By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
Growing cutting gardens is a worthwhile experience for anyone who wants a vast array of beautiful flowers to adorn their garden and home. You do not need to be an expert gardener in order to create an attractive, thriving cutting garden. There is no one-size fit all plan to growing a cutting garden either. Some gardeners prefer to grow their flower cutting garden in rows and in a very organized fashion, while others simply scatter them throughout their landscape.
How to Create a Cutting Flower Garden
The first step in planning a cutting garden is to find a sunny spot that has well-drained soil. If your soil has a high percentage of clay, it is best to amend it with some peat moss before planting.
Although there are some cutting flowers that are happy in the shade, most enjoy full to part sun. If you want to get creative, you can even include some cutting flowers in your vegetable garden. This provides color and many flowers act as a barrier against unwanted pests in the garden.
Adding organic material, such as aged-manure or household compost, to the planting spot will provide additional nutrients to the flowers. A top layer 2-3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm.) thick of mulch will help retain moisture and provide protection for cutting flowers.
Keep your cutting garden well-watered and provide a scattering of bone meal to provide extra nutrients in your cutting garden plants.
Choosing Cutting Garden Plants
Choosing flowers for a cutting garden can be a bit overwhelming as there are so many to choose from. To make your job easier, you may decide on a color theme or perhaps you have a few particular favorites that you really want to grow.
The best thing to do when planning your flower-cutting garden is to collect a few seed catalogues and find the flowers that best suit your taste and growing conditions. One suggestion is to pick flowers that bloom at different times so that you always have some color in your garden.
Perennials will bloom year after year and provide a strong foundation in a cutting garden. Some favorite perennials for a flower cutting garden include:
- Black-eyed Susan’s
- Purple coneflowers
Woody plants are also beautiful in vases and include fragrant lilacs and roses.
Annuals will bloom for one season; however, many annuals will self-seed and pop up again the next year. Favorite annual cutting garden flowers include:
- Sweet peas
- Mealycup sage
- Globe amaranth
Bulbs can also make a pleasant addition to any formal or informal cutting garden. Common bulbs to use when growing cutting gardens include:
- Calla lilies
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Read more about Garden Spaces
Grow Your Own Bouquets With These Container-Friendly Flowers
One my of favorite things about having a garden is growing flowers for floral arrangements. But there’s a pesky misconception that you can only grow a flower garden for bouquets (often called a “cutting garden”) if you have a large amount of space. Actually, you can grow flowers in most containers and even in the smallest outdoor spaces.
Depending on your comfort level, you can direct-sow seeds or purchase mature plants from a nursery. If you choose to sow your own seeds, please follow the direction on the back of the seed packet for the best results.
These gorgeous flowers are perfect for a container-sized cutting garden.
How to Start a Cut Flower Garden
Starting a cut flower garden is as easy as planting any other bed, but the location is a little more important because you don't want all those chopped off stems front and center. Follow these steps to create a flower bed just for cutting:
1. Choose the Best Spot
Select an inconspicuous location (such as along a garage or in a back corner of your yard) and be sure your cutting bed gets lots of sun and has rich, well-drained soil. A cutting bed offers plenty of planting freedom. Its sole purpose is to produce flowers and even foliage for you to cut, so don't worry about how it will look. You can mix and match colors, textures, heights, and varieties.
2. Keep It Simple
Make the bed simple to weed, feed, and cut by planting the flowers in rows. You might even make your cutting garden part of an existing vegetable or herb garden. The crop-style planting will blend right in, and your "production" gardens will be in one location. If you don't have gardening space to spare, spread cutting flowers throughout your existing beds don't cluster them, or there'll be noticeable bare spots when you pluck them for arrangements.
3. Plan Ahead
Planning will help you avoid creating gaps if your scissors don't get too much exercise. Draw your existing beds on paper, noting varieties, bloom times, and heights (or use an online garden planner to help you keep track of everything). Then pencil in the flowers you want to cut. Use bloom cycles as your guide to create a mix.
4. Plant a Variety of Perennials and Annuals
Plant a balanced mix of cutting perennials and annuals. Your favorite perennials will come back year after year, while annuals will let you experiment more easily. Both types make excellent cut flowers. The more colors, heights, and textures you grow, the more fun you can have creating indoor arrangements.
5. Consider All Flowering Plants
Annuals and perennials usually get the most attention because they don't take up much space, but there are other plants that will also look beautiful in bouquets. Use flowering shrubs such as hydrangeas and lilacs, aromatic herbs such as lavender, and plants with interesting foliage to add pizzazz to your arrangements.
Details for two gardens that ensure bouquets from summer to fall
As a founding employee of Gardener's Supply, I wore many different hats over the years. Currently, I have my own company called Johnnie Brook Creative. The gardens around my home in Richmond, VT, include a large vegetable garden, seasonal greenhouse, cutting garden, perennial gardens, rock garden, shade garden, berry plantings, lots of container plants and a meadow garden. There's no place I'd rather be than in the garden.The cutting garden in mid-July.
