How to Plant a Cutting Garden

Use these tips to grow bouquets of fresh flowers right outside your back door.

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What's the quickest way to put a heartfelt smile on someone's face? The gift of a beautiful bouquet. While most people love fresh flowers, the problem is that blooms can cost a bundle. So how about dedicating an out-of-the-way space to flowers that you can cut without worrying about how the plant looks?

Jackie Tarchala's cutting garden is planted along a fence, out of sight and out of the way, which is the secret to a cutting garden. No one sees it but the gardener. "You can plant your flowers in rows, do them in squares," Tarchala says. "There are no rules in a cutting garden because you are in control and you take from there what you want and leave the rest."

Follow these guidelines for a successful cutting garden.

Plant Three Distinct Shapes

1. Linear flowers like this salvia are used for line and height.

2. Round flowers such as dahlias make great examples of focal points that add dimension.

3. Filler flowers like Queen Anne's lace give an airy look and help draw the arrangement together.

Tarchala's cutting garden is in full sun and the area is well-watered, weed-free and beautifully mulched. For Tarchala, well-drained soil is a must, along with an occasional energy boost. "These are worm castings," Tarchala says. "They make good fertilizer for plants. This Alstroemeria is a heavy feeder so we want to give it a little extra during the growing season to make the plant healthy and full of flowers."

"The important thing in a cutting garden is to have lots of flowers," she says, "so you want to remove the spent flowers so the plant has energy to produce more flowers."

Cut Your Blooms Properly

When harvesting flowers, longer stems generally offer more flexibility than shorter ones. So for a bouquet, make a cut deeper into the plant than when removing old blooms. For example, for dahlias grown from a bulb, remove the side buds to give the plant more energy to produce a bigger flower. Tarchala snips between the joint, or where one branch connects to another, to get more length in the flower stem and also to keep the plant blooming enthusiastically. Of course, to have year-round flowers, be sure to plant plenty of different annuals and perennials with staggered blooming periods.

Don't Forget About Non-Flowering Plants

Foliage plants such as hostas, boxwoods and ferns can add even more texture and color to any arrangement and bring balance to your beautiful bouquet.

Tarchala demonstrates how simple a beautiful flower arrangement can be. In one arrangement, she uses delphiniums for its height, form and intense blue color. Next she adds red zinnias as a round element and everlasting for the filler. Once your cutting garden is created, you'll be able to create a bouquet — or pick fresh flowers for your table — from right outside your back door.

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