Grow a 3-Season Cutting Garden
Grow your own bouquets! Get tips on planting a garden full of big blooms that are perfect for cutting.
It’s a treat to cut flowers from your own garden instead of having to buy them. But if you snip a lot of stems, you’re left with unsightly holes in your beds and borders. Solve the problem by planting a garden that’s designed for cutting. With a little planning, you can have armloads of blooms to enjoy.
How do you choose which flowers to grow in a cutting garden? Marlene Thompson, creative director for Longfield Gardens, looks for color. “I have a certain color scheme both inside my house and in my garden. I choose flowers based on what will look great in my house. This is so subjective because it's really based on my color preference at the moment and of course trends. The great thing about choosing bulbs for cutting gardens is the color array and intensity of the colors available.”
Longfield’s co-owner Hans Langeveld, suggests thinking about the height of the varieties you want to grow. “(F)or example, cactus dahlias make long stems that are ideal for cutting while new branches with flowers will develop. Calla lilies are nice for cutting since they produce multiple flowers per bulb and nice foliage to add to the vase.”
Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Choose a location that offers the same growing conditions you’d want in any flower garden: at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun each day, good air circulation, and well-drained, loosened soil amended with plenty of organic matter. (It’s also smart to do a soil test, so you’ll know if you need to add fertilizer or other amendments.)
- Select a garden site that’s close to a source of water. But pick a spot that’s enough off the beaten track so you and your visitors won’t have to see it unless you want to. If you don’t see bare patches, you won’t mind them so much.
- Once you’ve found the right spot, plant your garden without worrying about how it’s going to look. Langeveld says, “Both bulbs and perennials make great cut flowers. Bulbs are great because the food reserves stored in the bulb grow strong stems in a short time. Favorites are dahlias, gladiolus, lilies, and calla lilies for the summer garden and tulips, daffodils, and Dutch iris for the spring garden. Perennials will need to be settled for the first year before they produce enough stems for cut flowers. Examples are peonies, phlox, astilbe and lily of the valley.
“(N)ote that different bulbs have different bloom times and ...it is possible to plant gladiolus or lilies every two weeks in the spring so there will be flowers for an extended period of time. Plant at least 25 gladioli bulbs at the time for one or two vases of flowers. Lilies only produce one stem per bulb, so [for] a bunch of five stems, the same quantity of bulbs need to be planted. Dahlias will produce more new branches when cut so there should not be a need to plant more than 5 or 10 dahlia bulbs for nice cutting arrangements. Callas produce multiple flowers per bulb, so if 10-15 bulbs are planted there will be enough flowers.”
- Consider the way the sun moves across your cutting garden, and avoid putting shorter plants where taller ones will shade them.
- Remember, your cutting garden will be all about production: growing as many flowers as possible. Aim for a variety of plants with staggered bloom times, so you’ll have a steady supply of flowers. If you’re starting from seeds, re-sow often to keep more blooms coming.
- Fertilize your cutting garden with an all-purpose fertilizer, following directions on your product, and water deeply and regularly. Be careful not to overwater.
- Tuck in some foliage plants with your flowers, so you’ll have attractive leaves to use in your arrangements. Depending on your hardiness zones, try lamb’s ear, dusty miller, hostas, coleus, ferns, eucalyptus or flowering kale. Many ornamental grasses are also beautiful, especially if you plant to dry any of your cut flower arrangements. Langeveld adds, “(F)oliage plants are great for cutting... Perennials like hostas, and bulbs like caladiums, that produce only leaves in various shades of greens, pinks and reds, are great in bouquets. These plants have such interesting leaf shapes and sizes that they make bouquets in vases look truly finished.”
- Plant with the three seasons in mind, so your garden continues to bloom throughout spring, summer, fall—and winter, if you live in a climate that’s mild year-round.
- Grow herbs to add fragrance to your cut bouquets. Basil, oregano, sage, mint, lavender, lemon balm, and many others are beautiful as well as aromatic.
- Cut your flowers in early morning, while the temperatures are cool, to help the blooms last longer. Use a sharp, clean knife or pruners. Take a bucket of water into the garden with you and put the stems into it as soon as they’re cut.
Langeveld says, “Select new flower buds that are still somewhat green—these will last the longest in the vase. Another tip to make the flowers last longer is to cut the stem [again] under the water level in the bucket of water so that no oxygen gets to … the stem. Once the flowers are in the vase it is always good to refresh the water every other day and add a little flower food to the water.”
A sampler of flowers and bulbs for a cutting garden:
- Sweet peas
- Narcissus (daffodils)
- Echinacea (coneflowers)
- Black-eyed Susan