5 Steps To Start A Cut Flower Garden In Your Backyard

arial view of flower garden

You might be thinking about starting a cut flower garden because you want a beautiful yard that will provide you with flowers to make bouquets during the growing season.

Or maybe you want to try gardening for the first time and love the smell and sight of fresh flowers, so why not bring those together?

No matter what has you intrigued, starting a cut flower garden isn’t hard!

Start a cut flower garden easily by setting up garden beds in a sunny, well-draining area. Then decide which flowers you want to grow that work well for cutting. Finally, keep the flowers healthy and productive through the season with regular water and fertilizer.

If you just realized that you’re still in the planning stages and not yet ready to break ground, I’ve got you covered with this article, How To Plan A Cut Flower Garden: Beginner’s Guide.

If you’re ready to get started with a cut garden, here’s what you need to know.

How do you set up a cut flower garden?

When it comes to gardening, there are a few common challenges that people face. Some of these challenges may include:

  • determining the best location for your flower garden
  • learning which, if any, amendments your soil needs to optimize your plants’ health
  • figuring out the best flowers to plant
  • ensuring they get enough water and fertilizer
  • learning when and how to harvest the flowers.

With some planning and a few actionable steps, you can learn how to start your cut flower garden and have your flowers bloom by summer. It doesn’t have to be a complicated or expensive task, either. Learn some ninja tips to keep your start-up costs down with this article, Budget Bouquet: How To Grow Cut Flowers For Almost Nothing.

1. Choose a sunny location for your garden

One of the most significant factors for success in any garden is how much sun the plants will get. Flowers need sunlight to grow and produce blooms with long, strong stems. If you plant your flowers in a shady spot, they will still grow and bloom, but they will probably have fewer flowers. 

So if you can, make sure to find an area with plenty of sunlight to maximize the number of flowers you can grow. 

How to determine if a spot is sunny enough for your flowers

Observing your yard is the best way to determine if a particular location is sunny enough for your flowers. How much exposure does it get to full sunlight each day?

Ideally, your garden area will get at least eight hours per day. Some sites may get more morning sun, while others will get afternoon sun. Both scenarios will be acceptable for your garden if it adds up to eight hours per day or more.

If you live somewhere where this isn’t possible, don’t worry. You can still grow many types of cut flowers.

What to do if your ideal location isn’t sunny enough

If the area with the most sunlight in your backyard doesn’t get at least eight hours per day, you can still plant flowers there. You just need to choose flowers that can thrive and produce flowers in part shade, such as the ones in this article, Can Cut Flowers Grow In Part Shade? (Yes! Try These 9 Types)

shaded flower bed with foxglove, mint, bee house
This bed on the side of my house gets only a few hours of sun in the morning, yet foxgloves, columbine, mint, and nasturtium are all growing very well here.

You can also grow your cut flowers in pots that you can tuck into the sunniest spots in your yard instead of putting them all on one garden bed. 

2. Amend the soil with compost and other nutrients

Not everyone is lucky enough to have rich, loamy soil in their backyard that’s ready for planting. For many of us gardeners, setting up a garden means amending the soil with compost and other nutrients so our plants will thrive.

Soil rich in organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, will help the soil retain moisture, which is essential for keeping your flowers healthy and productive. The added nutrients from compost, or any other soil amendment you add, will also help balance the plants’ needs for nutrients that support a robust root system and prolific flower production.

You can also build a raised bed to plant your flowers in if your soil is very poor or doesn’t drain well. A raised bed is just a garden bed built above the ground. This makes it easier to amend the soil because you essentially start from scratch and fill it with your chosen materials, such as compost and planter mix from the garden center.

What to do if you have poor soil

If your soil is less than ideal, add organic matter such as compost, aged manure, or mulch to improve its quality. If this doesn’t give you the results you want, or if your soil isn’t good enough, you could always make a raised bed garden instead of using the actual dirt in your garden.

Raised beds are also a great solution if your soil isn’t well-draining or if you live in an area with a lot of rain. The higher level of the raised bed will drain more quickly, reducing the time the soil spends saturated with rainwater.

The same principles apply to rocky or weed-infested yards. Build a raised bed on top of the soil and avoid those problems altogether.

Alternatively, try growing cut flowers in pots and containers to avoid building beds: 12 Cut Flowers To Grow In Containers (Plus tips for success).

What other amendments does a cut flower garden need?

Besides compost, you may also want to add mulch to the soil’s surface in your flower beds. Mulch will help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds from growing there. You can use wood chips or grass clippings to avoid buying materials.

