encourages fungal growth which will cause your new seedlings to collapse. Making sure equipment like pots is clean helps avoid this.

Thin out seedlings as well, as overcrowding makes damping off more likely.

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2. Pre-flowering growth

As flower buds form, they are developing their pollen inside. Plants know their flowering season by responding to the temperature and amount of daylight they receive.

Gardeners sometimes manipulate this process by using techniques such as “forcing” (also called "vernalization"). In order to "force" a plant's seeds or seedlings, subject them to lower than their ideal temperatures and/or less than ideal amounts of sunlight to encourage the plant to grow and flower earlier in the season.

Some flowers are better at being forced than others, and each type of flower has different ideal forcing timing, temperatures and durations. For example, hyacinths are the most popular flowering bulbs to force. Keeping them in the dark for about 8 weeks after planting can result in them flowering early in mid winter.

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3. Pollination

While some plants can reproduce asexually (for example, plant a root cutting or a stem cutting, and a new plant will emerge), most plants reproduce sexually through pollination. A future plants’ genetic makeup is created at the pollination stage.

During pollination, pollen grains carrying the male sperm (gametes) are carried by insects or animals to the female part of the plant where the gametes come into contact with the female’s ovule. This can occur either between two plants (cross-pollination) or within the same plant (self-pollination). A sexually reproducing plant’s sexual organs are contained in its flowers.

Many spectacular flowers we love evolved their colors and shapes to attract creatures that help them pollinate. Scent and nectar are also used to encourage and reward pollinating visitors.

Gardeners sometimes use artificial methods to pollinate plants. This may be because of a lack of bees or other pollinating insects.

Sometimes it’s to encourage plants to set fruit, but gardeners also work at creating new cultivars by cross-pollinating different flowers. To accomplish this, use a paint brush to gently move pollen to carpel. Collect your seeds to see the result of your breeding experiments next year.

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4. Seed Dispersal

Once flowers have faded, they produce seed heads. Seeds are moved by the wind, water or birds or other creatures.

Encouraging plants that self-seed can be a great way to fill in the gaps in your garden, especially if you’re beginning a garden from scratch. These flowers can always be cleared as other perennials and shrubs begin to grow to their final size.

Deadheading to encourage growth

A plant’s flowers are also used to create seeds. Removing fading flowers before seeds are fully formed is one way to trick some plants into giving you more flowers.

Pinch flowers as the petals fade and they start to droop. Tall flowers that are long and spiky such as hollyhocks, foxgloves and lupins need their flowers removed before the lower petals are fading. This is because they start to develop seed heads quickly.

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