How To Plan A Cut Flower Garden: Beginner’s Guide

mixed flower garden with sunflower, bachelor buttons, and sweet peas

This may be the year you decide to grow your own cut flower garden after having seen Instagram feeds full of rows of beautiful flowers and mason jar bouquets. Or maybe you’ve heard about the flower farming trend and the revival of local flowers in the US.

Whatever it is that has got you thinking about growing cut flowers, I’m here to help you get started. I’ll cover everything from choosing what types of flowers to plant, how to design your garden, and making a planting schedule so you can start enjoying your new cutting garden this season!

Make a plan for your cut flower garden by following these steps: First, select the flowers you want to grow based on their color, shape, and bloom type. Then, make a map of your garden space to mark where the plants will go. Finally, create a seed sowing schedule for indoor or direct sowing. 

If you have ever wanted to try planting your own cut flower garden but didn’t know where to start, this article will show you the planning process before planting your first batch of seeds.

Make sure you bookmark the next article in this getting started series for when you’re ready to break ground: 5 Steps To Start A Cut Flower Garden In Your Backyard.

Planning a cut flower garden

Get started with planning and designing your own garden with these steps:

  • Choose the right flowers for your garden. Include focal flowers, filler flowers, and foliage plants. Vary the colors, heights, textures, and shapes of the flowers you choose.
  • Choose a site for your garden that receives full sun and has well-draining soil. If you don’t have a good spot in your yard, consider growing your cut flowers in containers.
  • Make a map of your site to help you organize the layout and determine how many plants of each flower you need.
  • Decide if you will start seeds indoors to get your growing season going earlier, or direct sow in the garden to keep the process simple.
  • Create a planting schedule with seed sowing and transplanting dates to keep you on track.

Now for more details about each of these steps so you know just what to do!

Decide which flowers you want to grow

The most important part of any cut flower garden is choosing which flowers you want to include. Many different types of flowers can be used as cut flowers, from dainty feverfew to giant zinnias.

Each type of flower has a role in the vase, such as the focal point or background texture. You’ll want to have some flowers from each of the different categories: focal, filler, and foliage.

Within these categories are different shapes, colors, and textures, and each one complements the other in the garden and the vase. 

Types of cut flowers

Focal flowers: Focal flowers are the center of the bouquet. The eye lands on first, and they have the biggest blooms in the bouquet. Common focal flowers are sunflowers, zinnias, and dahlias. 

Filler flowers: Filler flowers are the right-hand man to the focal flowers. They are smaller in size than the focal flowers, and they come in a range of shapes, such as round, flat, and spiky. Popular filler flowers include bachelor buttons, gomphrena, and snapdragons. 

Foliage: Foliage is also called greenery since the focus is on using stems and leaves instead of colorful flowers. Foliage adds shades of green and volume to bouquets, such as sage, basil, and eucalyptus. 

Read more about these types of flowers in this post, What’s The Difference Between Foliage & Filler For Bouquets?

In addition to including each of the three categories of flowers, other considerations will be the overall look of your cut flower garden and the bouquets you’ll be able to make from it.

While a bouquet of just zinnias or cosmos is beautiful, a cutting garden gives you the freedom to grow a wide variety of flowers that come together to make a stunning display.

Other factors for designing and choosing what to grow:

When deciding on what flowers to include in your cut flower garden, consider the additional design elements:

  • Height: You want long stems for cut flowers, but that can range from 6-10 inches for shorter bouquets to 18 inches or more for sunflowers and foxgloves. 
  • Color: The only limit here is your imagination. Cut flowers come in every color. Decide if you want to grow a rainbow of colors, or if you want to stick to a small color palette, such as pastel shades, or an all-white cutting garden. 
  • Texture: A cutting garden should include a variety of textures, such as the fuzzy leaves of dusty miller or the whispy fronds of cosmos. 
  • Shape: Some flowers are round ball-shaped, others are flat disks, and still others are spikes or spires. Including some of each will make for visually interesting bouquets. 
  • Blooming period: Some flowers bloom in the cool spring weather and fizzle as the summer heats up. Other flowers burst into bloom only when the temperature rises consistently in summer. The duration of blooms can also range from just a few short weeks to multiple months long. 

