CREATING A CUTTING GARDEN
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Many gardeners grow flowers for the pleasure of having fresh bouquets to decorate their homes or to give away to friends. But they also enjoy the display of color flowers provide in the landscape, and therein lies the dilemma--to cut or not to cut.
But there is a simple solution, according to the National Garden Bureau, and that is to plant a separate flower garden just for cutting. Then you can have your flowers, and pick them, too!
Because this is a production garden, you won't have to worry about design correctness. You can fill this area with flowers and foliage that you like and not be concerned with whether the colors complement each other or the plants look good together. Use this as a place to experiment with new plants and colors.
Establish your cutting garden just like you would any other flower garden. Pick a sunny, well-drained site, working in plenty of compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves before you plant. You can make this garden part of your vegetable garden, or tuck it away in a sunny corner of your yard.
Because a cutting garden is not intended for display, think in terms of easy maintenance when planning your space. Generally, cutting gardens are set up like traditional vegetable plots, with widely spaced rows providing plenty of room to move about to plant, thin, fertilize, water, deadhead (remove spent blooms), and harvest.
Group species of plants for efficient use of space and easy harvest. For maximum production, plant annuals in succession, with early season, mid-season, and late season bloomers each grouped together. Plant flowers with similar requirements for sun, water, and drainage together for easier maintenance. Tall plants should be placed where they won't shade out shorter varieties.
One trick you might want to try is to plant upright annuals like plumed cockscomb much closer together than normal. This will give you much taller stems for cutting. Flowers will be smaller, however, so it is a trade off.
Before you plant, mix a granular, slow-release fertilizer into the soil. Many complete organic fertilizers, by nature, are slow release, so these are always an option.
This will give plants a consistent boost of nutrition throughout their growing season. During peak production time, apply periodic doses of dilute liquid fertilizer, such as an organic product like seaweed extract, to heavy bloomers.
When plants are a few inches tall, spread a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the plants. You can use straw, chopped leaves, or even shredded newspaper to keep down weeds and retain moisture in the soil. Plants need about an inch of water a week, whether through watering or natural rainfall.
To encourage production, and keep plants blooming throughout the summer, pick blossoms regularly. Remove faded blossoms (deadheading) as this prevents them from forming seeds, which slows down flower production. This also is a good time to check for insects, such as aphids, that may infest plants.
When production slows and plants stop flowering, pull them, cultivate the bed, and replant with new seedlings. For example, while pansies provide early summer color, they won't bloom once summer days get too hot. Replace them then with marigolds or zinnias.
Your choice of what to plant is almost limitless. Personal preference will play a large part, but as a rule, long-stemmed annuals and perennials make the best cut flowers. Include some foliage plants for texture and color in arrangements and floral bouquets.
Here are some suggestions:
ANNUALS: ageratum, Bells of Ireland, calendula, campanula, celosia (cockscomb), cleome, cosmos, dianthus, lisianthis, geranium, gypsophila (baby's breath), helichrysum (strawflower), nicotiana, pansy, petunia, phlox, salpigloss, scabiosa, snapdragon, statice, sunflower, sweet pea, zinnia.
PERENNIALS: achillea (yarrow), aster, campanula, carnation, coreopsis. delphinium, dianthus, digitalis (foxglove), echinacea (purple coneflower), heuchera (coral bells), lupine, phlox, Icelandic poppy, rudbeckia (black-eyed susan), sage, shasta daisy, veronica.
FOLIAGE PLANTS: artemisia (silver-leafed varieties), coleus, dusty miller,
hostas, lamb's ears, lavender.