For weeks I have enjoyed the company of daffodils on my kitchen table, which are a lovely prelude to the season’s supply of cut flowers for bouquets. Growing cut flowers in and around the vegetable garden gives you another harvestable crop while attracting beneficial insects and butterflies. Best of all, you get to share your cut flowers with garden-less friends. Everyone loves fresh flowers.
Here at GrowVeg we have recently added a slew of cuttable flowers to our plant guides, so you can now use dahlias, gladiolus and other top cut flowers in your Garden Planner planting plans. You can even site a rose bush in a mixed bed of herbs and flowers chosen for their value in bouquets.
Choosing Cut Flowers to Grow
Any stem or branch with attractive form or foliage can be used in flower arrangements, including many weeds, grasses, shrubs and trees. But you will want to grow a few feature flowers, free-blooming fillers, and at least one flower with an upright, spiking form to fill basic arranging needs. The most attractive flower arrangements include a mix of flat (daisy type), tubular (lilies, gladiolus) and spiking forms, which can come from sages, celosia, or Thai basil grown for its blooms.
Reblooming roses make handy cut flowers, though their blossoms are not as showy as those of long-stemmed (yet temperamental) hybrid teas. In early summer and again in fall, I make good use of vigorous stems from my ‘Pink Knockout’ rose, which is slightly fragrant and highly resistant to disease. Like all roses, it is attractive to Japanese beetles, a top-reported American garden pest in last year’s Big Bug Hunt. In light years I hand pick the beetles by knocking them into a bowl of soapy water, but in bad beetle seasons I cut the plants back by half in early summer, after they have bloomed, and cover them loosely with a bonnet of tulle (wedding net), held in place with clothespins. The plant’s new growth is protected from Japanese beetles, and the plants rebloom heavily in early fall, after the beetle feeding season has ended.
On to dahlias! Even if you live in a cool climate, you can grow a dahlia in a roomy planter stationed in the sun. Grown from tuberous roots, dahlias are warm-natured plants, like tomatoes, and happy ones can bear dozens of perfect blossoms. Varieties that produce small to medium-size flowers are endlessly useful in bouquets, but be sure to choose a neutral color like yellow, peach, pink or white that will also work well with your interior décor. Single-flowered dahlias have more accessible supplies of pollen and nectar compared to varieties with many petals, so they are of more value to beneficial insects.
From long-stemmed ageratum to cactus-flowered zinnias, the list of great annuals to grow for cutting is a long one. I like to grow several each season, but I change up the planting list from year to year to keep things interesting. Pink cosmos, yellow snapdragons and vigorous ‘Cut and Come Again’ zinnias make a nice trio to work with, or you might try plume celosias with calendulas and black-eyed Susans. Little pompom gomphrena flowers make great companions in the garden and the vase, and even though they last only a day, daylilies and poppies beg to be gathered for up-close viewing.
The Practical Side of Growing Cut Flowers
Once upon a time many vegetable gardeners devoted a row to cut flowers so they could be grown in good soil under close attention. This is still a great idea, because many wonderful cut flowers need to be supported with a grow-through trellis such as an arch cut from wire fencing, or you can use individual plant hoops (like small tomato cages), or circles of chicken wire. The important thing is to give the flower stems something sturdy to lean on before they become top-heavy with blooms. Without low support, you will likely need to stake and re-stake cosmos, gladiolus, sunflowers, zinnias, and other cut flowers with upright growth habits.
Cut flowers often host tiny hitch hikers, including ants, aphids, thrips and little bees. Spraying the plants with water just before cutting can knock many tiny insects from their hiding places, or you can quickly dunk the cut blossoms in cool water, give them a shake, and then let them dry upright in a cool, shady spot. The most intricate wonders of the garden are now ready to beautify your indoor spaces, too.