Grow Your Own Cut Flower Garden!

Standard

Article inspired by a press release from the National Garden Bureau.

Want to fill your home with fresh flowers this year? Plant a Cutting Garden!

Part of the fun and excitement of gardening is enjoying the beauty of the flowers. Plan this year to design your own cutting garden for one-of-a-kind bouquets directly from your garden!

Cutting gardens were highly popular in the Victorian era and, in fact, up until the end of the Second World War, were a classic element of larger residences and estate gardens. It was considered the height of sophistication to always have bouquets of cut flowers in the home. Typically, the same home would feature display gardens of attractively arranged perennials and shrubs where they could be seen from the street, while the cutting garden, along with the equally essential vegetable garden, was “out back.” 

Not a Display Garden

A cutting garden is often grown in rows, like a vegetable bed. It’s not designed for display purposes. Photo: higgledygarden.com

The important thing in planning a cutting garden is to recognize its purpose from the start. Many gardeners hesitate to cut flowers from their display gardens, rightfully concerned that it will reduce its effect. But a cutting garden is not for show. Indeed, it is often grown in rows, like a vegetable garden. Plants are treated, from the get-go, as harvestable items. You wouldn’t hesitate to harvest a tomato or pepper from your vegetable garden, would you? Well, why dither about taking flowers from a cutting garden? That’s what it’s there for!

Planning Your Cutting Garden

Spring in the cutting garden with money plant and tulips. Photo: wellywoman.wordpress.com

For best results, you’ll want a sunny spot and rich, well-drained soil. If your soil is poor or mostly clay, consider installing a raised bed with good soil brought in from somewhere else. Work in some compost, mycorrhizal fungi and a slow-release fertilizer. 

No room in the ground? There’s nothing stopping you from growing cut flowers in large containers. 

Typically cutting gardens are largely composed of annuals and bulbs. Annuals, like zinnias, cosmos and coreopsis, because so many bloom all summer and the more you harvest them, the more they produce. Bulbs because they simply look so good in flower arrangements: in spring, tulips, alliums and narcissus; in summer, gladiolus, dahlias, lilies and acidanthera. 

Not that you can’t include perennials like peonies, lupins, delphiniums and echinaceas, but they’re slower growing and won’t give you as much to harvest the first year. Some shrubs too make great cut flowers (roses, lilacs, hydrangeas, etc.) and might find a place in a cutting garden, although they do take up a lot of space and create a lot of shade.

Classic cutting garden with flowers in rows. Photo: http://www.busybaskets.co.uk

The old-fashioned cut flower garden was arranged in rows just like a vegetable garden: a row of dahlias, a row of cosmos, etc. You don’t have to do that exactly, but you’ll probably want to plant flowers according to their height, with shorter plants in the front, medium-sized ones in the middle, tall ones in the back. 

And make sure you have paths for access.

Some of these plants, notably climbing ones like sweet peas and climbing nasturtiums, but also gladiolus and taller dahlias, need staking, something you might have wanted to hide in a display garden, but in cutting garden, anything goes! Show is not the purpose and who cares if the stakes are visible? Just use branches, plant stakes or whatever you can find.

Old-fashioned varieties, like tall snapdragons, make great cut flowers. Photo: extension.msstate.edu

Do look for varieties especially recommended for cutting, notably plants with long stems. Once upon a time, ageratums, snapdragons and even marigolds were tall plants ideal for cutting, then they, like so many annuals, were turned into shrimpy border plants by the bedding plant industry, which likes their plants compact so they can then fit more into their sales displays. Almost any plant variety said to be “old-fashioned” or a “florist variety” is going to be a taller variety, good for cutting. Go over your seed catalogs: you’ll be surprised at how many there are!

And don’t forget to include some flowers that are highly perfumed, like mignonette, sweet alyssum and heliotrope, in your mix for the olfactory interest they’ll add to your bouquets.

Planting Your Cutting Garden

Cutting garden seed mixture. Photo: http://www.reneesgarden.com

You can actually buy cutting garden mixtures from seed companies. Mostly composed of annuals, you just rake the soil and sow them, then water. You’ll get a surprising mix of flowers, some in bloom in only 6 weeks. 

You can also buy trays of annuals (remember to look for taller ones), or start your own from seed, either directly in the garden or, for faster results, by starting them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Plant these out when the weather warms up. You can pack them in a bit more tightly than usual: that tends to produce taller stalks, perfect for cutting.

Caring for Your Cutting Garden

Watering will be your main consideration. For good bloom, you can’t let plants dry out. There is no specific watering schedule: much depends on Ma Nature. When she’s being miserly about sending rain, fill in for her. You’ll find your plants will need more water in hot weather (no surprise there!) and as they reach their maximum size. 

The rule for when to water is simple: sink your index finger into the ground. If the soil is dry to the touch, water well, giving a truly thorough soaking; if it’s moist, don’t water.

Mulching with shredded leaves, straw, etc. will help reduce watering needs while keeping weeds down. Some gardeners like using black plastic mulch, which will keep out weeds entirely. It’s none too pretty, but hey! This is a cutting garden, so who cares?

Since you’re looking for maximum bloom, don’t hesitate to fertilize a bit more throughout the summer with a soluble organic fertilizer, perhaps every two to three weeks. 