If that’s not an option, you can purchase bags of mulch specifically made for gardens at most garden centers and home improvement stores.

All-purpose fertilizers can be added to the soil in your cut flower garden at planting time, but it depends on what condition your garden is in. If you’ve already added a lot of compost, you might not need them. If you don’t have access to compost, then quality fertilizers are beneficial to help your flowers stay productive through the season.

3. Plant flowers that are suited for cutting

Another critical factor to consider when starting a cut flower garden is what types of flowers you want to plant and how often you want to deal with replacing and replanting flowers.

flower bed of black eyed susan, cosmos, sunflowers, cerinthe
This flower bed has a little bit of everything: black eyed Suan, sunflower, cosmos, cerinthe, and a shasta daisy are all happy companions.

A wide array of flowers will produce a steady supply of blooms appropriate for cutting, especially cut and come again flowers that grow more stems the more you cut. Others, like single-stem sunflowers, will only produce one stem per plant.

You can choose from favorites like zinnias, bachelor buttons, single stem sunflowers, snapdragons, and cosmos for annual flowers. Popular perennial choices include peonies, lupines, and black eyed Susan.

Each flower grows on tall, straight stems and beautiful blooms lasting anywhere from 5-14 days in the vase. 

Zinnia

Zinnias are a favorite cut flower of gardeners and flower farmers alike. They are easy to grow, produce abundant blooms, and come in every color. Plus, you can sow them directly in the garden in late spring. No transplanting is necessary!

Bachelor buttons

Bachelor buttons are perfect for cutting gardens because they produce a flush of blooms that lend an airy feel to the garden and bouquet. The plants can get unwieldy, growing to four or five feet tall and very bushy, so give them plenty of room.

Snapdragons

Another popular cut flower is the snapdragon. Snapdragons are easy to grow from seed, and you can start them before the last frost has come and gone since they are cold tolerant. You can also find them in garden centers, but check to ensure you buy a tall variety.

Cosmos

Cosmos are summer bloomers that produce a lot of flowers on long stems. You can plant them in different clusters and watch them self-seed, producing new plants for free the following year. The blooms sit atop delicate-looking stems and have an open shape loved by butterflies.

Some varieties are even suitable for containers, which I wrote about in this article, Grow Cosmos In Pots When You Don’t Have Garden Space

Peonies

Peonies are very popular for cut flower gardens, and they’re easy to grow from divisions, though they take several years to mature. Peonies are an investment in the flower garden. However, they are worth the wait for their beautiful, fragrant blooms.

Lupines

Another favorite for cut flower gardens is lupines. These plans have tall, sturdy stems covered in blossoms that are perfect for cutting and come in a huge range of colors, including a rare blue. Lupines self-sow easily, and the flowers last a long time when cut.

Black eyed Susan

Black eyed Susan, also known as rudbeckia, is another perennial that is easy to grow from seed. It can be planted in a cutting garden along with other perennials and annuals, but know that the plant will spread as seeds drop each fall. Some black eyed Susans are best treated as annuals and started new each year.

black eyed susan plant covered in flowers
What’s not to love about this black eyed Susan plant that’s covered in flowers ready for the vase?

You’ll notice that I mention starting many of these flowers from seed. Starting your cut flower garden from seed is a fantastic way to grow varieties you can’t usually find in the garden center or nursery. 

If you’ve never started flowers from seed before, don’t worry. It’s easy to do, and there are a lot of easy flowers to begin with. Get some ideas in this article, 10 Easy Cut Flowers To Grow From Seed: With Seed Photos.

4. Water and fertilize the plants regularly

One of the most important things you need to do to keep your cut flower garden looking beautiful is to water and fertilize the plants regularly. This means providing them with about an inch of water per week, depending on the weather.

That doesn’t mean you need to water every day, though. You can learn all about the best practices for watering in this article, Daily Water For The Summer Garden? Not Necessarily

Applying fertilizer to encourage flower production can also help your plants keep up the pace if you are also harvesting blooms regularly. Which you should be; it is a cutting garden, after all! Boost your plants periodically with a fertilizer high in phosphorous, a critical nutrient for flower production.

How much to water a cut flower garden

Watering requirements for cut flower gardens vary depending on the weather and time of year. If you provide your garden with about one inch of water per week, this should be adequate. However, more frequent watering may be necessary during hot summer months or if the soil is naturally very dry.

To read more about watering your garden, check out this article, Watering Your Home Garden Through The Season: A Complete Guide.

