Cutting Flowers from the Garden

Posted: August 19, 2013

Most everyone enjoys fresh flower arrangements in the home, where their colorful beauty adds a delightful touch to any room. Purchased bouquets can add up to quite an expense, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy flowers. If you have a garden, you can easily grow your own cutting flowers, but you can also find a plethora of plant material suitable for arrangements in perennial beds and shrub borders around your yard.

Here are some tips and suggestions for cutting flowers from the garden.

· You don’t have to follow formal guidelines for floral arranging to create beautiful and interesting floral bouquets; homegrown flowers lend themselves to easy, casual arrangements.

· You don’t have to limit your arrangements to flowers only; branches, foliage, grasses, berries, and seed heads can add interesting elements of color, form, and texture.

· Be creative and experiment with different plant materials to see what works well and what does not work so well in cut arrangements.

· Include fragrant flowers in your bouquets. Fragrance is often missing from flowers common in the florist industry, and yet, for many people, it is an integral part of the enjoyment of flowers. Using flowers and foliage from your garden allows you to choose varieties that add aroma to your arrangements.

A cutting garden can easily be incorporated into a vegetable garden; just leave room for a few rows of your favorite annual flowers. If you want to have lots of flowers for cutting, this is the way to go; if you don’t need so many, annuals can be incorporated into perennial beds and borders.

· Use flower varieties that are bred for cutting. A good cut flower will have a long, sturdy stem and flowers that last a long time once cut. In seed catalogs, a “scissor” icon is often used to indicate varieties that make excellent cut flowers.

· Be sure the growing plants receive sufficient water to produce a good crop of flowers; as with vegetables, it’s a good idea to water the soil and roots while keeping foliage and flowers dry to minimize disease and rot problems. A drip irrigation system is one way to do this.

· Be sure your plants are growing in good soil; test and amend the soil as needed, just as you would for your vegetables. An annual application of organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, is one good way to improve your soil.

When it’s time to harvest flowers, here are some suggestions to ensure the best quality and longest lasting flowers in your arrangements.

· Harvest each flower at the correct stage of its development – this might range from colored buds to fully open flowers. In general, choose buds that are just starting to open or flowers that have just recently opened. Drooping petals usually indicate a flower past its prime.

· Harvest flowers after the morning dew has dried but before the heat of the day has set in – generally mid-morning – and put the cut stems in tepid water right away.

· As you prepare stems for the vase, first strip off any leaves, thorns, or other extra plant material that will be underwater in the vase. If left submerged, this plant tissue will decay and shorten the life of your arrangement.

· Use clean containers to hold your cut flowers and clean vases to arrange them. Clean containers and vases with hot, soapy water, or use a 10% bleach solution, and then rinse thoroughly.

· Use clean water in your vase and acidify it before adding flowers; this will lengthen vase life by preventing bacterial growth in the water. The packets of floral preservative that come with purchased flowers are very good for this purpose; or you can use powdered citric acid.

· Re-cut each stem as you prepare to put it in the vase. Cut off at least ½ inch from the bottom of the stem; this can be done under water in a bowl or sink, or just do it quickly enough to get the freshly cut stem into the vase water without delay.

· To prolong the life of your flower arrangement, keep it in a cool place, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Check the water level daily and change the water every few days. If it becomes cloudy or smelly, this indicates bacterial growth in the water. Change the water, add new floral preservative, and re-cut the stems as you put them in the fresh water.

Although we generally associate cutting gardens with annual flowers, there are many perennials and woody ornamentals that also work well for cutting. To get you started, here are some suggestions for great plants for cutting and enjoying indoors:

· Annuals: sunflowers, zinnias, sweet peas, calendula, celosia, larkspur, nigella, cosmos, salvia.

· Perennials: rudbeckia, echinacea, Joe Pye weed, columbine, coralbells, campanula, yarrow, baby’s breath, agastache, lavender, veronica, salvia, lilies, tulips, daffodils, lily of the valley.

· Flowering Shrubs: mahonia, viburnum, forsythia, magnolia, hydrangea, lilacs, roses.

· Foliage: herbs (sage, sweet annie), nandina, hosta, some ferns, ninebark, cotinus, sumac, conifers, Japanese maple.

· Grasses and Seedheads: lunaria, nigella, feather reed grass, prairie dropseed, giant sacaton, Northern sea oats, hakone grass.

· Berries: holly, winterberry, callicarpa, nandina, viburnum.

If you are interested in additional information about cutting flowers, please feel free to contact me at the Penn State Extension office in Carlisle.