Beginner’s Guide To Planning A Perennial Cut Flower Garden
Growing your own perennial cut flower garden can be incredibly simple if you understand the basic needs of common perennials, their general care requirements, and the fundamentals of garden design.
Perennial flowers don’t have the same instant gratification as annual flowers, but by investing some time in a planting plan, you can build a garden that will give you beautiful blooms for years with very little work.
While there are countless ways to arrange your own perennial garden, this basic how-to will walk you through planning, planting, and maintaining your garden. It will take the image of a beautiful, lush garden and give you the blueprint to make it your own.
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Choosing a location for your perennial garden
The location of your cutting garden will ultimately come down to where you have room to establish permanent beds. You won’t want to move the plants from year to year, so be prepared to commit to this location for the next several years.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a location for your perennial flower garden:
When choosing a location for your perennial garden, opt for a bright, sunny spot that receives at least eight hours of direct sun. This amount of sunlight will satisfy the vast majority of perennial flowers.
Getting plenty of sun will not only promote growth during the active spring and summer season, but it will help the plant store enough energy to survive throughout the darker and colder winter months.
If you have a shadier yard, you can still grow perennials; you just have to choose suitable varieties. Most shade-loving flowers, such as daylilies or columbine, will thrive with just 4-6 hours of sunlight per day.
For more tips on growing cut flowers in partial shade, bookmark this article to read next: Can Cut Flowers Grow In Part Shade? (Yes! Try These 9 Types).
Healthy, well-draining soil
Next, you need to ensure that your soil is adequately balanced with the nutrients plants need to thrive. A soil test can help determine if your garden soil needs amending; however, applying aged compost, manure, or other rich organic matter is always good.
It’s also essential to choose a location that has well-draining soil. Most perennials don’t like soggy roots, so make sure the area you select doesn’t have standing water after a rainstorm.
Access to water
Speaking of water, remember that you’ll need access to a hose or irrigation system to regularly water your perennials, especially when the plants are young and getting established.
While different perennials have different watering needs, a good rule of thumb is to provide your plants with at least 1″ of water weekly.
If you have limited water resources, you’ll want to choose water-wise perennials, such as lavender, black eyed Susan, and coneflowers, which will be strong performers even with less water.
Activity and movement
If you have kids or dogs, keep them in mind when choosing a spot. If your dog likes to patrol the perimeter of your yard, putting a permanent flower bed against the fence can be a recipe for disaster when your dog jumps in it to investigate.
You also don’t want your kids’ frisbees and water blasters to knock over your tall lily plants, so site them somewhere more protected. Or, train your kids to be careful (good luck with that one!).
Designing your perennial cut flower garden
Once you’ve selected your location, the gardening fun can begin in earnest.
Start with a sketch
The first step is always to start with a sketch. This will help you determine your garden’s size, shape, and layout. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having a general idea will make the process much easier.
Graphing paper can help keep your design to scale, but even a freehand drawing can help visualize your space and help you decide your general garden layout.
For a few ideas for creating a garden layout, this article will show you some suggestions: 3 Cut Flower Garden Layout Ideas (Plus Tips For Your Own).
Decide how to build your flower beds
Depending on your location, you can choose to plant an in-ground garden; however, if your soil is quite rocky or consists of heavy clay, you may consider planting a raised bed garden or using containers.
While there are many different raised bed options to add to your landscape, popular choices include beds constructed from simple and inexpensive fencing boards, galvanized steel tubs, or natural beds with stone surrounds.
Read more about growing cut flowers in raised beds here: Yes, You Can Grow Cut Flowers In Raised Beds!
Ensure that your soil is fertile and well-draining and that your beds receive enough sunlight for the perennials you want to grow.
Include a variety of plant shapes, sizes, and colors
As you design your garden and settle on a planting arrangement, keep track of plant colors, textures, and heights, combining contrasting or complementary colors while using different bloom shapes and sizes in your design.
