Have you ever dreamed of filling up vases with freshly cut flowers or making your own floral arrangements? Either of these is the perfect reason to grow your own cut flower garden.
Buying flowers at the store is nice for special occasions, but it’s a lot more expensive than picking flowers fresh from right outside your door. And by growing them yourself, you get to choose the exact flowers and color scheme that you love.
If you’re interested in growing cut flowers but feel a little intimidated about how to actually do it, here’s a step by step guide that will show you how, plus some top recommendations for both annuals and perennials to put in your garden.
Creating a Cut Flower Garden: The Preparation Stage
Step #1- Choose Your Site
Selecting the location for your cut flower garden is a very important first step. There are two different ways you can approach this.
One is to set aside an entire area just for cut flowers. This is ideal because it focuses all your attention on one location and makes planning, planting, maintenance, etc. easier. There’s no size minimum or maximum for your garden, just whatever space you have to work with.
If you can’t find a large enough area to set aside for cut flowers, a second option is to squeeze plants in around established landscaping, vegetables, etc. You can also make use of containers if you’re really short on space.
The first step to creating a beautiful flower arrangement is planning the site for your cut flower garden. Don’t skip this important step, even though it may seem a little dull!
The downside to this second approach is that your plants will be scattered, so you’ll have to be a little more diligent about keeping track of where they are, but it can be a great way to sneak cut flowers into an already full garden.
Whichever option you go with, here are a few criteria to keep in mind as you map out your garden area(s):
- Sunlight– While there are quite a few plants that can grow in shade, most flowers grown for cutting prefer full sun. Choose a site that gets plenty of sunlight (at least 6 hours a day), and make sure it won’t get shaded out when trees leaf out or other plants come up.
- Soil– You don’t need perfect soil to grow a cut flower garden, but you do need an area that doesn’t get soggy. Most flowers don’t appreciate having their roots waterlogged and will struggle to grow if it’s too wet. If you know your soil doesn’t drain well, create raised beds ahead of time for your flowers.
- Ease of Access– Cut flowers are for cutting, which means you don’t want to plant them somewhere that’s difficult to get to. Ideally, your cut flowers would be close to your house so that you can stroll out and snip them each day, but at least choose a spot you won’t mind visiting everyday during peak production time.
- Protection– There’s nothing worse than planting a beautiful garden only to have some hungry rabbits or deer wander in and eat your flowers. Plan ahead of time how you’ll keep your flowers safe, especially when they are small. Fencing is usually the best option.
Step #2- Plan Your Layout & Plant Selection
After you have a designated section for cut flowers, the next step is to plan the layout of your garden.
You may not be able to fit huge rows of flowers into your garden, but you can create rows of any size that you want, or plant in small beds that are easy to access.
The most traditional layout and one of the most convenient options is to create long rows with pathways in between. The rows can be any width, but keep them so that you can easily reach the middle of the row to harvest flowers. Most gardeners go with something in the 2.5-3 foot range.
Make the rows as long as you have space for. They can be raised beds if desired or level with the ground. The pathways should be something easy to walk on, typically either grass, mulch, or some kind of stone.
Another option is to create smaller beds that are square or rectangular. Once again, they can be any size, but make sure you can easily reach into the center of the bed.
As you plan your layout, you’ll also want to start considering plant selection. You can find a list of great annuals and perennials for a cut flower garden at the end of this post, but here are some important things to keep in mind while you’re in the planning stage:
- Height of Flowers: Most people choose which flowers to plant based on their look, but you’ll also want to keep in mind how tall their mature height is. The reason for this is that you’ll want to group plants of similar height together and make sure that taller flowers aren’t going to shade out shorter ones.
- Growing Conditions: Many annual flowers will have similar growing needs, but it’s always a good idea to take note of the conditions each plant needs and group similar ones together. For example, some will be drought tolerant, while others will need watered more often. Grouping those with similar watering needs will help you out later in the season.
Sweet peas are an early cut flower to bloom, so you would want to make sure you plant other flowers with them that will bloom later in the season. Ideally, you’ll have flowers from spring to fall.
- Bloom Time: Not all of your flowers will bloom at once (which is a good thing), so some gardeners will plant sections that bloom together for an easier harvest.
- Planting Time: Some flowers can be planted early in spring, while others need to go out after the soil has warmed. You can divide your garden into sections based on planting time so that you can fill up your garden as the season progresses.
- Unique Needs: Find out ahead of time if the flowers you want to grow need anything special, especially a support system. For example, sweet peas make excellent cut flowers in the spring, but they need a trellis or something similar to climb up.
Keep in mind that no cut flower garden is perfect! You most likely won’t be able to sort your plants by all the criteria, so choose what makes the most sense to you.
