By Deborah J. Benoit, University of Vermont Extension
A cutting garden provides a homegrown source of material for fresh flower arrangements. It might focus on one type of plant, such as a spring cutting garden featuring a variety of daffodils or tulips, or include a season-spanning variety you can cut throughout the warm-weather months.
Whatever flowers you choose, select those with long stems. They can be perennials (plants that will come back year after year) or annuals (those that live only one year) or a mixture of both. If you’re planning on mixed-flower arrangements, also include filler and foliage plants to round out your design options.
A variety of daffodils and tulips make a beautiful springtime display and wonderful bouquets for the home. You can plant these bulbs in the fall in groups or scattered among other perennial plantings.
For a season-spanning cutting garden, consider perennials such as spring-blooming peonies (Paeonia) or bearded iris (Iris germanica), late spring to early summer-blooming yarrow (Achillea millefolium), summer-blooming garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) or purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and mid-summer to fall-blooming tickseed (Coreopsis).
While annuals will need to be replaced each year, their bloom time tends to be longer than perennials, often spanning months. Consider annuals such as cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) and zinnias (Zinnia elegans) for a variety of color and as long-lasting additions to your cutting garden.
Including filler plants such as baby’s breath (Gypsophila) and dill (Anethum graveolens) along with foliage plants such as coleus (Coleus scutellarioides) or hosta (Hosta) will round out your cut flower arrangements.
A cutting garden can take the form of a traditional garden plot with straight rows, a raised bed, an island planting or a row of flowers along a walkway. Whatever design you choose, be sure each plant will be within easy reach for ease of cutting.
Keep in mind the needs of the plants you want to grow when selecting a location. Just as when planning any other garden bed, for a successful cutting garden you will need a site with good soil and plenty of sun (six to eight hours each day), although there are bouquet-worthy flowers that do well in partial shade, such as astilbe.
Begin by removing all weeds from the garden bed and turning the soil to loosen it. If the soil needs any amendments, such as compost or slow-release fertilizer, add to the bed at this time.
A soil test will help determine the soil’s fertility. You can get your soil tested through the University of Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab.
When designing the planting layout, take into account the mature size of each plant, both width and height, and include sufficient space between them to allow for anticipated growth. Perennials in particular will expand their footprint, so be sure to leave enough space between them to avoid overcrowding. Place taller plants behind shorter ones so that they don’t block the shorter plants’ light.
Annuals work well to fill in the empty space between young perennials that have not yet achieved their full growth.
In addition, supports for taller plants, such as dahlias and delphiniums, should be put in place when installing the garden. Adding a layer of mulch as a finishing touch will help suppress weeds.
As the season progresses, be sure to keep your cutting garden well-watered and remove any weeds to encourage healthy and productive plants. The removal (deadheading) of faded flowers will encourage many plants to produce more blooms, giving you months of fresh cut flowers to enjoy in your home.
(Deborah J. Benoit is a University of Vermont extension master gardener from North Adams, Mass., who is part of Vermont’s Bennington County Chapter.)