Try planting taller plants towards the back of your beds and using shorter plants to fill in the front of your beds. Select plants that can be the focal points of your garden, such as those with large, showy flowers. Also, try interplanting with filler and foliage plants for a more creative look.
It can be helpful to utilize color blocking in your design by planting at least three identical plants next to each other. This will accentuate the colors in your beds, but it will make it easier for pollinators to spot colorful blooms.
Include flowers with staggered bloom times
Finally, you will want to pick flowers that bloom at different times to ensure your perennial garden looks stunning all season long, from spring to the first frost of autumn.
It can be a good idea to plant spring bulbs, such as daffodils, and late-blooming plants, like asters. Adding a large, long-blooming shrub, such as hydrangeas, to your garden can do wonders for bringing your garden design together.
Don’t forget about pollinators
Perennial flower gardens are lovely for pollinators because they tend to bloom earlier in the season than annual flowers, which means they provide an early food source for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators each year.
Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps will also be frequent visitors of any flower garden you plant, helping to keep pests under control and encouraging healthy plants.
Including a few native plants in your garden will help support pollinators as they are adapted to the local climate and provide the perfect nectar source.
Choosing flowers for your perennial cutting garden
Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you plan, inspired by the section above. The questions will help you dig into what you have in mind for your garden and how your space will affect what you can grow.
Flower type: What kind of flowers do you want? There are many different types of flowers, from delicate and dainty to bold and dramatic.
Color: What colors do you want in your garden? Do you want a monochromatic scheme or a rainbow of colors?
Season: What season do you want them to bloom? Some flowers bloom only for one season, like peonies in the spring, while others will bloom for many months, such as black eyed Susans.
Performance: How long do you want the flowers to last on the plant or once cut? Some flowers only last a few days, while others can last up to two weeks.
Sunlight: How much sun does your garden get? The amount will determine which flowers will grow best.
While there are countless perennials to choose from when designing your cut flower garden, below are some of the best, easy to care for options that will look great in any space.
10 perennials perfect for a cut flower garden
With those questions answered (or perhaps still being mulled over!), here are some popular, easy-to-grow perennial cut flowers that will work in just about any scenario. The color options are vast across this list, and there are many variations of height, plant shape, and foliage to make your garden look unique and exciting.
There is so much to love about growing yarrow with its dainty, flat blooms in yellow, red, pink, and white.
This native plant is popular with pollinators, is very easy to grow, and is drought and heat tolerant. Yarrow is also resistant to deer and rabbit damage, perfect for rural gardens with lots of wildlife.
The long bloom time of yarrow makes them an excellent choice for a cut flower garden, and its flowers do great in dried floral arrangements.
Adding a hydrangea or two to your garden is an easy way to add visual interest while filling any open space.
Easy to grow and ideal for cut flower and dried floral arrangements, there are many different hydrangea species to choose from; however, big leaf, mountain, and climbing hydrangeas tend to be quite popular.
While hydrangea blooms can come in various colors, plants grown in acidic soil generally boast blue blooms, while plants grown in neutral soil have pink flowers. If desired, you can alter your soil pH to change your hydrangea coloration.
No cut flower garden would be complete without the bright, golden-yellow blossoms of black-eyed Susan.
A pollinator favorite that is excellent at self-seeding and is heat and drought-resistant, black-eyed Susan can be a favorite of deer, rabbits, slugs, and snails. Try companion planting your black-eyed Susan with lavender and rosemary to prevent pest damage.
With bright, cheery, cup-shaped flowers in pink, white and purple, it’s no wonder that bellflowers are a popular choice for a perennial garden.
This alpine favorite is cold-hardy and drought-resistant once established and offers pretty blooms primarily in the summer heat, from June to July.
A member of the sage family, salvias offer lovely, long-lasting purple flowers that bloom from summer months to autumn. These water-wise plants love the sun and will do best planted in well-drained soil.
Salvias are appealing to visiting honeybees and other native solitary bees as well as hummingbirds, so if you enjoy having visitors to your garden, be sure to include a few salvia plants.
