How to Start a Cut Flower Garden this Season
Growing vegetables is Jamie’s thing and growing cut flowers is mine!! I enjoy having beautiful flowers to harvest for bouquets that sit on my kitchen table or that I can give to friends and family. And while many plants are grown for their flowers – perennials, biennials, and bulbs – annual flowers like zinnias and sunflowers are among the most popular type of cut flowers grown by gardeners. They are productive, easy to grow, beautiful, and can be planted in gardens or containers. Growing a Cut Flower Garden is sure to bring a smile to your face.
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Planning a Cut Flower Garden
The first step to getting those photo worthy bouquets is planning. If you’re new to gardening you will want to find a spot with plenty of sun and rich, well-drained soil. You can plant flowers directly into the ground by loosening the soil and digging in some compost and a slow-release flower fertilizer, but I highly recommend building some raised beds. They not only keep your garden tidy but they are easy to care for and it is easier to control and amend the soil.
If you don’t have space to build any raised beds you can tuck some flowers between vegetables, amongst your perennials and shrubs, or even in pots and planters.
When just starting out you may want to stick to a few easy-to-grow annual flowers like zinnias and sunflowers. Read the descriptions in seed catalogs or on the plant tags at the nursery carefully. You’ll want to organize your cut flower garden so that the tallest plants are at the back of the bed, medium-sized ones in the middle, and short stature plants at the front. Also take note if certain cut flowers, like sweet peas or climbing nasturtiums, grow on vining plants. These will need netting or a trellis to climb. Tall annuals, like certain zinnia and sunflower varieties, may need stakes or other types of support to prevent them from toppling over as they grow.
The Cutting Garden
Our beginner gardening course for anyone who wants to grow beautiful flowers in their backyard and fill all of the vases in their home.
Planting a Cut Flower Garden
While many annual flowers are fast-growing and can be direct sown in the garden in spring, planting seedlings gives you a head-start on the season. Generally, I start my annual cut flowers inside under my grow-lights around 6 to 8 weeks before our last expected frost. Read the seed packet or catalog for variety-specific growing information.
You can also buy annual flowers like cosmos and phlox at your local nursery, but it can be hard to source the varieties that have been bred for cut flower production. And if you want high-quality cut flowers, these are the varieties to grow. They offer outstanding characteristics like long vase life, longer stems, and bigger flowers.
The key to a non-stop supply of beautiful blooms is succession planting. Cut flower farmers don’t plant zinnias, for instance, just once. Why? After a few weeks of intense blooming, the flower production of many annuals declines or the bloom size shrinks. Planting fresh seedings every two to three weeks ensures a steady supply of large, florist-quality flowers.
Growing Cut Flowers
There are a few tasks to keep on top of as the growing season progresses. Many plants benefit from pinching. Pinching is done to young plants to encourage them to branch and produce longer stems for bouquets. Plants are usually pinched when they are 10 to 12 inches tall. Use your fingers or a clean pair of pruners to remove the growing tip, pinching back to a healthy set of leaves. Now you don’t have to pinch plants and my suggestion is to experiment; pinch some and leave some to see what you like better and what looks better in your bouquets.
Pay attention to watering as water-stressed plants produce fewer and smaller flowers. Hold soil moisture with a mulch like straw, shredded leaves, or black landscape fabric applied to the soil surface. Mulch also reduces weed growth and, if a black landscape fabric is used, it will warm the soil promoting growth, especially in late spring and early summer.
To keep flower production high, feed the plants every two to three weeks with a liquid organic flower fertilizer. Never leave dead flowers on the plants. If they are producing more flowers than you need, harvest them all as they open and share them with friends, family, neighbors, or a local nursing home. Spent blossoms that are left on the plant reduce production so be sure to pick all newly opened blooms several times a week.
Picking Flowers from a Cut Flower Garden
Proper flower harvesting can extend the vase life of cut flowers. Here are some cutting tips:
Harvest in the morning or evening, avoiding the heat of the day.
Harvest flowers from plants that are well irrigated and not water-stressed.
Have a clean bucket (or two if you’re harvesting a lot of flowers) ready and filled with cool water.
Make sure your pruning shears or snips are sharp and clean.
Cut flower stems at a slant to increase surface area and water update.
Remove any foliage that would be under water.
As soon as the bucket is full or you are done harvesting, bring it into a cool, shaded space to arrange your flowers.
