Lovely Lisianthus

Lisianthus is everybody’s favorite flower that looks like a rose, but is not a rose. In fact, lisianthus are better than roses, because they have no thorns! My CSA members got bouquets full of lisianthus last week, and not one pricked finger (I hope!).

In the rose comparison race, lisianthus come out ahead on vase life as well, lasting much longer than traditional garden roses. And while it’s true that your typical supermarket dozen roses may last longer than lisianthus, that’s because of preservatives and fungicides 🙁 Not so for these organically-grown beauties!

Late Bloomers

Lisianthus are native to warm, dry areas in the Southern US and Mexico, where they grow as biennials or short-lived perennials. They would not survive the winters here in chilly zone 5 New York, so I grow lisianthus as annuals. However, since they are technically a biennial, meaning they flower in their second season, lisianthus take a loooong time to start from seed, 6 months or more!

During their first ~5 months of life, which I suppose simulates their “dormant period” during a Texas winter, lisianthus seedlings grow extremely slowly. This makes them an easy target for weeds to dominate. I kept to a strict weekly weeding schedule to give my lisianthus seedlings the best chance at thriving. Following Love’n Fresh Flowers’ advice on growing lisianthus, I also fed my seedlings with a weekly foliar spray of organic kelp and fish emulsion fertilizer. Mmm, smells like low tide! I stopped spraying when buds appeared on the young plants, so as not to discolor their petals.

I was not mentally or logistically prepared to grow lisianthus from seed this year, so I bought several hundred 4-month-old seedlings in May. They were still teensy at that age, only about two inches tall. But, all my weeding and babying paid off, because now I am reaping the ruffly-petaled rewards.

Lisianthus Struggles

As great as these blooms have been, there were a couple problems I encountered growing lisianthus this year.

Stem Length

First, my white lisianthus (Mariachi Pure White) bloomed very short, so I could not use the first few blooms for anything much, and had to wait for the terminal buds to open. I attribute the white lisianthus’ size to transplanting them out to the field too late in the spring. Mariachi is a Group 2 blooming lisianthus, which means they bloomed a few weeks earlier than my Group 3 crop, which were Arena III Apricot. The apricot lisis bloomed on tall stems, so I’m thinking the white ones just needed an extra few weeks to reach a similar height.

Fusarium Wilt

Thankfully only a few of my lisianthus succumbed to this form of root rot, but next year I will try to keep plants healthier with earlier foliar feedings and perhaps a treatment of RootShield prior to transplanting them out into the field.

Falling over

I did exactly nothing to support my lisianthus stems. This was all right, until we had several strong thunderstorms that flattened the outermost row of lisianthus. Next year I will try corralling them with string as a way to support the plants.

Lisianthus come in a wide range of colors, and this year I only grew two. Next year I will definitely grow more of these wonderful flowers! And perhaps, if I’m feeling brave, even start them myself from seed, in the depths of winter.

Samantha is the farmer and owner at Sea Change.

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