Creating a New Cut Flower Garden? Here Are Some Tips.
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By Kim Outing and Laurie Cousart
What brightens a room better than a vase of fresh flowers? Whether for a special occasion or just to make you smile, it is wonderful to have flowers in your home. We are lucky to have so many great local cut flower growers in our area. You can also supply some of your own materials, by taking an occasional snip from your established beds or even planting a dedicated cutting garden.
We invited two local farmers and flower growers, Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm and Betsy Hitt, of Peregrine Farm, to share some expert tips on creating your very own cutting garden. We have included some helpful information and resources from Extension websites as well.
What makes a good cut flower?
Both of our growers highlighted the importance of vase life. We want our bouquets to last! Certainly for commercial growers, having a long-lasting bloom is crucial. With all the different varieties out there, Cathy cautioned that we check the plant information carefully for suitability for cutting. For example, some zinnia varieties will be more suitable as low bedding plants than for cutting, due to stem length.
What are a few plants you would recommend for a home cutting garden?
So many choices! Betsy suggested starting with annuals like zinnias, celosia, sunflowers, gomphrena and gloriosa daisies. Cathy suggested we think about growing a combination of focal, filler and texture flowers for our bouquets. For focal interest, choose from flowers like zinnia, sunflowers (you can select pollenless varieties specifically for cutting, to avoid staining your table cloth), and dahlias. Then, you can add texture and fill with flowers such as plume-type celosia and gomphrena. Finish with some scented greenery like lemon or cinnamon basil.
Both of our flower growers do several staggered plantings of their flowers to ensure that fresh, beautiful blooms are available throughout the growing season.
Experiment to find what you enjoy growing. With annuals, especially if you start from seed, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to do this. Seed catalogs will often highlight good cutting flowers with a special icon.
Full sun (at least 6 hours of a day) is a requirement for many popular cut flowers. To see additional options and even some suggestions for a shadier site, search the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox using the “Find a Plant” feature. Choose “Cutting Garden” under “Landscape Theme” and then select for your specific site conditions. You will find annuals, perennials and shrubs that you can use for cut flowers. You can also search for specific plants to learn more about them and their preferred growing conditions.
What are some tips for harvesting and post-harvest care?
To ensure the optimum vase life, commercial flower producers like Betsy and Cathy have to know the proper stage of development for harvesting each of the flower species they grow. That may be anywhere from the bud stage to fully open. A good general practice for us is to choose flowers that have just opened or are just about to open. For more specific information, the fact sheet, The Care and Handling of Cut Flowers, from Oklahoma State University Extension, includes a listing of specific flower species and the proper developmental stage for cutting for each.
When you are ready to harvest, go out early in the day, when your flowers will be more hydrated. Carry a pail or vase of clean water with you (make sure your pails, vases and cutting tools are clean, too!) and place stems immediately in water after cutting. Betsy suggests changing the water in vases every couple of days, since stems may get clogged by bacteria. Arrange and enjoy!
You can find more helpful tips for growing, harvesting and caring for your cut flowers at these links:
- Gardening for Cut Flowers and Web Resources: Flowers, NC State Cooperative Extension
- Herbaceous Ornamentals chapter in North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook
- Conditioning Cut Flowers and Tips for Longer Lasting Garden Bouquets, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
- For in-depth information on how farmers grow cut flowers, explore the NC State Extension Cut Flowers Portal.
Cathy also recommends The Flower Farmer by Lynn Byczynski, saying it is perfect for beginners.
Many thanks to Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farm and Cathy Jones of Perry-winkle Farm for their assistance and inspiration!