With pink and white flowers, the fragrant, sweet-smelling garden phlox will draw in butterflies and other pollinators to your cut flower garden.
Easy to care for and blooming from summer to fall, phlox can be susceptible to powdery and downy mildew, so properly space your plants for adequate airflow.
Coneflowers, also known as echinacea, aren’t often seen in cutting gardens, but they make beautiful and long-lasting cut flowers. The pink petals pair beautifully with golden-yellow black eyed Susan or lime green hydrangea.
Coneflowers are very easy to grow as they are native prairie plants that are drought-tolerant once established. Pollinators also love these flowers and offer an excellent food source for butterflies and other beneficial insects from midsummer to fall.
The showy blooms of irises come in a rainbow of colors and, when planted in a perennial bed, add a tall, vertical accent that looks quite striking.
These perennials bloom from spring until fall, depending on the variety. Look for iris species that bloom multiple times in one season for a longer-lasting pop of color.
Irises benefit from regular division and should be divided every three years, which means you’ll have lots of irises to spread throughout your garden space or share with family and friends.
Sweet-smelling peonies are crowd pleasers for a reason. Available in various colors, peonies have large, bright blooms that are sure to delight in your garden or cut flower arrangement.
Peonies bloom from spring to early summer, though it can take several years for a peony to fully mature. The amazing thing is that peonies can live for decades, making them a treasure for any garden.
A well-tended peony plant can grow up to 4′ tall and looks particularly pretty when planted amongst shorter accent flowers.
Also known as gaillardia, heat and drought-tolerant blanket flowers are an excellent choice if you want a simple, non-demanding plant to add to your perennial garden. The blooms come in rich fall colors of golden yellow and rust red with brown centers.
With single or double flowers, depending on the variety, this pollinator-friendly plant looks lovely in sunny gardens where their long-lasting blooms will add a beautiful accent of color.
A mainstay in many cottage gardens, Shasta daisies are well known for their large, white flowers with yellow centers. Blooming from midsummer until fall, this cheerful plant is a favorite of bees and other pollinators.
The cottage garden favorite Shasta daisy will slowly spread over the years, self-sowing seeds and spreading through roots until you have a self-created flower bed full of daisies. Not a bad thing to have!
Caring for your perennial garden throughout the year
Once you get an idea of which perennials you want to plant in your garden, you’ll want to take a moment to research planting schedules and be sure you know your first and last frost dates (look them up here on Dave’s Garden).
While perennials generally can survive cold winter months as mature plants, a tender seedling put outdoors too soon might not survive the cold snaps of late spring.
You can start many perennials from seed, but most won’t bloom the first year unless you start them the previous fall. Winter sowing is an excellent option for this, and this video below from The Garden Canvas shows you exactly how to do it.
If you prefer to start fresh in the spring, seedlings are the way to go. You can find them at your local nursery, or, for much more selection, try shopping online through a reputable seed company.
Many will mail 4-inch pots with seedlings, such as Brecks. Even Etsy has many gardeners and horticulturalists that sell seedlings ready for the garden.
Throughout the growing season, make sure that your perennial beds are well-watered and know the general care requirements for the plants you choose to work with.
Many perennials, like yarrow, benefit from frequent deadheading throughout the growing season, which can ensure your plants look their best. Removing the dead flowers will also help keep up production and extend the bloom time.
From time to time, inspect your plants for signs of pest damage, as it is easier to address an insect infestation if it is caught early on.
In autumn, some perennials can benefit from pruning or may need to be otherwise cut back to protect them against harsh winter winds.
Mulching your perennial beds can help shield delicate roots and prevent weeds from taking over. Many perennials, such as lilies and irises, need to be divided from late September to early October to encourage growth and healthier blooms.
Several other tasks can help keep your flower garden looking and performing at its best, which you can read about in this article, Cut Back, Compost, Or Continue? A Quick Guide To Fall Flower Clean Up.
If you want to plant annuals among your favorite perennials, get inspired with this list: 10 Easy Cut Flowers To Grow From Seed: With Seed Photos.