5 Awesome Annuals for your Cut Flower Garden:
Sunflowers are a must in a cut flower garden. Not only are they easy to grow, their cheerful flowers come in a wide array of colors, sizes, and forms. There are two main types of sunflowers: single stem and branching. Single stem sunflowers do exactly what you think – they produce a single stem that is topped with one flower. When growing single stem varieties, like the Pro Cut series, you can plant the seeds close together (6 to 7 inches apart) to get more from your growing space, but expect smaller flowers. Those planted on a one-foot grid spacing will produce larger blooms. Single stem sunflowers last up to two weeks in water.
Branching sunflower varieties, on the other hand, yield plants that produce flowers over an extended season. The stems are generally not as strong as those of single stemmed sunflowers and they do take several weeks longer to flower. Personally, I like to plant some of each type so that I have a long harvest season and plenty of variety.
One last note about sunflowers – certain hybrids are pollenless and don’t drop pollen that can stain clothing and tablecloths. You may wish to grow these in your cut flower garden.
This is one that I was unsure at first but have grown to love this flower. Some species have feathery plumes, while others have rounded, folded combs and are also known as cockscomb. All make excellent cut flowers for homegrown bouquets.
Celosia can take a little longer to grow from seed, but you can buy them as plugs to make sure you get a good harvest. If you’re after a certain variety however, I’d recommend starting your own seeds indoors about eight weeks before the spring frost date. Chief Mix is a choice blend of cockscomb-types in bold shades of dark red, fuchsia, carmine, and gold.
Celosia is a heat-lover and wants a site with plenty of sun as well as compost enriched soil. The two to four foot tall, top-heavy plants benefit from sturdy support, so after planting it’s a good idea to erect horizontal netting over the bed to encourage tall, straight stems.
If I could only grow one type of cut flower, it would be zinnias. I grow several species and at least a dozen varieties every summer in my veggie garden. Zinnias bloom all summer long, require little fussing, and have an incredible range of flower sizes and colors. Plus, they’re super fast from seed to bloom. That said, I still prefer to start them indoors so that I don’t have to wait as long for the show to begin.
To plant a bed of zinnias for cutting, space the seedlings around 10 inches apart and erect horizontal netting a foot above the ground. As the plants grow, they will grow up through the netting and not flop over in high winds or heavy rain.
Once zinnias have been flowering for a few weeks, the bloom size begins to diminish. Succession planting fresh seedlings every few weeks extends the crop of large, high-quality blooms. Cut flower farmers often pinch their zinnia plants to encourage longer stems. Zinnias should be pinched when they’re around a foot tall. Using clean pruners, remove the top few inches and cut back to a fresh set of leaves.
Of all the annual flowering plants you can grow in your cutting garden, none is more productive than cosmos. They truly are a cut-and-come-again flower: The more you harvest them, the more they bloom.
A single planting will produce buckets of airy, delicate, daisy-like blossoms for many months. You can arrange them on their own or weave them into mixed bouquets. The possibilities are endless.
To start indoors, sow seeds 4 to 5 weeks before the last spring frost, then plant seedlings into the garden once all danger of frost has passed. Be careful not to sow seed too early, because seedlings will quickly outgrow their pots before the weather has warmed enough to put them out into the garden.
Cosmos are incredibly easy to grow, making them perfect for beginning gardeners. Seeds can be started indoors to get a jump-start on the season or sown directly into garden beds once the weather warms.
Bells of Ireland
Deceivingly simple to grow, the blossoms of Bells of Ireland, Moluccella laevis, are real crowd-pleasers. But not for their flashy color (they’re green). Instead, they garner such attention for their sheer individuality.
They’re a fantastic addition to garden beds and have a lovely, sweet, vanilla-like fragrance. To grow them, sow Bells of Ireland seeds (available here) indoors under grow lights 8-10 weeks before your average last frost date. Bells of Ireland seeds need light to germinate, so don’t cover them. Water the seeds in well and place the seed tray on a seedling heat mat to raise the soil temperature and speed germination. As soon as the Bells of Ireland seeds germinate, remove the seedling heat mat.
When planting Bells of Ireland, choose a location that receives full sun to partial shade. Average garden soil is best, but avoid water-logged areas or those that are excessively dry. Bells of Ireland are self-sowing so as long as you let them drop seed, they’ll return to your garden every year. Their floral spikes look quite striking in floral arrangements.
Growing cut flowers isn’t rocket science and before long you will have bouquets of flowers for your table and to give away to friends. For more information about cut flowers be sure to check out Our Other Cut Flowers Post.