The designs for these pint-size cutting gardens, employs the same 1 ft. x 1 ft. thinking that we brought to the vegetable garden in our Kitchen Garden Planner. There's nothing special about the dimensions of these two garden designs — these are just the dimensions of the beds we had available in our display gardens here in Burlington, VT. It should be easy to adjust these plans to suit whatever space you have available in your own garden. We allowed for a 1-foot wide path down the center.
Most of the garden was planted directly from seed. We planted the seeds as soon as possible after any danger of frost had passed. The flowers that went in as plants were the verbena, ageratum, salvia, snapdragons and feverfew. These plants all grow from tiny seeds, and you may find — as we did — that it's easier to deal with them indoors under lights or in the greenhouse. We planted the dahlias as tubers (before they had begun to sprout) and the glads went in as corms (bulbs).
Feel free to substitute with your own favorite flowers. For other good cutting garden candidates, check out the related articles, below.
How to Create a Cutting Garden
Here’s a step-by-step guide that’ll have you in centerpiece heaven before you can even say “Snip.”
It’s one of gardening’s funny little ironies: Lots of us are reluctant to rob our flower beds of beautiful stems to bring inside for fresh bouquets. (And after all the work that goes into babying those blooms, why shouldn’t we be a little protective?) But it’s possible to have the best of both worlds by creating a separate garden just for cutting. Decadent, you say? A headache waiting to happen? Think again. The key to success—and making the whole undertaking low-maintenance—is planning.
Step 1: Decide What You Want
Think about what types of flowers you want to grow—both annuals and perennials—and make a list. (To start out, consider limiting the varieties to a manageable half-dozen.) Try to focus on flowers that have longer stems, which will make them the best candidates for cutting and arranging. Include a few of each that bloom in spring, midsummer, and late summer to keep you in business all season long. You’ll also have to research how much space each plant needs some of your favorites may require only eight to ten inches (say, pansies), while others may need two to three feet (dahlias). Depending on the plants you choose, a three-by-six-foot bed can hold up to about 20 plants.
Step 2: Scope Out Your Spot
Remember: Most cutting flowers prefer lots of sun—around six hours or more per day—so to allow for the most variety choose a sunny site that is well drained (meaning, the ground shouldn’t stay wet at all times). The ultimate size of the plot depends on how much space you have and how much time you can devote to taking care of it. A cutting garden isn’t supposed to look like a mixed border of plants, so there’s no need to get hung up on design principles. Visualize it more in terms of crops: You’ll be planting in rows.
Step 3: Prep the Planting Area
If you’re making a new bed in an existing lawn, first remove any turf grass and roots. Then enrich the growing area by working a layer of four to six inches of organic material (compost, chopped leaves, peat moss, etc.) into the top eight to ten inches of soil with a spading fork. If your ground is very sandy, swampy, or rocky or high in clay content, do yourself a favor and consider making raised beds with a simple kit and filling them with amended soil purchased in bulk. This saves you the daunting, near-impossible task of trying to turn bad soil into good.
Step 4: Sketch It Out
You’ll get the easiest and quickest results by purchasing seedlings or small pots rather than starting from seed, but either option works. Before you hit the nursery, create a simple sketch of the bed on graph paper and decide how many of each kind of plant you want. (Don’t forget to allow space for you! There has to be enough room between rows to get in there to weed, fertilize, deadhead, stake, and, of course, harvest.) Just like a trip to the grocery store, being armed with a shopping list at a nursery helps prevent overbuying and impulse purchases. (Trust us, there’s a flower equivalent of Cheetos out there somewhere.) Err on the conservative side: You can always add more plants if you prove to have the room.
Step 5: Shop
Planting can begin after the last frost—sometime in spring, depending on where you live. (Check the website of your local cooperative extension for the average date.) 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. Whether you go to a garden center, farmers’ market, or roadside stand, ask for feedback on your plans from someone knowledgeable. And pack your reading glasses, because plant tags reveal a wealth of information, from size at maturity to care requirements. Even the most experienced gardeners read the fine print to ensure the varieties they choose fit their needs. (No tags on offer? Pepper the staff with questions.) You’ll also need to assemble a cutting kit that includes sharp, pointed scissors by-pass pruners a small hammer for smashing woody stems and a pair of lightweight gloves. Store it all by the door closest to the cutting garden with a supply of three-foot bamboo stakes and a roll of garden twine for supporting top-heavy stems and propping up foliage that could be broken by rainstorms.
Step 6: Plant Away
Just before you plant, mix some granular time-release fertilizer (such as Dynamite dynamiteplantfood.com) into the top few inches of soil. This will help keep nutrition consistent during the growing season. For easier maintenance, group together flower varieties with similar sun, water, and drainage needs. Tall plants should be placed in the back of the bed so they won’t shade out their shorter neighbors.
