Growing flowers to cut for homemade bouquets is a beautiful way to add a little color into your life — and your garden. To do so, you need to plan a cut flower garden with thought and consideration, something that is doable for both novice and experienced gardeners.
Plus, adding flowers for cutting to a garden comes with benefits beyond bouquets.
“Adding more variety to your garden is a great way to increase the pollinator and beneficial insect population in your yard,” said Lacey Sinclair, founder of Solid Roots Flower Farm and Gardening. “A lot of folks hesitate to plant flowers because they don’t serve a ‘purpose’ but when you plant things that you can use for cutting there is more benefit.”
Step 1: Set your goals
The main difference between vegetable and cut flower gardens are your goals. Because you are growing plants for flowers, you will consider aesthetics more than perhaps you would if you were planting crops.
“The difference between a cut flower garden and a [vegetable] garden is that you’re focusing on that mixture of textures and greens paying attention to when they bloom,” said Christa Little-Siebold, head farmer of Salt Farm Flowers in Trenton.
Sinclair said that while you are looking for different characteristics in your final product, the care for cut flowers and vegetables is essentially the same.
“You’ll be looking for certain characteristics in a good cut flower [like] stem length, fragrance, [and] color, but the overall treatment is the same,” Sinclair said. “Just like vegetables, flowers generally want full sun. Good draining soil is important, and some wind protection can be helpful if you live in a particularly windy area.”
Step 2: Get your tools
Sinclair said that the one tool you may not already have for growing would be a pair of needle nose shears.
“I love the ARS brand,” Sinclair said. “These are better for deadheading spent blooms, which allows the plant to work on new growth, and they are great for cutting finer stemmed flowers.”
Another important element when it comes time to cut the flowers for bouquet is to have thoroughly cleaned buckets to collect the harvested flowers. Cleanliness is paramount to making sure your cut flowers last as long as possible.
“Cleaning with a drop of bleach and using distilled water if possible prevents the growth of bacteria,” Sinclair said.
Step 3: Choose a site
When choosing a spot for your cut flower garden in your yard, make sure you observe the location over the course of the day.
“Amount of sun is the biggest thing I find that people don’t understand,” said Mary Turner, owner of Salt Farm Flowers in Trenton. “You have to have at least six hours of sun or more. Most flowers are sun loving.”
Think about the access to water you have at the site as well.
“You don’t want to be hauling in water twice a day in the heat of the summer,” Madison Jones, farmer at Salt Farm Flowers in Trenton, said. “It’s very annoying.”
The soil type of the plot also matters. Jones said to make sure you get a soil test from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in order to figure out what amendments your soil needs in order for your flowers to thrive. Healthy soil is as important to flowers as it is to edible plants.
Little-Siebold also said to consider snow removal. For example, you wouldn’t want to put a cut flower garden where salt and gravel pile up in your yard over the course of the winter. Make sure you leave a buffer zone between plants and the house, too, in case you need to do housework like replacing shingles.
“People plant some of the things that overwinter too close to the house and then in the winter snow comes off of the roof and ruins the plant,” Turner said. “Don’t put it too close to your house because you want to be able to sit and look out your window and see your garden.”
If you don’t have a good place in your yard for a cut flower garden, you can always use a raised bed or a non-wooden alternative to a raised bed.
“I think that the raised beds worked well,” Jones said. “It’s especially good if people have really rocky soil or clay soil. It gives you a way to grow things without having to do a major excavation.”
Step 4: Decide what to plant
When deciding what to plant, Sinclair recommends having somewhat of a color scheme in mind, so that when you pick your flowers they will work together well in an arrangement. She said that she likes to do an equal mix of foliage, fillers and focal flowers.
“When you do an arrangement you have your greens and you have your spiky type flowers and you have our discs and your focal flowers — discs would be round ones and focal flowers would be bigger ones peonies, hydrangeas and dahlias,” Turner said. “Then you would grow things for air and texture elements, things that give it a little whimsy like baby’s breath. I once had a friend describe to me that making a garden is like a watercolor painting.”
Don’t be afraid to be creative, either.
“People are now using thornless raspberries as greens,” Turner said. “Different types of cherry tomatoes [can be used] in an arrangement. We use Greek oregano and French tarragon because they look great in arrangements and are not too overpowering in smell.”
Make sure you research the plants as well, so you know what they look like and how big they will be at their full size of spacing purposes. Jones said that peonies, for example, will not bloom the first year; they take three years.
When it comes to easy cut flowers for beginners, Turner had some suggestions.
“I would recommend doing the Greek oregano, French tarragon [and] scented geraniums for greens,” Turner said. “For spiky interest, celosia and snapdragon. For focal flowers you could sunflowers and zinnias and dahlias and lisianthus, which you would have to buy as plugs. Then there’s cosmos and dumfrina, those are all really easy to grow.”
If you are interested in perennials for your cut flower garden, Turner recommended veronica, salvia, astilbe, peonies, hydrangeas, Japanese anemones and astrantia, which are all fairly easy to grow as well.
Little-Siebold said you might just want to stick to annuals to start, though.
“That way, you’re in your thinking process [and can] take more careful notes of what the space is like, what the sun patterns are like throughout the year and then you can add the more permanent things when you understand those pieces,” Little-Siebold said.
Step 5: Plant
The final step is to plant your flowers in the site you have chosen. Like vegetables, there are some flowers that prefer to be directly sown — such as zinna, larkspur and sunflowers — while others do best when started indoors.
“If you’re just starting out, direct sowing is much easier and requires less equipment,” Sinclair said. “You’ll want to refer to culture information on your seed packet or online from a seed seller to determine the appropriate growing conditions.”
When planting, Sinclair said to also consider spacing.
“Generally the amount of space you have to plant in will be the deciding factor when it comes to how many plants you need. When you’re growing flowers for cutting you can plant them much closer together than you might want to as a bedding plant. Flowers get longer, straighter stems when they’re close together. We plant the majority of our flowers four, six or nine inches apart. With larger things like sunflowers, amaranth and dahlias calling for 12 to 18 inch spacing.”
Finally, it’s a good idea to start small.
“Start out easy and small,” Jones said, recommending a step by step process to expand growing in years to come. “Have fun, don’t be super serious and don’t be super sad when things don’t go your way. My first years were a total disappointment, but it was about the learning.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report did not fully identify Mary Turner on first reference.