Gardening for Cut Flowers

— Written By and last updated by Emily Capps
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Despite being a horticulturist, I really had never gotten excited about cut flowers, being mostly a trees and shrubs kind of guy. Oaks, maples, tulip poplars, and buckeyes were my kind of thing until my wife entered into my life. Now you will find a vase or two of seasonal colors in our house all year long. Today, I couldn’t imagine a home or special gathering without cut flowers and a garden full of plants that can provide them.

Any garden design and environmental situation is suited to grow cut flowers and decorative foliage in all seasons, from forced forsythia flowers in late winter to airy bunches of wildflowers in the heat of summer. Whether your garden is in full sun or shade, has irrigation or not, or has good or bad soil you can maintain a ‘cutting garden’ year-round. The key is to plant a mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees that are suited to your situation that will flower or fruit at different times. Following is a partial list of plants that lend themselves well to providing you with seasonal bouquets. Remember that the fruits and foliage of some trees and shrubs can provide arrangements just as lovely as a profusion of showy flowers.

Plants for Cutting Garden

  • Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea – a native shrub with white football-sized flower clusters
  • Callicarpa Americana, American Beautyberry – a native shrub with purple berries in the summer
  • Lilium longiflorum, Easter Lily – a early spring stemmed flower
  • Hemracolis spp., Daylily – There are many color variations of this tuberous flower. Each flower lasts one day.
  • Iris xiphium, Dutch or Bearded Iris –  One of Grandma’s favorites, the tall flower stems of this plant can stand alone in any vase.
  • Rudbeckia hirta, Black Eyed Susan – Sunflower-like yellow flowers bring the summer inside.
  • Lantana camara, Lantana ‘Miss Huff’– This shrubby plant has multicolored flower clusters on woody stems.
  • Ilex verticillata, Winterberry – Red berries cover the stems of this deciduous holly in the dead of winter.
  • Forsythia x intermedia, Forsythia – The stems of this yellow flowering shrub can be used as a late winter vase filler.
  • Leucanthemum vulgare, Oxeye Daisy – These perennial white daisies bloom in profusion in June and July.
  • Echinacea sp., Coneflower –  Tall and striking, coneflowers make a bouquet by themselves
  • Others: Sedum, gladiolas, crocosmia, hydrangea, peonies, dahlias, and wildflower mixes

Keeping your plants flowering for as long as possible is a second key to having a consistent variety of cutting material. Annuals and perennials benefit from ‘deadheading’ or removing spent flowers. Pinching off old flowers stimulates herbaceous plants to produce more blooms for longer periods of time. Be sure however to leave the very last set of flowers if you wish to collect seed.

Flowering and fruiting shrubs and trees benefit from pruning at the appropriate time. Plants such as hydrangea and forsythia should be pruned in early summer after flowering. Shrubs such as hollies and butterfly bushes benefit from an early spring pruning to stimulate new shoot growth. Proper fertility keeps plants growing vigorously and provides new shoots, flowers, and fruit with the extra nutrients they need to really put on a show. If properly maintained, a cutting garden can provide you with cut flowers, foliage and decorative fruit for your arrangements year-round, and enjoyment far in excess of the gardening effort required.