One of the main reasons that I grow flowers in my garden is for the fresh cut flowers. Blooms to bring in by the arm load and arrange in buckets and vases, is the reason that I slave hours in the garden.
Buying fresh cuts from a florist or grocery store isn’t the same as bringing in blooms that are decorating my garden with fragrance and color. Regretting removing those blooms from my garden isn’t an issue when I can enjoy it for many more hours up close and personal in the privacy of my home.
To get the best of both worlds – a beautiful garden along with beautifully arranged vases – I always designate a special area a ‘cutting garden’. Expanding year by year as I discover just another flower that is perfect for cutting, it has encroached on my vegetable garden. Less veggies-more flowers!
But what defines a good cut flower?- Simply put: long bloom times, tall sturdy stems, and ample vase life.
Growing specialty cut flowers for me ranges from crowd favorites like peonies and dahlias, to more obscure varieties rarely seen at a local florist, like ‘Love in the Mist’, is both a money saver and a little bit of luck. Starting many of these varieties from seed can be tricky, and some years I have a bumper crop, and other years, I bomb. Gardening is not an exact science and the more I experiment, I find that there is always more to discover.
Growing my own source of private bouquets is something I will be doing as long as I have a garden, as I crave fresh flowers in my house and I don’t want to rely on the florist. My vegetable garden is about 50% flowers now!
Not only do I use my fresh cuts for arranging, I also dry a bunch of them for use in the Fall and Winter. See Dried Flowers for ideas.
My Top Twelve List of Fresh Cuts
Ageratum houstonianum ‘Blue Horizon’ or ‘Dondo Blue’
Larkspur-comes in pink, blue and white and gives a great vertical accent to your arrangements
Poppies-comes in a rainbow of colors and my bees like them; go to Poppy Love
Zinnias-all kinds, but I especially love the cactus varieties
Sunflowers-forget the mammoth ones (too large), but the different colored varieties with branching stems are my favorites like ‘Valentine’
Lilies-Oriental and Asiatic, not daylilies as these only last a day
Love in the Mist- not only beautiful flowers, but beautiful foliage and dried seed heads
Peonies-a flash in the pan and they are gone, but I indulge in them when in season
Tulips-forget these if you have deer; wonderful form and they grow in fantastic shapes in the vase
Bishops Flower(Amni majus)-looks like a Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids
Alliums-long lasting statements that make good focal flowers; go to my post on Alliums-All Season Long.
Out of Season
When summer is over that doesn’t mean I don’t have plant material in the house. Transitioning to colorful berries, leaves, and branches takes me into the holiday season. After that, I bring in evergreens, cones, and branches, until flowers appear again in the spring.
Deciding on a place for your cut flowers is a personal decision, but you have to have lots of sun. Growing flowers in my vegetable garden which gets the most amount of sun on my property makes sense for me. Most of my other beds are full of perennials and evergreens, and shrubs, so I usually don’t have room for them in my garden beds. I will plant early bloomers, like poppies, larkspur, and cornflowers in areas that will hold late appearing perennials, like hostas. By the time the hostas are up, the early bloomers are just about done and I can remove them.
Allow enough room to maneuver around the blocks or rows for watering, weeding, and picking. I plant in blocks about 3 feet wide for good access and air flow.
Starting some seeds inside and others like Zinnias outside, I start about two dozen varieties each year. Some years I have a bumper crop of something that has done especially well, I just can’t predict what will be blooming in my garden.
For cool season flowers like Larkspur, Bells of Ireland, Poppies, Love in the Mist, and Cornflower, go to Cool Flowers.
If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space to plant outdoor bulbs like Tulips, Daffs, Iris, or Hyacinths, don’t despair….Plant them in pots. Easy peasey. So much better to plop your bulbs in nice loose potting medium rather than slaving with a heavy shovel to get your bulbs down to the proper depth in a heavy clay soil. Frustrating? You bet! But in containers, think of the advantages:
You can enjoy your bulbs up close and personal
Change the look and appearance of your garden instantly
Grow bulbs that require specialized TLC
Pop them into containers with other spring flowers
Experiment with new varieties. Plus, you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your patio for weeks in the spring when you become starved for color and fragrance
You can have tulips without the deer eating them! Place your pots close to the house, like on your porch where the deer won’t venture
Outdoors For Spring Bloom Vs Forcing
Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. I am not talking about “forcing” bulbs which means to accelerate your bloom period. In that scenario, your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. That method requires pre-chilling to get the required days of cold that each bulb needs. I didn’t want to fool with forcing this year. So, I decided to enjoy my bulbs in containers by my back door without fiddling with burying the pots and/or chilling bulbs that forcing requires. Go to Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs for more information on pre-chilling and forcing if you want winter color indoors.
