At a recent Celebration of Life for a fellow Master Gardener, we were reminded of Betty’s penchant for cutting flowers from the Master Gardeners Demonstration gardens — in particular, the cutting garden. (These gardens, behind the Senior Center on Univeter Road, are open to the public.) The comment got me to thinking … I have a hard time cutting flowers in my yard; it bothers me that they die so quickly in the house when I could have enjoyed them so much longer outside. I actually try to schedule events here in April, when I can shamelessly raid the azaleas which produce so many blooms anyway. But what if one were to plant an area expressly for the purpose of cutting flowers — in essence just like a vegetable garden?
A little research tells me that is exactly the tack to take. The key is planning. To start, decide what you want to grow: you can have annuals or perennials (the latter my preference — why not, since annuals have to be planted … annually.) I’d suggest choices with long stems that bloom at different seasons and think about how much space each variety must have to succeed. You don’t want a bed that is too large to enjoy caring for — maybe three-by-six feet.
Now, where to put that bed? Remember that most flowers prefer full sun (six hours or more per day) and well-drained soil. It isn’t supposed to look like a mixed border enhancing your property — there are no design principles at work here. You are essentially planting crops in rows. Obviously, get rid of any grass in the area, then work into the soil several inches of compost such as chopped leaves. Or, since most of us are blessed with Georgia clay, consider building a raised bed that you can simply fill with the right stuff.
As for the plants, the quickest method is to visit your local nursery or big box store and buy seedlings. You’ll have measured your bed, remembering to leave space for you to move around caring for your plants, and determined how many of each plant to buy. Take your list, or otherwise, you’ll succumb to “… oooh, and one of those, and one of those …” Trust me. You can start with seeds as well; I tend to want more instant results. Be careful not to start too early. The stores will have the plants, but you need to wait on putting them in the ground until all danger of frost is gone.
Just before you plant, mix some granular time-release fertilizer into the top few inches of the soil. Plant choices with the same requirements as to water, sun and drainage together, tall plants in the back to avoid their shading out smaller ones. Set in your plants, water and then add 2-3 inches of mulch: pine straw, bark nuggets, whatever you like. Throughout the season, you will need to keep moisture fairly constant: either we get an inch of rain per week or you water. Deadheading and cutting will encourage further blooming. If things slow down, you can add liquid fertilizer every couple of weeks. If you’ve planted annuals, remove them when they are finished, freshen up the soil with a bit of granular fertilizer and replant with later-blooming flowers.
Do your cutting in the coolest part of the day, early morning, and immediately plunge the stems into the pail of tepid water you have brought with you. When you start arranging, re-cut the stems and add some floral preservative to the water. Now, do you need to limit yourself to the cutting garden? Of course not — choose anything in your yard. But I will point out a major advantage to this garden — besides your pleasure is that of pollinators. Yes, you will make the bees and company very happy, and that blesses the world!
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