Step #3- Amend the Soil & Prepare Your Site
Now that most of the planning is done, you can start getting your garden area ready. At minimum, you should make sure it’s weeded, and clear out any rocks or debris that might be in the way.
You can also add soil amendments at this time. Compost is one of the best amendments to add. It improves soil texture, improves drainage, and gives your plants nutrients to feed on all season. Be sure to work it to a depth of 8-12 inches so it will be at root level.
Compost is one of the best amendments you can add to your flower garden. It will feed hungry flowers later in the season and works wonders for soil texture.
Another option, especially if you don’t have compost, is to add a slow release fertilizer to your soil before planting. This will help feed your flowers throughout the season, giving them a better chance to thrive.
Improving clay soil is especially important because many flowers will struggle to grow in clay. Add lots of compost and/or leaf mold, or create raised beds to plant in.
Planting Your Cut Flower Garden
Options for Starting Plants
One option for getting plants for your garden is to simply buy them from a local nursery or garden center. Most of the work is done for you, and you can plant them in your garden when the time is right.
An advantage of going this route is that most nurseries will carry plants that are suited to your growing region. Make a list of ones you want, and be prepared to search a few different places to find the right ones.
A second option is to start your plants from seed yourself. This is the preferred method of many seasoned gardeners for several reasons.
First, it’s much more cost effective to start a large number of plants from seed than it is to buy them. Seeds are relatively inexpensive and most seed starting supplies can be reused each year.
Another benefit to starting from seed is that you can choose the exact plants you want to grow. There are so many more options available as seeds, so you can get the precise color, size, etc. that you need.
To get plants out as soon as possible, start them indoors under grow lights. Some can also be sown directly in the garden after the danger of frost has passed.
If you want to go the seed route, here’s a list of common seed starting supplies to get ahead of time:
- Cut flower seeds of your choice (read the packet to see when to start them)
- Seed starting trays
- Plastic tray covers
- Good quality seed starting mix
- Metal shelving for indoor seed starting
- Grow lights
- Plant labels
- 3-4 inch pots for potting up (optional)
When to Plant Your Flowers
When to plant your cut flower garden will depend on the specific flowers you’ve chosen. Some will go out in early spring while the temperature is still cool, while others need the soil to be warmer before you plant them.
Pay attention to when each of your different flowers needs planted. Dahlias, for example, are a gorgeous cut flower but are very sensitive to cold weather and should be planted when the weather warms.
As a general rule, most cut flowers like zinnias, dahlias, cosmos, and sunflowers can be planted after all danger of frost has passed in the spring.
Make sure that you do figure out the right time of year to plant each specific flower ahead of time. You don’t want to lose all your flowers because you planted too early (or late)!
Utilizing Succession Planting
In order to make your cut flowers last from spring to fall, you’ll need to do something called succession planting. This simply means planting more than one round of a specific flower.
The reason you want to do this is because flowers only have a limited lifespan. Some do flower from summer to frost, but even these ones usually have a certain window when they are most prolific.
So if you just plant a round of flowers once, they’ll bloom for a period of time and then will be gone.
The easiest way to get around this is to plant your favorite flowers at least 2-3 times. This means that when flowers start to fade in your garden, you need to harden your heart and rip (or gently pull) them out to make room for the next round of flowers.
Succession planting can be done in different ways.
To make sure you don’t run out of blooms, plant a few rounds of your favorite annuals. The exception to this is cool weather annuals that won’t grow well in summer.
You can buy plants at a nursery and plant them 3-4 weeks apart. You can also start seeds indoors every 3-4 weeks and transplant them to your garden when ready. Or you can start some plants from seeds indoors and do a second sowing directly in the garden when you plant the first round.
However you do it, plan to be planting flowers every 3-4 weeks for the first few months of the season to ensure that your cut flower garden never runs out of blooms.
Caring for Your Cut Flower Garden
After you’ve planted your garden, you’ll need to take care of it regularly throughout the growing season. While you can get away with minimal maintenance for some landscape plants, you really want your cut flowers to look their best, so that’s going to mean work.
One of the biggest care tasks is watering. Overly dry soil will lead to sparse flowering and unhealthy plants, so be sure you stay on this task. Rainy weather in the spring often does the work for you, but pull out your watering can or hose when hot, dry weather arrives.
Weeding is another dull but important task, especially when your plants are small and can be out-competed by the weeds.
To get beautiful blooms later, you’ll need to put in some work caring for your flower garden. Watering and weeding are the two most important tasks, followed by deadheading later on.