Another use for your bulbs in containers is to use them in mixed spring containers for an instant pop of color.
Creating an enclosed environment for your tiny packages of blooms is easy if you remember a few cardinal rules.
Potting Medium-Use a high quality potting medium with lots of perlite or vermiculite for porous well draining soil (not garden soil)
Pots-Use flexible plastic pots that give with the changes of temperature (terra-cotta can break); You can slip these into decorative pots when they bloom
Spacing-Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. Here is your chance to stuff them in for a huge color show
Depth-Pot bulbs are typically planted a little less shallowly than ground bulbs. But try to stick closely to recommended planting depths for best results. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth
Layers-For a more abundant lavish look, you can layer your bulbs or stack them on top of each other but it is simpler to stick with one variety per pot for beginners
Temperature-In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground where the surrounding soil insulates. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as the outside
Water-Check your soil all winter to make sure soil is moist but not soggy. Water infrequently when just started, but later when roots have filled in and top growth has started, ramp it up
Presentation-Place grit, gravel, or Spanish moss on top to finish it off or plant something shallow rooted on top, like moss
I keep my planted pots outside until the weather consistently gets below freezing. For me in the mid-Atlantic region, that could be as late as mid December, depending on the weather. Keeping my pots on my patio where I can easily throw some water on them, is the simplest way to monitor them. Once freezing temps are here to stay, I start bringing the pots in to a more sheltered position.
Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose an area that is buffered from the killing freeze/thaw cycle, but still able to get the needed chilling for successful flowering. Keeping the pots in a cool shaded spot, like an unheated garage, until early spring growth appears is essential. For me it is an unheated mud room attached to my house once winter weather arrives.
Wrapping my pots in insulating bubble wrap and placing them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth is my solution for minimal protection. A cold frame would work also. I have heard of gardeners even storing the pots in old-fashioned galvanized trash cans with some burlap or other filler stuffed around them. Storing them in cans will avoid the great destructor of bulbs-squirrels, mice, voles and other assorted varmints.
Check on your pot while it is being stored. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. This will only happen every couple of weeks. Towards February, the tips of the bulbs will be pushing through the plants that you have planted on top.
If storing in a garage, be careful of ethylene gas emitted from exhaust fumes from warming-up cars. Ethylene gas can cause flower buds to abort and you end up with wonderful pots of foliage only. If you store in an old refrigerator, be aware of ripening nearby fruit for this reason as the ethylene gas of fruit can cause the same problem. Store the pots in impermeable plastic bags to avoid contamination.
Once top growth starts in the spring – pointy tips pushing through the soil- gradually move the pots out into the partial sun acclimating them to brighter sunlight necessary for good flower development. Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.
After Care-3 Ways
Compost the bulbs, leave in the pot/plant in the ground in the fall, or replant in the garden right after flowering and still green are the three ways to handle the spent bulbs. If you replant, be sure to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer as the bulbs have used all those nutrients up at their first burst of flowering. Most times, the flowers aren’t as spectacular as the first bloom using up all their energy, so I tend to compost them.
Step By Step for ‘Lasagna’ Pots
‘Lasagna’ pots just means layering your bulbs so that you have a 6-7 week display from one pot of different types of bulbs.
Fill your deepcontainer (16″ deep)with a high-quality potting mix about 3-4 inches deep
Plant your bulbs almost as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 3 or 4 inches deep for little bulbs such as Crocus and Miniature Iris
Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer completely before placing more bulbs
For my layers, I planted the following from deepest to the most shallowly planted; 1st layer- 10 Daffodils, 2nd layer- 10 Hyacinths, 3rd layer-16 Tulips, 4th and last layer- 50 assorted small bulbs (I used 20 Grape Hyacinth, 20 Crocus, and 10 Mini Iris)
Water your bulbs well after planting
Plant either pansies, moss, or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating help
Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 18″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run
There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world. It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.
The Bat Orchid, Tacca chantieri is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.
‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks
These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.
You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.
Anvil of Darkness Iris
The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of black draped against the foliage.
How to Use Black Well
Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.
There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.
Jack in the Pulpits
The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast. It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.
Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact . Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.