Many gardeners grow flowers for the pleasure of having fresh bouquets to decorate their homes or to give away to friends. But they also enjoy the beauty that the flowers provide in their yards; here is the dilemma–to cut or not to cut. The solution may be to plant a separate flower garden just for cutting. Then you can have your flowers and cut them, too!
Because it’s a cutting garden, you don’t have to worry about the design aspect. For ease of use, set it up like a traditional vegetable garden, with widely spaced rows providing plenty of room to move about to plant, thin, fertilize, water, deadhead, and harvest. You can fill this area with flowers and foliage that you like and not be concerned about whether the colors complement each other or the plants look good together. Use this as a place to experiment with new plants and colors.
Treat your cutting garden just like you would any other flower garden. Pick a sunny, well-drained site, work in plenty of compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves before you plant. You can make this garden part of your vegetable garden, or tuck it away in a sunny corner of your yard. Most cut flowers will need plenty of sun—at least six hours a day.
Now, sketch it out on paper and plan for the varieties of plants you want and how many of each variety; make a note of which plants you can easily start from seed and which ones you’d rather buy as seedlings in small pots. Then, you’re ready to do your shopping at your local plant nursery or retail center.
Group species of plants for efficient use of space and easy harvest. For maximum production, plant annuals in succession, with early season, mid-season, and late season bloomers each in their own group. Plant flowers with similar requirements for sun, water, and drainage together for easier maintenance. Tall plants should be placed where they won’t shade out shorter varieties.
Get Ready To Plant!
Planting can begin after the last frost date in your zone area. Even though plants will be available for sale before then, don’t be seduced into buying too early—unless you have your own greenhouse—or else late frosts could wipe out your investment! When shopping for your cutting-garden plants, be sure to read the plant tags to learn about the plant’s size at maturity and care requirements. Before you plant, mix a granular, slow-release fertilizer into the soil. Many complete organic fertilizers, by nature, are slow release, so these are always an option. This will give plants a consistent boost of nutrition throughout their growing season. During peak production time, apply periodic doses of diluted liquid fertilizer to heavy blooming plants, such as an organic product like seaweed extract.
When plants are a few inches tall, spread a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the plants. You can use straw, chopped leaves, or even shredded newspaper to keep down weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Water regularly, especially when the plants are young and their roots are still shallow.
When blooming begins, encourage production and keep plants blooming throughout the summer by picking the flowers regularly. Deadhead to remove faded blossoms so they won’t form seeds, which will slow down flower production. As you deadhead or pick the flowers, check for insects, such as aphids, that may be beginning to infest the plants.
When production slows and plants stop flowering, pull them, cultivate the bed, and replant with new seedlings. For example, while pansies provide early summer color, they won’t bloom once summer days get too hot. Replace them then with marigolds or zinnias.
Harvesting and Preserving Your Cut Flowers
- Harvest garden flowers during the coolest time of day—early morning or late evening.
- Remove lower foliage that would remain underwater in the vase or container.
- Cut stems with a sharp instrument, making the cuts underwater if possible. This prevents air bubbles from ‘clogging’ the stems.
- Place the flowers in clean containers of lukewarm water (room temperature up to 100 degrees F.) Add a floral preservative to provide nutrients and to prevent bacterial growth.
- Always keep cut foliage and flowers in water while making your arrangement. This will prevent wilt due to the loss of water through transpiration.
- Use clean containers that have been filled with preservative water.
- After each use, clean storage containers, vases, liners, and needle point holders with a soapy Clorox7 solution to kill all bacteria.
The rewards of your cutting garden will be many. Not only will you have a variety of beautiful flowers to decorate your home throughout the season, you’ll have plenty to share with your friends, neighbors and to donate to your church.