Flower’d by Howard

Flower grower Ted Howard is either the last of a breed, the first of a breed or simply a breed unlike any other. Howard’s goal is to grow florist- quality flowers in ordinary front yards in the San Fernando Valley.
Howard is an urban farmer devoted to the seemingly impossible task of bringing fertility to Valley dirt – upon which car exhaust and particulate matter have been settling for decades. His mission is to enrich and beautify patches of earth hemmed in by asphalt and concrete.
To the best of my knowledge, Howard is the only person in the Valley who makes his living exclusively by planting flowers, a business he has been cultivating for 26 years. You may have seen his “Flower’d by Howard” signs in splendiferous flower beds from Sherman Oaks to Tarzana.
You can learn more about growing flowers in a 10-minute conversation with Ted Howard than you can learn from reading a dozen books on horticulture.
Like any other master craftsman, Howard has reduced his art to its basic components, which, in the case of growing annual flowers, are two: soil and fertilization.
According to Howard, keeping annual flowers in bloom for six months is a reasonable proposition if you prepare your soil and fertilize properly. If you have never done much to improve your soil’s fertility, you will need to add 8 cubic feet of soil amendment per 100 square feet prior to planting; soil that is soft and somewhat improved will require less amendment. Once your soil is soft and manageable and fertile, each 100 square feet will only need another 2 cubic feet of amendment per year.
Soil amendments range from homemade compost to Kellogg’s Nitrohumus to Dr. Earth planting mix. This last product is not cheap but is probably the ultimate soil conditioner. The Dr. Earth mix contains chicken manure, bat guano, kelp meal, earthworm castings, seaweed extract and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi. These special fungi live in symbiosis with plant roots, extracting metabolites they require in exchange for soil minerals, which they absorb.
Any fertilizer you use should be dug into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil prior to planting. Howard prefers organic fertilizers because of the long-term beneficial effects they bring to the soil. Earthworms, by the way, are a good indicator of soil health. If you do not see worms when you dig in your soil, something is wrong.
The fertilizers Howard favors are low-analysis formulations. That is, the numbers on the bag that represent the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are in the 3 to 7 percent range. Howard recommends Dr. Earth, Whitney Farms and Gro-Power Pure & Natural fertilizers because they are completely organic and encourage the growth of beneficial soil micro-organisms.
Immediately after planting, Howard mixes liquid micro-nutrients and seaweed extract into a watering can and sprinkles the solution over his flowers. The seaweed extract takes several weeks to kick in, but when it does the plants respond as if on steroids.
Not only are Howard’s beds characterized by a daunting abundance of flowers, the soil is so completely covered by his diverse floral bouquets that, in the end, all you see is color. No less than 15 different types of flowers are used. Howard recommends watering his flower gardens as much as you would water a lawn.
Howard seldom sees insect pests or plant diseases in his flower beds. When the soil is healthy and full of beneficial bacteria and fungi, the plants respond in kind. In addition, his many different flower species attract an array of predator insects that probably contribute to control of pest insects.
Before planting, make sure that your soil becomes moist when it is watered. Soil that has not been regularly watered in the past – or contains desiccating soil amendments such as peat moss – may be hydrophobic and, even after heavy irrigation, remain dry beneath the surface. In such a case, use a soil penetrant or wetting agent such as “Water-In.” After application of such a product, water will soak deeply into your soil, wetting it all the way down. Howard maintains that applying liquid dish soap to the soil through a hose-end sprayer will have the same effect as that of a wetting agent.
TIP OF THE WEEK: As we wait for late-winter rain, this is a good time to plant seeds. Select packets of wildflowers, herbs and vegetables at any nursery or garden center. Plant seeds that will develop into crops of edible fruits (tomato, eggplant, bell or chili pepper, cucumber, okra, cantaloupe), roots (carrot, radish, turnip), leaves (lettuce), pods (bean), or seeds (corn) at this time. In the absence of rain, water your seeds and keep the soil moist until seeds have sprouted.

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