My suggestion would be to select cosmos, zinnias, scabiosa, salvia, and basil for your first cutting garden. With this mix of annuals, you’ll get blooms quickly in the summer, and your bouquets will have all the needed elements of focal, filler, and foliage plants. 

For a list of cut flowers that are easy to grow from seed, jump over to this post to get some ideas: 10 Easy Cut Flowers To Grow From Seed: With Seed Photos.

Understand how your climate affects what you grow

Another consideration will be your climate. Most cut flowers can be grown in all the climate ranges of the US, but of course, your growing season will affect when your flowers start blooming and how long the blooming season will last. 

If you live in a cold climate, you may need to plant earlier than usual to get a head start on your flowers. Starting seeds indoors can be an excellent way to access numerous varieties that you can’t find in garden centers and nurseries.

Seed starting is only as complicated as you let it be. You can get fancy with grow lights, humidity control, heat mats, and more. Or, you can get a simple shop light, some seed trays, and get started with the basics. Both approaches will germinate seeds. It just comes down to what works for you. 

I keep my seed starting simple. I use a shop light from the hardware store, a heat mat to keep the soil warm during germination, and soil blocks to start the majority of my seeds. 

Cosmos seedlings in soil blocks.

If you live in a hot climate, you may need to plant earlier than other areas to allow your flowers to bloom before it gets too hot. When I lived in South Carolina, I planted my zinnias in February instead of the usual April or May to get some flowers before the heat and humidity killed them. 

Lastly, if you live in an area with a very short growing season, be realistic about what you can grow. If your region has late spring frosts and early fall frosts, be sure to choose annuals that have short days to maturity, so the flowers have time to bloom. 

Pick the right site for your cut flower garden

Once you’ve decided on the type of flowers you’d like to grow in your cut flower garden, you’ll then need to decide where to place the garden. Remember that most cut flowers prefer full sun and well-draining soil, so choose a site with both for the most success in growing cut flowers.

Full sun

Full sun means that the flowers will get eight or more hours of sun per day. Most cut flowers can handle less sun than this, but they won’t grow as strong or productive as those grown in full sun. 

If your garden needs to be situated close to a wall or fence because that’s the space you have, then pay attention to see how much sun the area gets. The structures will block out some light, but if the site still gets some sun in the morning or afternoon, you can probably get away with using the space. 

Well-draining soil

Well-draining soil means that the soil drains off rainwater and irrigation easily. The soil can’t be constantly saturated or boggy. Too much water will stunt the plants’ growth and potentially cause them to die prematurely. 

If you don’t have an appropriate area to set up a garden, then try growing cut flowers in containers. Container gardens are easy to move around, and you can use a variety of sizes to suit the flowers you want to grow. 

If you need some inspiration for growing in containers, check out this article specific to growing cosmos in pots: Grow Cosmos In Pots When You Don’t Have Garden Space.

Make a map of your garden space

Now that you know where you want to put your cut flower garden, it’s time to create a map of your space. This will help you determine exactly where each plant should go. 

If you’re planning to grow in raised beds, draw out each bed on a piece of paper. I like graph paper to keep the plan (relatively) to scale. If you’re putting in a new in-ground garden or adding flowers to an existing garden, make an outline of the space or rows you’ll be using. 

Containers can go on your plan, too. Note the approximate size of the pots, so you know how much space that gives you. For example, a five- or seven-gallon pot is roughly the equivalent of one square foot of garden space. 

This year I’m using some seven-gallon grow bags and treating each one as one square foot of garden space. 

Mark plant spacings on your map

Cut flowers are grown closer together than flowers grown in the landscape or a traditional flower garden. Plants can be spaced anywhere from 8-24 inches apart in those gardens. The most common spacing in a cut flower garden is 9 inches between plants. 

Larger flowers such as cosmos, dahlias, and branching sunflowers will need more room with 12-18 inches between plants. Other flowers, such as single-stem sunflowers, only need six inches between them. But if you had to go with just one spacing to make planning easier, choose nine inches. 

To get a better idea of how to space your cut flowers, reference this article, How To Space Your Annuals For Cut Flower Production, for some of the most common cut flowers.  

