Grow Your Own Cut Flower Garden!

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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!

Make Cut Roses Last

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In a sense, red roses for Valentine’s Day are a big rip-off. Red roses, the traditional Valentine’s Day flower, quadruple or quintuple in price at the approach of the holiday. Even so, most people in a loving relationship won’t think twice about the cost. As the saying goes, what price love?

All over the world, rose growers have been working feverishly to produce enough top-quality red roses for this one occasion, but they’ll fail. They always do. Demand always outstrips supply and has done for over a century. Hence the extraordinary price of cut roses at this season. Lovers from all over the world want red roses for Valentine’s Day and are willing to pay the price, no matter how high.

Ill.: http://www.interflora.fr

That said, even if you are indeed convinced that your love deserves nothing less than red roses, known the world over as the symbol of true love, you can still get a little more for your money if you know how to extend the flower’s life to the fullest.

The Five Factors Involved in Prolonging Floral Life

Five factors especially influence how long cut roses will last:

  • The initial quality of the flower (there are roses of top quality, second quality and third quality);
  • The temperature they’re kept at (cool is best);
  • Whether or not there are air bubbles in the stem (they prevent water, sugars and minerals from reaching the flower);
  • Bacterial development (it clogs the stem and therefore also prevents water, sugars and minerals from reaching the flower);
  • The gradual disappearance of sugars in the stem and flower tissues (sugars are the flower’s source of energy).

Simple Solutions

You may think the first factor (flower quality) is out of your control, but it isn’t.

Only florists offer top-quality roses at Valentine’s Day. Photo: http://www.flowershopnetwork.com

At Valentine’s Day, everyone and their mother suddenly becomes a flower vendor. Even so, only florists have the quality blooms. They reserved them all: yes, every one!

A professional florist has a reputation to maintain and will therefore inevitably only buy from a recognized supplier and will pay whatever it takes to have top quality flowers. A premium rose will be large, in bud, although possibly slightly unfurled, unblemished and born on a long, straight, solid stem.

Second and third quality flowers are sold to non-specialists: supermarkets, big-box stores, public markets, flower girls, etc. Don’t expect as much from them. A rose drops in quality for various reasons: the flower may be too advanced, too small, lack symmetry or be damaged in some way, the stem may be too short or crooked, the flower could have been exposed to heat or was inadequately cared for in during shipping, etc.


The responsibility for the second factor in floral life is shared between the merchant and you. A responsible merchant will keep their roses refrigerated until the time of sale. It’s then up to you to continue to keep them as cool as possible after purchase.

If you buy your roses on Valentine’s Day, you’re already a bit late! Ill.: Doug Angus-Lee, http://www.youtube.com

Tip:  If this is your first Valentine’s Day floral gift and you head to the florist on that fateful day, expecting to purchase the best roses, you may already be in trouble. Serious lovers don’t wait until the last minute; they order their roses in advance, at least a week or before February 14. As a result, their order will be ready on time using the very best roses: there is no risk of disappointment. By buying on Valentine’s Day, you would have to accept what are essentially leftovers! Very expensive leftovers and, hopefully, quality leftovers, but leftovers nonetheless! And if you arrive in rush at the end of the day, suddenly realizing your love is waiting expectantly, you may have to accept—horror of horrors!—roses of a different color than red, because quality red roses always sell out. Always!

Back at Home

When you receive cut roses, your job will be to make them last as long as possible. Photo: Doug Angus-Lee, http://www.flickr.com

At home, the responsibility for making Valentine’s roses last usually now lies with the person who receives them. So, here’s what to do:

In the evening, place the roses in a cool place; during the day, put them on display, of course, but away from direct sun. And bump the thermostat down a bit if you can take it. The cooler the room (above freezing, that is), the longer the flowers will last.

Cut the stem under water. Ill.: http://www.transparentpng.com, aseret-uido.com et http://www.bartlettman.com. montage: laidbackgardener.com

It is also important to prevent air bubbles from forming in the stem. To do this, as soon as you have a minute, immerse each rose stem in tepid water and cut about an inch (3 cm) off the bottom, preferably with pruning shears (scissors tend to squash stems). The important thing is to do sounder water(no, youdon’t have to be underwater, but the stem and the tip of the shears do.). Then count slowly to 10 before you lift the stem out and place it in its vase.