Harvesting

Harvest early in the day or in the evening. Photo: http://www.purewow.com

This is what it’s all about. Harvest early and often, just as flowers start to open, two or three times a week. If you have too many flowers, share the bounty with friends and family or offer them as gifts to a nursery home or hospital. 

You don’t want to let flowers go to seed, as that slows down production. If a bloom just isn’t good enough for you, clip it off and toss it into the compost. 

Here are a few harvesting tips:

  • Harvest when the air is cool, early in the morning or in the evening, when the flowers are well hydrated.
  • If it’s dry, water the day before harvesting.
  • Wait until the dew or raindrops have evaporated. Touching wet plants can spread disease.
  • Keep your pruning shears sharp and sterilize them regularly with rubbing alcohol.
  • Forget the idea of a harvesting basket slung over your arm! It may make for a great Instagram photo, but if you leave the cut flower stems in the open air while you traipse around the garden, they’ll wither and lose holding power. Instead, plunge flower stems into water as soon as you cut them. That means you’ll need a bucket. Keep it clean and fill it with cool water.
  • Many people believe that cutting at a 45-degree angle helps improve water absorption. There’s actually no proof of that, though, and cutting at 90 degrees is just as effective and often faster.
  • Remove any foliage that will be underwater. 
  • When the bucket is full enough for you, move to a cooler, shadier spot and start arranging your flowers using the vase or container of your choice.
  • Add cut flower preservative to the water for maximum flower life.

Cut Flowers to Try

There’s a huge range of flowers to choose from. Photo: http://www.bestcoolseeds.com

There is no limit to the plants you can use as cut flowers. Here are a few:

  1. Acidanthera (Gladiolus murielae)—tender bulb
  2. African Daisy (Dimorphotheca sinuata)—annual
  3. Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum)—annual
  4. Allium (Allium spp.)—hardy bulb
  5. Aster (Aster, SymphyotrichumEurybia, etc.)—perennial
  6. Baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata and G. elegans)—annual and perennial
  7. Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea spp.)—annual and perennial
  8. Bee balm (Monarda spp.)—perennial
  9. Bishop’s flower (Ammi majus)—annual 
  10. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)—annual
  11. California Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia)—annual
  12. California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)—annual
  13. Candytuft (Iberis umbellata)—annual
  14. Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)—annual and perennial
  15. Catchfly (Silene armeria)—annual
  16. Celosia or cockscomb (Celosia spp.)—annual 
  17. China aster (Callistephus chinensis)—annual
  18. Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum amabile)—annual
  19. Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifoliumIsmelia carinata, Glebionis coronaria, etc.)—annual and perennial
  20. Clarkia (Clarkia elegans)—annual
  21. Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.)—annual and perennial
  22. Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)—annual
  23. Dahlia (Dahlia × pinnata)—annual and tender bulb
  24. Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)—perennial
  25. Delphinium (Delphinium spp.)—perennial
  26. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.)—perennial
  27. Foxglove (Digitalis spp.)—perennial and biennial
  28. Gaillardia (Gaillardia spp.)—annual and perennial
  29. Gladiolus (Gladiolus spp.)—tender bulb
  30. Gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia hirta)—annual and perennial
  31. Godetia (Clarkia amoena)—annual
  32. Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)—annual
  33. Hollyhock (Alcea spp.)—perennial and biennial
  34. Hydrangea or hortensia (Hydrangea spp.)—shrub
  35. Iris (Iris spp.)—perennial
  36. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)—perennial
  37. Larkspur (Consolida spp.)—annual
  38. Lavatera (Lavatera trimestris)—annual
  39. Liatris or blazing star (Liatris spp.)—perennial 
  40. Lilac (Syringa spp.)—shrub 
  41. Lily (Lilium spp.)—hardy bulb 
  42. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascene)—annual
  43. Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) —annual
  44. Lupin (Lupinus perennis)—perennial
  45. Mallow (Malva spp.)—perennial
  46. Marigold (Tagetes erecta)—annual
  47. Mexican hat (Ratibida spp.)—perennial
  48. Mignonette (Reseda odorata)—annual
  49. Money plant (Lunaria spp.)—biennial and perennial
  50. Narcissus or daffodil (Narcissus spp.)—hardy bulb
  51. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)—annual
  52. Painted daisy (Tanacetum coccineum)—perennial
  53. Peony (Paeonia spp.)—perennial and shrub
  54. Phlox (Phlox paniculata and P. drummondii)—annual and perennial
  55. Poppy (Papaver spp.)—annual and perennial
  56. Rose (Rosa spp.)—shrub
  57. Salvia (Salvia spp.)—annual
  58. Scabiosa (Scabiosa spp.)—annual and perennial
  59. Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum × superbum)—perennial 
  60. Soapwort (Saponaria spp.)—perennial
  61. Stock (Matthiola spp.)—annual
  62. Strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum)—annual
  63. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)—annual
  64. Sweet Alyssum (tall) (Lobularia maritima)—annual
  65. Sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus)—annual
  66. Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus)—annual and biennial
  67. Tulip (Tulipa spp.)—hardy bulb
  68. Veronica (Veronica spp.)—perennial
  69. Wallflower (Erysimum spp. and Cheiranthus spp.)—annual, biennial and perennial
  70. Yarrow (Achillea spp.)—perennial
  71. Zinnia (Zinnia spp.)—annual

There you go: start your own cut flower garden this summer!

2 thoughts on “Grow Your Own Cut Flower Garden!

Leave a Reply to Laidback Gardener Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.