150 Tips: Growing a Cutting Garden

After the rush of spring and early summer, July is the time when northern gardeners can really enjoy their garden — outside and in the house, if you plant a cutting garden. As more younger gardeners have turned to houseplants, we’re seeing a renewed interest in cut flowers as well. Once you experience the joy of plants in the house, you want them always.

bouquet with annuals

Cosmos, ornamental basil, cerinthe and scabiosa make a pink and purple bouquet.

Cut flowers have been a part of northern gardeners from the earliest days of the Minnesota State Horticulture Society. Back in 1888, Frank H. Carleton of Minneapolis declared that “There is no place in the union where annual flowers do better than in Minnesota.” Here are some of our favorite cutting garden tips from the hort society’s 150 years of publishing garden information.

Choose flowers that work well for cutting. In 1919, Mrs. S.A. Gile of Irving Avenue South in Minneapolis recommended choosing flowers that hold up well to cutting, including cosmos, dahlias, penstemon, salvia, calendula and Leptosyne stillmani. She recommended setting aside a garden bed specifically for cutting, so that you can pick with abandon and not worry about the appearance of your garden overall.

Start seeds indoors in March for slow-growing flowers. This tip comes from the “Timely Topics” section of the March 1968 magazine. Many annual flowers do require a head start under lights in order to be ready to bloom when summer hits. Flower recommendations included petunias, snapdragons, pinks, verbenas, ageratum, Browallia, and Lobelia. If you do not want to start seed indoors, there are many easy annuals that can be sown outdoors and used for cut flowers.

cut flower garden diagram

Here’s a simple 4-by-4 foot garden that will yield many bouquets.

Choose a color palette. In her recent article on growing a modern cutting garden, Susy Morris suggested limiting your plant choices to a harmonious color palette. This makes pulling bouquets together easy and you’ll know the plants will look good together, no matter what is in your garden.

Maintain your cutting garden like a vegetable garden. You will be harvesting from this garden, so treat it like your vegetables, Morris suggests. Amend the soil, weed regularly, fertilize and water as needed. A bit more care will lead to many more blooms.

150 tips logoLengthen the life of your cut flowers. The late Harold Wilkins offered extensive advice for lengthening vase life of cut flowers in an article of the May 1967 Minnesota Horticulturist. When cutting flowers from your garden, choose flowers that have yet to fully open, and bring along a container with warm water so you can immediately place the flowers in water. Cut the stems at an angle with a sharp tool to maximize the stem’s surface area to absorb water. Make sure to remove excess foliage that may be submerged in water.

Plant enough to share! In her 1919 article, Mrs. Gile encouraged gardeners to plant more cut flowers than they need for home use. Writing during a pandemic and right after the end of World War I, she said, “Let us put a few extra for a neighbor or a friend who lives in a flat or for the wounded soldiers now at Fort Snelling, about 900 in number. They have done their best for us. Let us show our appreciation by helping to brighten their convalescence with a few flowers.” Who do you know who could use some cheer from your cutting garden?

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