Mulch is a gardeners friend when it comes to holding moisture in the soil and keeping weeds down. Put a natural mulch like straw, pine needles, or shredded leaves down once the weather starts drying out in early summer.
Some of the larger cut flowers like dahlias and sunflowers may need staked to keep them from flopping over. Keep an eye on them and use support as necessary.
Once your flowers start blooming, cut often and deadhead regularly to encourage plants to keep putting out more and more flowers. When plants start to fade, pull them out and compost them to make room for new ones.
Each plant will have different potential pests and problems that may arise, so do a regular walkthrough to check on the health of your flowers.
Tips for Harvesting Flowers
When plants start to bloom in your cut flower garden, it’s finally the moment you’ve been waiting for! Here are a few tips for harvesting your flowers:
Be sure to harvest flowers when they are at their peak, typically right before they are in full bloom. Otherwise, they either won’t open or will fade too quickly in your arrangement.
- It’s best to cut flowers in the morning before the heat of the day. Bring flowers inside as soon as possible after cutting to keep them from wilting. If you can’t cut in the morning, evening is the next best time.
- Always use sanitized hand pruners or clippers to cut your flowers. This ensures you aren’t spreading a disease from one plant to others and allows you to make clean cuts through the stems.
- Bring a bucket filled with cool water along with you as you harvest. This helps keep your flowers in good shape, especially if there are lots of them to pick.
- Cut stems at a slight angle. This allows them to take up water more easily and is also better for the health of the plant you cut them from.
- In general, you can cut the stems of your flowers any length you want. However, it’s always a good idea to cut right above a flower or leaf node to encourage the plant to branch out at this point.
Best Plants for a Cut Flower Garden
The trick to choosing flowers for cutting is to select ones based on your personal preferences. You’ll hear lots of different gardeners having many different opinions about which cut flowers are best, but it ultimately comes down to what you like the best.
It will take a little time to choose your ideal flowers, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t know which ones to pick right away. Look through catalogs and online to find colors, shapes, and textures you like.
If you have no idea where to start, here are some traits and ideas to consider:
- Color Scheme– Choose flowers and cultivars that fit into a certain color scheme. This could be cool colors, warm colors, or contrasting colors. Think ahead of time what you are going to do with your cut flowers and what existing colors (perhaps in your house) you want them to match.
- Fragrance– If you want a sweet smelling bouquet, be sure to pick out some flowers that are fragrant. Include ones that bloom in spring, summer, and late summer so that you have fragrance all season long.
- Don’t Forget Fillers– It’s easy to go for all the stunning flower choices and forget to include some less dramatic fillers. Of course, if you just want flowers to cut for simple vase arrangements, you might not even need fillers. But if you want to create some full flower arrangements, consider planting a few fillers like baby’s breath.
- Add in Some Foliage– The very name “cut flower garden” indicates that it’s all about the flowers, but there are some plants with great foliage for flower arrangements. For example, coleus has vibrant leaves that are practically as good as flowers. Ferns provide a nicely textured greenery that complements many cut flowers.
- Consider Size– It’s always good to keep your end goal in mind. What kind of flower arrangements do you want, and what kind of containers do you have to hold your flowers? Do you want giant bouquets or small, dainty ones? Sunflowers are gorgeous but they mostly fit into the “giant” category, so you might want to choose a different flower if you’re going for smaller bouquets.
- Go With Your Gut– In the end, picking out flowers is as much about emotions as it is about making logical choices. If you flip through a magazine and see a flower you absolutely love, chances are good you’ll love it as a cut flower, too. When in doubt, pick out the plants that speak to you!
Top Cut Flower Choices
A final choice for your cut flower garden is whether you want to make use of annuals, perennials, or both.
Annuals are the easiest choice and the best place to start if this is your first attempt at growing cut flowers. Perennials take more planning and will always have a set blooming period, but can be very rewarding to grow for flower arrangements.
Zinnias are a staple cut flower and one of the easiest to grow, but there’s no lack of choices for cut flowers. Just keep your color scheme in mind as you pick out your flowers.
Here are some top choices from both categories (feel free to mix and match):
- Sweet Peas
- Bachelor’s Button
- Painted Tongue
- Dusty Miller
- Bee Balm
- Black-Eyed Susan
- Shasta Daisy
- Red Hot Poker
The Joy of Flowers
While creating a vegetable garden is practical and will give you fresh food to eat, flowers feed your soul and bring joy to the home. Creating your own cut flower garden is the perfect way to bring a little bit of the outdoors inside for you and your family to enjoy.
Now that you know the basics, you can keep experimenting each year to find out which flowers grow best for you and which ones you love the most. Don’t be afraid to branch out into a few new varieties each year until you find your true favorites!
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.