I didn’t know herbs could be a part of cut flower bouquets until I started learning about flower farming. I thought herbs were just for the kitchen, but now I put mint in almost all my bouquets. Mint isn’t the only herbal star, though. Common herbs like basil and cilantro can also liven up any arrangement and are usually long-lasting in the vase.
Here are some of the top reasons to grow flowering herbs in your cutting garden:
- You can pick flowering stems for bouquets
- You can harvest leaves for cooking
- The flowers draw in pollinators and beneficial insects to the rest of your garden
- The variety of textures, colors, and bloom types beautify your garden
Not a bad return on your investment of a few herb plants!
Without further ado, here are nine herbs to experiment with in your cutting garden.
Mint is my favorite herb to grow in the cutting garden, especially apple mint with its large fuzzy leaves. The stems grow several feet tall, produce soft purple flowers, and outlast almost any other flower in the vase.
Propagation: Although you can start mint from seed, it’s much faster to establish a plant by buying a transplant from the store. Once in the ground, mint will grow quickly, especially in rich soil with regular water. You’ll often hear that mint is invasive, but if you want to harvest it frequently, this isn’t a bad thing. I let it reign free in my garden.
Harvest: You can harvest mint as a green stem just for the leaves or wait for the plant to put on fuzzy purple flowers. At either stage, mint can last up to two weeks in the vase. As with any cut flower, harvest in the morning when the plants are fresh.
Best varieties: Mountain mint and apple mint are fantastic in bouquets. Mountain mint has smooth, long leaves and white flowers, whereas apple mint produces large, fuzzy, almost round leaves and purple flowers.
It turns out that basil is one of the preferred filler plants grown by flower farmers. Filler flowers are small, often inexpensive blooms used to fill in the spaces of a bouquet, and basil fits the bill. The green or purple leaves compliment just about any other flower, and the small blossoms make a charming background for more prominent blooms.
Propagation: Basil is very easy to start from seed, so if you’re intimidated to start herbs from seed, don’t be. Just sow the seeds on the soil surface and lightly cover with seed-starting mix. The seeds will germinate and grow quickly, and you can get your future basil filler transplanted to the garden in just 4-6 weeks.
Harvest: Don’t harvest tender green basil stems for flower arrangements (though you can pick them for cooking!). Those will wilt overnight and need to be replaced with another flower. Give the basil plant time to develop woody stems and harvest those. Along with woody stems, the basil plant will also send up stalks covered in small blossoms that last a week in the vase.
Best varieties: Mrs. Burns Lemon and Holy Basil are the most popular basils to grow for bouquets, though any basil will do. Thai and Purple Opal basil make dramatic statements in a vase with purple-tinged leaves and flowers.
Cilantro is a fantastic herb for flower gardens because of its clusters of tiny white blossoms. Just a few stalks of flowering cilantro make perfect filler flowers for any bouquet. And I’m not the only one who enjoys them. Cilantro flowers attract bees to my garden more than just about any other plant I grow.
Propagation: To start cilantro from seed, sow the seeds in the soil about a quarter-inch deep. Keep them warm and moist; you should see germination in about ten days. Cilantro will produce lots of fresh herbs for you to use in the kitchen while you wait for it to produce flowers. Once it does, you can expect to harvest flowers from the plant for about a month.
Harvest: Harvesting cilantro flowers is easy and doesn’t require particular timing. Just pick in the morning when the plants are hydrated and fresh.
Best varieties: Any variety of cilantro will work for cut flowers. I grow Slo-Bolt which is more heat tolerant than other varieties since warm weather will shorten cilantro production. As much as I want the flowers, I also want to harvest leaves for cooking, so I want my plants to last a while.
Dill is an excellent option for early in the season, as it performs best in the cooler weather of spring. It also provides blooms in a different shape than many other herbs, forming a flat, open bloom called an umbel (think of an umbrella). Pollinators adore dill in the garden, and it makes the delicate leaves make it a perfect filler flower in the vase.
Propagation: Dill is easily started from seed, whether indoors or directly into the garden. To get a jump on the season, start dill indoors about 4-6 weeks before your last frost date, but be sure to transplant it before the seedlings get too big.
Harvest: You can harvest dill at almost any stage, whether it has formed flowers yet or not. If you want to use the flowers, choose blooms that are halfway open when you cut them, and they’ll finish opening in the vase. The stems will remain green regardless, unlike basil or sage. Snip the stems early in the morning, so they last the longest.
Best varieties: Bouquet is by far the most common variety to grow for cooking and cut flower harvesting. Tall stems, tons of flowers, and quick maturity are all compelling qualities to grow this dill variety in your garden.
Most people think of sage as an herb used for cooking, but the fuzzy leaves make it a great addition to bouquets. Sage leaves are typically a subtle silver-green color, although you can also get tri-color varieties to add more visual interest. The plant will produce purple flowers that draw in pollinators in the garden and add soft color to flower arrangements.
