Tips for Growing Cut Flowers
from flower farmer Marybeth Wehrung
Now that it’s possible to direct sow pretty much anything in the garden, our mind is on flowers, specifically flowers for cutting and bringing indoors. Growing a cutting garden means lots of beautiful blooms all season, but also managing and maximizing your crop for high yields–just like one would for a vegetable crop. Flower farmer Marybeth Wehrung knows a thing or two about growing cut flowers; she grows over 60 sustainably grown specialty varieties at Stars of the Meadow, her regenerative farm in Accord, NY. These are her top tips for growing a cutting garden:
- The traits I most value in the flowers I grow are (in no particular order): gorgeous color, texture, form, and sometimes fragrance, stem length and strength, a long vase life, ease of culture and handling, a long harvest window, multiple yields (blooms, then seed pods later in the season, for example), and general vigor and robustness.
- Growing for cut flowers is similar to growing vegetables in that both require rich, fertile soil; lots of water; and good sun. A cutting garden uses tighter spacing than flowers grown specifically for landscape design. There’s more cultivation and succession planting because the focus is mostly on the harvest. But you can always plant a border and harvest from that; and don’t be afraid to cut from your perennial border!
- Begin with a handful of easy annual flowers that you will have success with, and build on that. I recommend Sunflowers, Zinnias, Bachelor Buttons, Cosmos, Celosia, Marigold, Scabiosa, Calendula, flowering Basils, Snapdragons, and Gomphrena. These are all pretty easy to direct-sow outdoors.
- Perennials make great cut flowers too, including Peony, Lupine, Delphinium, Veronica, Columbine, Yarrow, Hellebores, Alliums and more. Medicinal herbs, perennials, wildflowers and grasses are all game. You might already have access to some of these.
- Grow at least one variety that truly excites you. Peonies, unusual Dahlias, and Zinnias are all customer favorites at Stars of the Meadow. Bouquets with a wildflower look are very popular; for this look, try Agrostemma, Bachelor's Buttons, Bupleurum, and Monarda citriodora (pictured left).
- To have flower material to cut all season long, succession sow. Start a second round of these summer annuals in June for August and September blooms in the Northeast, or if you have mild winters where you live, consider starting some cool-loving annuals like Bells of Ireland and Sweet Peas in early winter for late winter planting. Plan a few successions.
- At harvest time, go out early before it warms up. Find blooms that are beginning to open but not fully open. Cut long stems deep in to the plant with a sharp pair of snips, strong scissors or bypass pruners, and put directly in to water. Keep cut flowers out of direct light and extreme temperatures, change the water daily, and your bouquets should last 5-7 days.
- To test something as a cut flower, cut a nice long stem at a cool time of day, before the bloom(s) are fully open, put directly in water in a cool spot, and watch how it behaves. If it doesn't flop and lasts 5 days or more, it passes the test!
- When arranging, I like to think about texture and form, with at least 3 items of varying height and shape. Choose 'focal' flowers, like Zinnias, Dahlias, Sunflowers, and be sure to include some filler or spray types, and a spike flower for height. Don't overlook foliage! Ornamental grasses, herbs, small branches, 'weeds', wildflowers, etc can all be used in your arranging.
- Almost anything can be dried, even daffodils, but some hold their color better. For drying, try Strawflower, Ammobium, Bupleurum, Gomphrena, Celosia cristata, grasses, grains, or Statice. Dry in the warm dark with moving air. Keep stored in cardboard boxes and bring out for use so they don't fade early.