An English cottage garden brushed with the regal spires of blue delphinium in early summer is a coveted scene for many. These tall, top-heavy beauties tower above the phlox and foxgloves. Often times the weight of the flower head will cause the thick stem to snap in windy areas. Staking is recommended as a precaution.
Unfortunately, you may encounter the dreaded sight of one of these beauties hanging upside down on the plant. What is the gardener to do when a delphinium breaks and you can’t bear to part with the gorgeous flower ? If you’re like other beginner delph growers, you probably blame yourself for not staking it correctly or maybe even ignoring the need to stake it in the first place (hmmm… that would be me).
The first step in getting over the loss of a broken stem is to admit the shortcoming if it’s on your part and move on. Sometimes nature can be inconsiderate and there’s really nothing you could have done to prevent it in the case of disease, insects or even high winds and rain. The second step is to quickly turn a negative into a positive.
There are several options for this type of plant emergency.
Option 1: Use it as a cut flower. I chose this option for this morning’s wind-snapped bloom.
Delphiniums have brittle, hollow stems and don’t take up water easily. You will need to help it absorb the water. Using a sharp blade, cut the thick stem at a point above the break. and fill the hollow stem with water.
You can use a slow stream of lukewarm water from the faucet or an eyedropper. Vibrate the stem by gently tapping it with the flick of a finger until the water travels down into the stem.
Continue until the stem fills with water. When the stem can’t take anymore, ever so gently plug it with a moistened cotton swab. Be careful not to split the stem! You may need to remove some cotton to allow it to fit inside. Then slowly plug the stem with the swab by pushing it inside-gently.
You can wrap the stem bottom with a couple twists of a rubber band to contain it so it doesn’t split. Cut the stick of the swab short and place into a vase with lukewarm water. Theoretically, the paper stem of the cotton swab will act as a wick and allow the stem to soak up additional water. I am not sure if the plastic-stemmed swabs will work the same. The cut flower head should last about 6 days.
There, you rescued the bloom and can now enjoy it close-up indoors! Let it be a reminder to put stakes in the delphiniums ASAP. I found this great link for staking delphiniums and their general care.
Option 2: You can simply place the delphinium into a vase without any water and let it dry completely. Display this everlasting stem in your home away from moisture and direct sunlight. My beautiful blue Pacific Giant ‘Blue Jay’ delphinium looks beautiful against the white beadboard in the front porch.
The individual florets can also be dried flat individually as accents for wreaths, bows even gift wrapped packages or other crafts.
In the photo below, a few of the lower florets were taken from the main stem and inserted into faux boxwood on a grapevine wreath. They will shrink and dry in place just like the hydrangea heads did at the top a few years ago. You can also dry them flat.
Option 3: Press the single florets or whole stock in a thick book between several sheets of absorbent paper and add weight on the book with a brick or comparable heavy item. Don’t use paper towels because the texture will embed into the flowers. When pressed and dry in about a week, use the colorful florets as accents in homemade greeting cards, book marks and other crafts.
Option 4: There is a slight chance that the flower head may continue to bloom on the plant after it bends but is still connected. I’ve not had any experience with this but have seen websites that claim it can be done. By creating a “splint” from a popsicle stick or several bamboo skewers, you can try to secure it above and below the bend using floral tape or strips of nylon/cotton. I haven’t tried this method on broken flower heads because I always opt to use them as cut or dried flowers. If the flower stem is severed, then choose one of the other options because the connective tissue of the plant is damaged.
I purchased my delphiniums in May of 2014 online from Graceful Gardens. Everything was labeled and packaged quite well and I would order from them again.
Delphinium Blue Lace
Delphinium Pacific Giant Blue Bird
Delphinium Pacific Giant Blue Jay
Delphinium Pacific Giant Galahad
Delphinium Pacific Giant Summer Skies
Delphinium Centurion Gentian Blue – NEW!
Delphinium Magic Fountain Sky Blue
It’s amazing how quickly these tiny plants grew into such tall specimens this year. My beautiful, blue delphinium flower head was standing about 5′ tall at the Cottage. Heavy rain heavy coupled with wind were no match for it last evening. Believing that the fence would help to protect the delphs from the westerly winds without stakes, gave me a false sense of security.
Growing these English cottage beauties is going to be a challenge since we are a low-maintenance garden and staking is just one more chore. We are in a windy area so it’s necessary. I’m feeling determined and vow to be better-prepared earlier in the season so that next year’s blooms will have every chance to be spectacular. I hope they return for another show.
How about your delphiniums? Where do you grow them with success and do you have any tips to share? What do you do with broken flower heads? I’m looking forward to hearing suggestions. In the interim, I’m gathering my stakes.