Creating Cut Flower Gardens

Question: What are some recommended plants to grow for a cutting garden in Central Virginia? I’d like plants that also will improve my yard’s appearance, even while I’m cutting many of them for flower arrangements in my house. If possible, I would also like to start them from seed.

Growing your own cut flowers is a convenient way to brighten indoor spaces. It can enhance your landscape’s beauty and be more economical than buying pricey florist flowers. With some advance planning, you can have an abundance of diverse plants blooming throughout the growing season to avoid having gaps in your landscape when flowers are cut.

Photo credit: Raimond Klavins

Planning for Cut Flowers
Whether updating your existing garden or developing a new cutting garden, these factors should guide your choices:

  1. Choose the right plants for the right space. For sun-loving plants, pick a flat spot with 6 hours of direct sun or for a shade garden, choose shade-tolerant plants. Pick plants that are designated for your plant hardiness zone and disease resistant.
  2. Know your soil. The site should be well-drained with the appropriate pH and soil nutrients. Get a soil test if you haven’t had one for 3-4 years and follow the recommendations provided with the results.
  3. Consider including annuals, perennials, and woody plants to provide diversity of plants and continuous, varied visual interest. Select plants with different blooming times, add multiples of one-time bloomers or those with rebloom capacity, flowers with long, sturdy stems, and fragrant blossoms. These strategies can help to avoid unsightly gaps in the garden when harvesting.
  4. Design the garden for ease of access when cutting the flowers. Plan paths or steppingstones throughout so that plants can be reached from all sides without harming other plants or compacting the soil.
  5. Plan for multiple plantings and layers to make the most use of space and extend bloom time. Think about garden design and colors to emphasize. Include plants of different sizes, heights, and forms to fill in empty spaces.
  6. Follow recommended best management practices for maintaining and harvesting the cutting garden.

Choosing Cutting Garden Flowers
Planting annuals is a great way to start a cutting garden in your home garden beds. Annuals are showy and most can be easily started from seed, adding interest and beauty to your landscape. Some can be directly seeded into the ground, while other seeds can be started indoors. Look for specific growing instructions on seed packages, in print catalogs or online.

Some options for perennials include peonies, lily of the valley, calla lilies and heirloom roses. Woody plants can complement and extend the cutting garden season from early spring stems and flowers to summertime flowers and autumn berries. Some have interesting foliage and ornamental stems (like the corkscrew willow harvested in fall and winter).

Putting the Plan Into Action
Are you ready to begin? This list of starter plants for a cutting garden will show you one way to integrate perennials effectively. These cutting garden flower recommendations for Central Virginia and the southeastern U.S. (zones 6 to 8) offer many choices to the home gardener. Trying to include more native plants in your cutting garden? Search the Piedmont Native Plants Database for ideas. Imagine the possibilities to make both your garden and home more beautiful!

Prepared by Piedmont Master Gardener Holly Nicholson

References

“Cutting Gardens: Inspiration,” Lynn Kirk, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 14 Mar. 2017.

“Field Production of Cut Flowers: Potential Crops,” Holly L. Scoggins, Associate Professor, Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Publication 426-619.

“Getting Started in the Production of Field-Grown, Specialty Cut Flowers,” Holly L. Scoggins, Associate Professor, Horticulture, Virginia Tech, Publication 426-618.

“Plant Virginia Natives,” Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program.

“Seed Starting & the Benefits,” Piedmont Master Gardeners, Ask A Master Gardener, 20 Jan. 2021.

“Southeast Outdoor Cut Flower Manual,” Todd J. Cavins et al., NC State University, North Carolina Commercial Flower Growers Association, Feb. 2000.

“Sowing Annual Seeds,” Kathy Kelley & Jim Sellmer, Horticulture, PennState Extension, PennState University, Sept. 8 2017.