Keep taller plants in the back, shorter plants in the front

To prevent tall plants from shading out shorter ones, arrange your plants according to height. Tall flowers such as foxgloves, sunflowers, delphinium, and amaranth should go in the back of the row. 

Medium and shorter flowers such as zinnias, snapdragons, scabiosa, and calendula will go in the front where they will get plenty of sun, and you can access them easily. 

You can find the mature height of the flowers you want to grow on the back of the seed packet. Cut flowers range anywhere from 1-6 feet tall, with many in the middle range of 3-4 feet tall. 

packets of cosmos flower seeds

Here’s an example of the useful information you can find on the seed packet. These seeds are from Swallowtail Garden Seeds and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They’re both amazing companies and are on my list of the best places to buy flower seeds.

I wrote two guides to plant height, one for cosmos and the other for zinnias, that you can reference to get some ideas. 

Decide how many plants you need for your garden

Grow six or twelve of each plant so you can start them easily in leftover nursery trays. Starting or buying more plants than you need is also insurance against seedlings that don’t make it, either because they got eaten by slugs, pulled out by squirrels, or got too hot in the sun while still young and tender. 

Fortunately, seed packets have anywhere from 25-200 seeds in them, so you’ll have plenty of extra seeds if you need to replace some plants or if you want to make an extensive planting of your favorite flowers. 

For example, if you have a 3×6 foot raised bed, you’ll need 35-40 plants when they are spaced nine inches apart. If you only have one flower bed, you can plant it with four to six varieties of flowers, so you get plenty of blooms for your bouquets. 

Make a planting schedule

Once you’ve determined what flowers you want to grow and how many of each you will need, it’s time to decide when to start seeds indoors or when you’ll direct sow seeds in the garden. The most significant factor influencing this schedule is your last frost date in the spring. 

Know your last spring frost date

A frost date refers to temperatures reaching 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or below. The last frost in spring usually occurs in April or May, and the first frost in the fall usually happens between September and November. 

The growing season is the time between those two frost dates. Those events don’t always occur on the same days every year, but you can get an idea of when they typically happen by looking at their average dates in the past.

Dave’s Garden has an excellent tool for looking up your last frost date using your zip code. You’ll need that date for the next step, so go ahead and look it up now. 

Count back to know when to start seeds indoors

If you decide to start seeds indoors, you’ll need to get them going an average of 4-8 weeks before you intend to plant them out. The exact amount of time varies depending on the type of flower.

You can find the recommended seed starting date on the back of the seed packet or in the (online) catalog you ordered the seeds from. If you need some ideas of where to buy flower seeds, I have a list of some of my favorites in this article, 10 Best Places To Buy Quality Flower Seeds Online.

Let’s use cosmos as an example. These flowers are warm-season annuals, meaning that they can only be planted out after the risk of frost is gone, as we talked about in the above paragraph. For my area, the danger of frost is gone after the end of April. 

If I want to start cosmos seeds indoors, I need to start them 4-6 weeks before planting them out, so around mid to late March. That way, they have at least all of April to grow under lights, and I can plant them out as seedlings when the weather is warm enough. 

Here’s what that looks like:

Last/first frost dateStart seeds indoorsDirect sow/transplant seedlings
April 20/Oct 15March 9-June 25April 20-July 23

If you’re new to starting seeds, use this reference to walk you through the process: Step-By-Step Guide To Starting Seeds Indoors (Plus a sample setup).

Direct sow seeds 

You can choose to direct sow seeds in the garden if you want to skip starting them indoors. Some flower seeds can be planted before the last frost, while others must be planted after the risk of frost is gone.

Just check the seed packet to know the recommended planting date for your flowers.

The beauty of direct sowing is its simplicity: no equipment and no date counting. Just sow the seeds outside and wait for them to germinate in place. 

For more information about when to start your cut flower garden, jump over to this article, What Month Should You Start Planting Flowers?

An overview of how to plan your cut flower garden

  • Decide which types and colors of flowers you want to grow. Remember to select a variety of flowers that have different colors, shapes, and size for the best bouquets. 
  • Draw out your planting space on paper so you can mark where you’ll plant your flowers. Plan on spacing plants about nine inches apart. 
  • Write up a schedule of when to start your seeds indoors, or when to sow them directly in the garden.  

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