Gardening With Gardner: Cut Flowers

Gardening With Gardner: Cut Flowers

Cut Flowers

It’s a dream of many gardeners to have flowers filling vases from spring to frost. So, how do you make that dream a reality? Plant a cutting garden!

Different from an ornamental landscape bed, dedicated cutting gardens are set up as working spaces, similar to vegetable gardens. Be prepared to treat these flowers like a crop that you harvest, rather than something you will be admiring in the garden all season. Plant some extras in the garden bed for that. 🙂


When planning these gardens, it’s important to choose things that will benefit from regular cutting. With some flowers, the more often you harvest, the more flowers you will get! Sometimes these types of plant are referred to as “cut and come again.” If you’re browsing a catalog, many will have a scissors icon that lets you know a variety is good for cutting.


Below I’ve listed a few annuals that are all easy to start from seed.


Start in spring (with your peas, radishes, and lettuce):

  • Bachelor Buttons (Cornflowers)
  • Sweet peas
  • Larkspur
  • Calendula (aka Pot Marigold) — the petals are edible!
  • All of these prefer getting established when temperatures are still cool.

Start in warm weather:

  • Zinnias (Check the variety. These can range from 14″ to 48″+!)
  • Sunflowers (There are both single stem and branching varieties. Branching will generate multiple blossoms per plant. There are also pollenless varieties that will keep your tabletop cleaner!)
  • Cosmos (Again, check the height here!)
  • Marigolds (Choose a tall variety for a cutting garden.)

Buy (or start indoors in late winter): 

  • Snapdragons

No bouquet is complete without the greenery or filler! Try growing some herbs! In addition to texture, they can provide a nice aroma for your arrangement. Popular choices include basil (green and purple), mint (grow it in a pot to keep it from taking over), rosemary, dill, sage, and oregano.

Don’t be afraid to add some perennials: echinacea, coreopsis, sedum, salvia, and ornamental grasses if you’ve got sun.


When it comes to actually planting your cutting garden, create a bed at a size that is easy for you to reach the middle (generally, this is 3-4′ wide). You can typically plant closer than the recommended spacing. As you cut throughout the season, you’ll almost be pruning your plants each time. This will keep them smaller than the size they would mature to if left alone, so you can nudge them closer together.

Many cut flowers will do best with a little support. You’ve chosen things with long stems that make them ideal for a vase, but this can also make them vulnerable to toppling or bending from wind and rain. One option is to use plastic netting with large (4-6″) grid openings. Stretch the netting over posts or stakes (space every 6-8′ or so) when plants are still small and they will grow right up through it, disguising it as they mature. Aim to have the netting at about half the height of the plant or, for larger plants, consider two layers, at ⅓ and ⅔ their height. 


When it’s cutting time, try to harvest in the early morning or the evening, when temperatures are cool. Bring a clean container or bucket with cool water with you into the garden. For the longest vase life, add cut flower food to both your harvest bucket and your vase. If I know I’ll only be picking a few, I bring the vase I want to use right out into the garden. Make your cuts with clean lightweight shears or snips, and strip the lower leaves from the stems right away. Fewer leaves mean less evaporation and less chance of wilting, and you don’t want to have decaying leaves below the water level in your vase. Placing flowers in a cool place right after harvest gives them a chance to rest and recover.

Finally, once you get started, just keep cutting! Twice a week is a good habit. Make your cuts back to a sturdy set of leaves, or to a bud below if you see one. Don’t be too timid when making these choices. The next shoots will come from just below where you cut, and plants that branch from down low will be sturdier! If you cut near the top, your plant may become top-heavy and prone to damage. For example, your first cut on a plant like a zinnia might leave 4 or so sets of branches below.

Once your flowers are in a vase, keep them out of direct sunlight for the longest life. Make sure to change the water every few days, rinsing the stems and trimming them each time. Hopefully you will have bouquets for your kitchen, living room, office, bedroom, neighbors.