How to fertilize a cut flower garden

There are several ways to fertilize your cut flower garden. You can make your own compost, buy compost or worm castings, or purchase organic fertilizer for the flowers.

You can mix dry fertilizer into the soil around the plant, and the next time you water, the fertilizer will leach into the ground, becoming available for the plant roots to draw up.

Or, you can buy a liquid fertilizer that you dilute in water and apply to the root zone of the flower plants.

If you use compost or worm castings to fertilize your garden, you can mix it into the soil before you even plant out your garden, or you can top-dress the ground with it.

Top-dressing means putting 1-2 inches of compost on top of the soil. The next time you water, it will percolate through the compost and make the nutrients available to the plants.

What type of fertilizer to use for a cut flower garden

Fertilizers that encourage flower production will be heavier in phosphate than the other vital nutrients for a garden, nitrogen and potassium. Make sure to read the instructions on the package so you know the application rates for your garden and the size of the plants.

Worm castings are an excellent choice if you are growing your cut flowers in containers because worm castings retain water well, and they help keep the soil light and avoid compaction in the pot.

You can usually find aged or composted manure easily, which can be a valuable source of fertility for your garden soil. Cow or chicken manure is the most common type to use, though rabbit and alpaca manure is considered the best choice for their mellow effect on plants.

5. Harvest flowers regularly

Once your flowers start blooming, it’s time to harvest the flowers.

It can be tempting to leave the flowers on the plants because they look beautiful where they are. But since this is a cutting garden, harvesting flowers regularly will keep the flowers producing all season long.

colorful bouquet of flowers
This bouquet is straight from the cut flower garden with cosmos, zinnia, sweet peas, and scabiosa. Beautiful!

If you leave the flowers on the plant, the plant will eventually focus on making seeds, not new flowers.

Instead, cut the flowers as they bloom, which will encourage the plant to continue blooming and produce lots of beautiful cut flowers for your cutting garden.

How to harvest flowers from a cut flower garden

Many perennials and annuals can be harvested with a pair of sharp pruning shears. Even a pair of scissors will work for many annual flowers with thin stems.

When you cut a stem, cut deep into the plant so you get a long stem, preferably at least a foot long. This way, you can recut the stem to fit in the vase, and it won’t end up too short.

The best place to cut a stem is right above a leaf junction, where a set of leaves comes out of the stem. The plant will produce a new stem and bud from that cut point.

When to harvest flowers for the best results

You’ll get the best results from harvesting flowers in the morning when the flowers are fresh from the cooler night temperatures. You want to avoid cutting flowers in the heat of the day. The flowers will be heat-stressed and won’t last long in the vase.

Most flowers should be cut when they have just started to open, such as sunflowers and snapdragons. However, some flowers, such as zinnias, should be allowed to open fully on the plant before you cut them.

Get more guidance on the best time of day and flower stage to pick your stems in this article, When To Cut Flowers: The Right Time To Harvest Blooms.

What to do with harvested flowers

Once you cut the flower, put it in a clean bucket or container of cool water right away. Once you cut all the flowers you will harvest, you can recut the stems and pop them into the vase or jar that you want your bouquet to be in.

Recutting the stem lets the flower take up water more efficiently. While you’re at it, remove any leaves that will sit below the water’s surface to minimize the amount of bacteria that can grow in the water. Leaving the leaves to sit in the water will result in a slimy mess that will shorten the life of your flowers.

One last tip is to use flower food and change the vase water regularly. The food is a sugar solution that helps preserve cut flowers. Changing the water every couple of days will reduce the build-up of bacteria and provide fresh water to help the flowers last as long as possible in the vase.

Tips for keeping cut your flower garden looking beautiful

With these basics of how to start a cut flower garden, here are some tips for keeping your garden looking beautiful once the season gets underway:

  • Deadhead any flowers you don’t harvest. Deadheading is just what it sounds like — picking off the old spent flowers and allowing the plant to put its energy into producing new blooms rather than falling seeds. You can read more about how to deadhead in this post, Should You Deadhead Cut Flowers, Too?
  • Mulch your garden with organic mulch such as wood chips, grass, or straw. Doing so will help keep the soil moist on hot days and reduce the number of weed seeds that sprout in your garden.
  • If some plants start to produce fewer flowers as the season goes on, don’t be afraid to pull them out and plant new ones. This is called succession planting, where you plant two or three rounds of the same plant to ensure you always have a fresh supply of blooms.

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