Propagation: Sage isn’t difficult to start from seed, though it is somewhat slow-growing. Seedlings are easy to find at nurseries, so decide which route you want to go in late winter and have time to start seeds if needed.
Harvest: Sage stems become woody just like basil stems, and these are the ones you want to harvest. I haven’t successfully gotten very long stems, but I still enjoy sage in shorter arrangements with other charming blooms like cosmos and scabiosa.
Best varieties: Regular sage will work just fine as a cut flower, or you can track down a purple variety or one with variegated leaves, such as Purple Sage or Tricolor Sage (not very imaginative names, are they?).
6. Bee balm
Also known as monarda, bee balm is a funky flower that produces tall spikes with clumps of blooms every few inches. It blooms in purple, pink, or white and looks right at home in a flower or herb garden. The blooms make great additions to bouquets, and they attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.
Propagation: You can start bee balm from seed by scattering seeds in the fall, or you can start the seeds indoors in early spring. Germination is easy with both methods, and the plants don’t take long to grow. You can usually find at least one variety of bee balm at the garden center if you want to start with a transplant.
Harvest: It’s essential to cut bee balm flowers after they have already opened. Otherwise, immature flowers will wilt soon after you harvest them.
Best varieties: Lambada is the most common bee balm variety in the garden, producing purple flowers for both pollinator and cut flowers. Panorama is another excellent option with pink flowers.
Borage is an annual herb that produces stunning, star-shaped blue flowers, making them a unique color in the flower garden and vase. Borage is super easy to grow, so it’s a great option if you’re new to growing herbs. The blooms are edible, attract bees, and produce enough seeds in the fall to self-sow for years.
Propagation: Borage is easily started from seed and can be direct sown into the garden after the last frost in spring. You can also direct sow in the garden in the fall or spring to avoid having to transplant them later. Borage grows quickly and will start blooming in the cooler temperatures of early summer.
Harvest: Cut borage blooms as soon as they open, and remove the bottom leaves before putting them in water. The small blue flowers don’t have a long vase life, so be sure to use them soon after cutting.
Best varieties: Seed catalogs typically only list one type of common borage with blue flowers, though I have seen some over the years that offer a pink-flowered variety. Either one looks fantastic in the vase.
Another popular culinary herb, oregano makes a beautiful and subtle addition to bouquets. Instead of spikes of leaves and flowers like mint or basil, oregano creeps in the garden and drapes through arrangements with small white or purple flowers. Any extra leaves can go into whatever dish you’re cooking, and additional flowers left in the garden will draw in bees galore.
Propagation: I’ve never had luck starting oregano from seed, so this is one I’d recommend buying as a transplant from the nursery. Once planted, oregano will spread throughout the garden, so one plant ought to be plenty.
Harvest: Oregano flowers will form after the plant has established itself, and the stems will become slightly woody. You can harvest the stems at any stage, including after the flowers have gone to seed if you want to try some seed heads in your bouquet.
Best varieties: Greek oregano has small, arrowhead-shaped leaves and a low-growing habit, whereas Italian oregano grows taller and has gorgeous purple flowers.
Lavender is an obvious choice for the cut flower garden. Large, bushy plants will produce dozens (if not hundreds) of purple flowering stems over the summer. In addition to the color, lavender stems bring an unmistakable fragrance to a bouquet. Any stems you leave in the garden will be covered in bees on warm days.
Propagation: Lavender is tricky to start from seed, so spare yourself the headache and buy a small starter plant. It also grows relatively slowly, so don’t plan on harvesting any stems the first season unless you start with a larger plant.
Harvest: When harvesting, try to catch the blooms just before they start to open on the stalk. At this point, they’ll last the longest in the vase. Once the flowers mature, they’ll start falling off the stalk, leaving you with patchy stems in the vase.
Best varieties: Spanish and French lavender tend to last the longest as a cut flower. Spanish lavender is my favorite, with its little flag at the top of the blossom.
Tips for harvesting herbs for cut flowers
A few tricks to growing herbs specifically for flower production will help you get the most out of your plants. To start, plan to let the herbs grow past their typical harvest stage.
Culinary herbs are typically harvested when they’re young and tender, but to get the flowers you’re after, you’ll often need to give the plants more time to toughen up their stems. This way, the plant can produce flowering stalks, which you’ll pick to incorporate into your flower arrangements.
For example, you usually pick green stems and leaves to harvest basil for the kitchen. To use in a bouquet, you need to let basil grow long enough for the stems to become woody and produce flowers. This step is essential for the stem to last as a cut flower. Green stems will almost always wilt overnight.
Once you start harvesting the flowers, the plant will keep up production for at least a month. Some plants will go longer, such as lavender, which can bloom for months in warm weather.
If this list of flowering herbs has piqued your interest, learn how to get started with a cut flower garden in this article, How To Plan A Cut Flower Garden: Beginner’s Guide.
I mentioned filler flowers more than once in this article. Filler flowers are a must-have for any flower gardener. To get some more ideas for your garden this year, check out this list: 9 Filler Flowers For Beginners (Grow Them From Seed Easily!).