Step 7: Water and Mulch
Once everything is in the ground, water each plant carefully and thoroughly to settle it and eliminate air pockets. Then spread a two- to three-inch-thick layer of mulch around the plants. (Use shredded bark, salt hay, pine needles, or whatever else you prefer.) This will suppress weeds and help retain moisture.
Step 8: Maintain and Replant
Throughout the growing season, plants need consistent moisture. If Mother Nature cooperates with at least one inch of rainfall per week, you should be covered. More likely, however, you’ll have to make up the difference with hand watering or a drip irrigation system. Cutting stems regularly and removing faded blossoms will encourage plants to keep blooming as frequently and for as long as possible. To give heavy blooming plants a boost—especially later in the season when they tend to slow down—every couple of weeks apply a liquid fertilizer dissolved in water. When early season annuals and bulbs are finished, pull them out, cultivate the soil a little, toss in a tablespoon of granular fertilizer, and replant the area with new seedlings of later blooming flowers like zinnia or chrysanthemum.
Step 9: Harvest (Blooms and Compliments)
Do your cutting during the coolest part of the day—early morning—and bring a tall container of tepid water along with you. Plunge the stems into the water immediately after snipping them to prolong their vase life. When you’re back inside and ready to start arranging, make a fresh cut on the stems and add a floral preservative to the water to further prolong their lives.
What to Plant
Flowering shrubs, trees, ornamental grasses, and even succulents make excellent candidates for mixed bouquets. Don’t limit your choices to what you plant in your cutting garden only. Judicious cutting and pruning around your entire yard can result in spectacular and interesting arrangements. (Note: Cutting Gardens, by Anne Halpin and Betty Mackey, is an excellent guidebook for planning, growing, and arranging flowers.) Here’s a partial list of some of the plants to consider for your garden.
• Ageratum (floss flower)
• Cleome (spider flower)
• Gomphrena (globe amaranth)
• Gypsophila (baby's breath)
• Nicotiana (flowering tobacco)
• Nigella damascena (love in a mist)
• Sweet pea
• Verbena bonariensis
• Achillea (yarrow)
• Alchemilla mollis (lady’s mantle)
• Coral bells
• Dianthus (pinks)
• Echinacea (purple coneflower)
• Heuchera (coral bells)
• Leucanthemum (shasta daisy)
• Paeonia (peony)
• Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan)
• Solidago (goldenrod)
• Dusty miller
• Euphorbia (snow on the mountain)
• Flowering cabbage
• Flowering kale
• Sage, tricolor
12 Easy-Care Favorites for the Cutting GardenFeverfew (Tanacetum parthenium 'White Wonder')
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium 'White Wonder'): Snow white, 1/2" diameter mum-like flowers in clusters on strong, 18" stems. Nice foliage. Long vase life. The ultimate bouquet filler.
Ageratum 'Blue Horizon': Purple-blue, fuzzy umbels on sturdy, 24" stems. Available in white and rose as well, but I find the blue to be the strongest performer.
Antirrhinum 'White Rocket': Every few years I try growing snapdragons in mixed colors, but I always go back to white. Elegant on their own, the flowers are also good mixers.
Zinnias: These are the backbone of any cutting garden. I usually plant several colors of the large and colorful Benary's Giant (and always include the lime-green Green Envy). For smaller bouquets, plant Lilliput or Sunbow.
Bishop's lace (Ammi majus): This looks much like wild Queen Anne's lace, but it's more delicate and makes a fantastic filler, weaving most any flowers into a professional-looking bouquet.
Phlox drummondi 'Tapestry': This mix includes a dozen different old-fashioned color combinations that remind me of the faded, 1940s-era aprons worn by farm wives throughout the Midwest. They don't last very long in a vase, but you'll be hooked once you grow them.
Asters: Annual asters hate my heavy clay soil and often die out by mid-August, yet I always plant a few. If you can grow asters successfully, you'll find they're one of the best cut flowers around.
Dahlias: Buy new tubers in the early spring or dig and save your own from year to year. Choose a variety of sizes and heights, and be sure to stake the plants well, as they're likely to reach 4 feet tall.Clary sage (Salvia viridis) and Ageratum 'Blue Horizon'
Clary sage (Salvia viridis): A great plant that produces deep purple, pink, or white bracts. The stiff stems add a good vertical line when cut, the cut flowers last for weeks in a vase. Frost hardy.
Euphorbia marginata 'Kilimanjaro': This annual is grown for its showy green and white foliage. Makes a great filler.
Centaurea 'Jubilee Gem': A deep-blue bachelor button with a stocky, upright form.
Sunflowers: If you don't have room for a row of sunflowers, just plant a few here and there around your garden. Since I grow sunflowers with cutting in mind, I usually plant multi-stem varieties with slightly smaller blooms, such as Italian White.