How to Cultivate a Cutting Garden
There are so many plants that work well in cut arrangements! Notice we left out the word ‘flower’; some of the most interesting additions to an arrangement are interesting greenery or stems. Proper planning will get you the best results. If you want to harvest and arrange year-round, you might need to add larger plant materials, such as shrubs and even trees. If you are focused on spring through fall, it’s a bit simpler. Next, consider where you have room to add plants; how much room do you have, and how much sun does that area get? Once this information has been collected and considered, it’s time to start researching your best options!
Late Winter Through Spring Arrangements
Spring blooming bulb plants like daffodils and tulips make wonderful cut flowers; just keep in mind that these need to be planted in the fall. Pansies are great for close up flowers; put these on your fall planting list as well. Pansies, violas and panolas are wonderful accents to salads, and can be garnishments for baked goods, and can even be candied and added to cookie tops. For more information, check out this post!
Early spring flowering stems such as forsythia, flowering quince, cherry, peach, crabapple, plum, pear, and even some deciduous magnolias like Star magnolias, can be cut and forced indoors. Cut after chilling requirements are met, and buds are completely formed, which for our area is usually by end of January or mid-February. Depending on how far along the flower buds are, it could take as much as a month or more, or it could be as fast as a week. After cutting, soak in water over night, place cut stems in lukewarm water, then put in an area with temps around 60 degrees. Change water as needed, mist buds to keep them hydrated and in general, avoid letting the stems dry out.
Non-traditional flowering but no less interesting stems include contorted filbert, curly willow, and even maple stems! Late winter and early spring are wonderful times of the year to slow down and appreciate the simplicity of delicate blooms on bare stems.
Hellebores are also wonderful cut flowers; for longest lasting blooms, cut after the seed pods have developed. The more developed the seed pod, the sturdier the plant and longer lasting it will be. For more information about growing hellebores, check out this post!
Camellias are unique in so many ways! There are fall blooming and late-winter/ early spring blooming types. They are broadleaf evergreens with nice foliage too. You can create a whole bouquet just with stems from one healthy, blooming shrub. Or you can place short branches or just blooms in a clear wide vase filled with water and just float the blooms (this is also an option for pansy, crocus and hellebore blooms). So many options with camellias; all are lovely!
Summer to Fall Frost Arrangements
Annuals are the workhorse of a summer into fall cutting garden, but the varieties normally used as bedding plants tend to be too short to use. The ones we want grow tall and are often varieties started from seed. Some of the best options include zinnias, sunflowers, amaranth, celosia, and cosmos.
If you have never started from seed, don’t stress, all the information you need is on the back of the packet. Our last frost typically is around the end of March or beginning of April, so wait until after this time to plant seeds as soil temperatures need to somewhat warm, and tiny seedlings won’t fare well in a frost. If starting seeds indoors, provide supplemental light, have good air flow and wait to plant in the ground until chance of frost has passed or have a solid protection plan for young seedlings.
Many of the perennials, shrubs, and trees in your yard can also make great cut flowers. As a bonus, most summer blooming perennials will rebloom when deadheaded, same concept with using for cuts. A few perennials to consider include coneflower, shasta daisy, gaillardia, tall phlox, veronica, coreopsis and yarrow.
Some once blooming plants can provide more than just flowers. Baptisia has dramatic spikes of pea-shaped blooms ranging from blue, white, yellow, or bicolored, and can have a vase life of 7-10 days when cut early and given floral preserves. It also provides foliage for the whole season and if seed pods are allowed to develop, they make wonderful additions to fall arrangements. Lemon Meringue is especially striking; the yellow is so bright and clear, it almost appears to glow!
Penstemon are great long blooming plants in the garden for hummingbirds, but do not last long in the vase. However, dried stems and seed pods from penstemon adds special interest for fall arrangements.
Just like the difference between bedding annuals and cut flowers, the mature growing size is key. For instance, White Wands veronica is a great plant for the garden with plenty of blooms but tops out at 14-16 inches in height. Blue Skywalker is twice the size at 28-30 inches, perfect for a small table top arrangement.
Herbs like rosemary, lavender, and oregano and flowers such as agastache and bee balm help provide fragrant blooms or foliage to an arrangement.
We left this one for last because it’s kind of the O.G. of cut flower gardens. Peonies are a dramatic must-have for cutting gardens with the right amount of sun. They may not rebloom all season, but that just makes them even more special. There is nothing quite like a bouquet of peony blooms… just ask about a million brides; peonies are an all-time wedding favorite! And bonus, the flowers are better enjoyed inside, protected from heavy rains that can quickly decimate blooms. Oh and they are perennials!
Fall to Winter Arrangements
Sometimes a plants flowers aren’t the major draw. Hollies are a great example of boring flowers that bring dramatic berries as we enter winter. Collect hollies, magnolias, and conifers for a mixed holiday decorations. Add in dried amaranth, celosia, hydrangea and statice blooms for more interest. And consider adding dried seed pods and cones.
Other plants to consider during fall (and/or winter) include our native or improved nativars of beautyberry, blooming stems from abelia shrubs (or even just foliage stems), stems from mahonia, illicium, viburnum, acuba, itea, oakleaf hydrangea, solidago, ninebark (try the chartreuse varieties in early spring arrangements), smoke bush, ornamental grass plumes and red or yellow twig dogwood.
For Shade Gardens
While most annual cut flowers want a lot of sun, there are plenty of shade lovers for the vase. Many of the shrubs we mentioned above will do just fine in morning sun. Hostas and ferns bring great foliage and texture. Astilbe has great flowers along with a number of different hydrangeas. Utilize bleeding hearts for flowers and foliage. A few others include columbine, Solomon’s seal, sea oats, and anemone.
In general, if it looks good in the landscape it will look good in a vase. Mix and match shapes for best visual interest; disks, spikes, airy forms all show nicely. Get creative; consider fatsia leaves, variegated euonymus, and herbaceous hibiscus leaves. For plants whose blooms will be harvested, fertilize well and often at the appropriate times. Watch for water and pest stress; treat as needed.
Make clean cuts, with a clean utensil. Make careful cuts that won’t affect the shape negatively, this is especially true on trees and shrubs; cut at branching if possible. Keep arrangements out of direct sun, and away from heat sources for best preservation.
Most of all, have fun and share the joys of your cutting garden. Tiny bouquets make adorable teacher and hostess gifts, personalized bouquets from your very own garden are always an unexpected delight, and maybe most of all, collecting and creating these arrangements for your own home’s inhabitants and visitors is a welcome boost of natural wonder!