You see, when you cut a flower stem, that instantly causes suction inside the stem. If the stem is exposed to the air, it’s air that will be sucked in and thus bubbles are formed that will gradually rise up the stem and block off water flow to the flower, shortening its life. If the cut is made underwater, though, it’s water that will penetrate the stem, then rise upwards, keeping the flower moist. It’s as simple as that.

Flower food. Photo: http://www.chrysal.com

The fourth and fifth factors (growth of bacteria and disappearance of sugars) are best controlled by the application of a cut flower conservation product (generally sold as “flower food,” although it really isn’t a food). Sold as a powder or a liquid, and usually offered in packet form with the purchase if you bought the flowers from a florist, this product contains sugar and bactericidal products that will help your bouquet last as long as possible.

Also, remove any leaf that will be under water in the vase: another potential source of bacteria.

Monitor water quality in the vase daily: if it becomes cloudy, change it, adding a new packet of cut flower conservation product, and recut the stem under the water. You’ll probably need to change the water two to three times a week.

Any good florist will give you flower food with the purchase, but non-specialists rarely do. If not, then, make your own. 7 Up, for example, contains both sugar that will help extend the flower life and citric acid that is helpful in preventing bacterial growth. Mix 50% water and 50% 7 Up, plus a few drops of bleach (again, to prevent bacteria) and use this solution to the vase where you place your roses rather than plain water. The result won’t be as good as with a floral preservation product, but is better than water directly from the tap.

With proper care, your cut roses can last 10 days, sometimes even two weeks!

Happy Valentine’s Day! Photo: http://www.freepik.esci

For Cut Flowers that Last and Last

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Harvest cut flowers early in the day.

Your home flower garden can be an almost inexhaustible source of cut flowers for the home. In fact, it was once common to plant a cutting garden near your home: a bed specifically dedicated to cut flowers. But even a small flowerbed can provide lots of bloom for indoor decoration.

How to Harvest

For a bouquet of cut flowers that lasts as long as possible, start by harvesting the flowers early in the morning, when the stems are fully turgid (rich in moisture). If the flowerbed is particularly dry, it may be worthwhile watering the day before.

Bring a pail of warm water to the garden with you. Each time you cut a stem, place it immediately into the water. This will allow for better hydration. Why warm water? Because flower stems absorb warm water better than cold.

Back Indoors

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Packets of cut flower preservative.

As you begin preparing your arrangement in the vase of your choice, add a packet of cut flower preservative (available at the florists or a dollar store) to the water. This product is designed to feed cut flowers and lower the pH of water of their water (tap water is hard, but plants prefer their water acidic) while slowing the growth of harmful bacteria.

20160627BIf you don’t have a cut flower preservative on hand, you can make a close substitute. Mix one part of 7-Up or Sprite to three parts water and add a drop of bleach. Or mix 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of bleach and 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice to 1 quart (1 liter) of warm water.

Before placing the stem in the vase, remove any leaves that will end up under water where they are likely to rot. Also, using secateurs (never scissors, as they tend to crush stems), recut the stem at an angle of about 45 degrees. If possible, recut them underneath the solution in the vase (you can pick up the bits of cut stem later). That way liquid will penetrate the wound rather than air bubbles. That won’t be possible, of course, if the vase has narrow neck. In such a case, simply cut the stem in the air and dip it immediately into the solution.

Finally, despite a popular belief, you do not have to remove the thorns from cut roses: doing so will reduce the duration of their bloom and allow harmful bacteria to penetrate the stem.

Maintenance

20160627DCut flowers will last longer in a cool, bright room. If that’s not possible, you can at least place the bouquet in a cool room at night.

About every three days, thoroughly clean the vase and change the water solution. And recut the stems, removing about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from their tip. That will help to eliminate bacteria that have probably already begun to form.

As flowers fade (and some only last for a few days while others may last two weeks or more!), simply remove them from the arrangement. And when there is pretty much nothing left, well… it’s time to get rid of the stragglers and go harvest a new bouquet!


There you go! A few carefully planned actions will give you the best possible results from your cut flower arrangement.