Do you dream of walking into your garden and cutting fresh flowers for a bouquet instead of from the market? It’s not that hard! I will show you how to start a cutting garden this year so you can have beautiful blooms of your own to cut.
Grow With Me Gardening Series
This is part of the Grow With Me Gardening Series here at Cottage On Bunker Hill. I want to teach you ways of starting, maintaining, and enjoying gardening. I will share all the tips & tricks that I have learned over the years growing both vegetable and flower gardens here in the Northeast.
Cutting Garden: FAQ
What Is A Cutting Garden?
First off, what is a cutting garden or a cut flower garden?? A cutting garden is planted with the intention of being able to cut the flowers during the season to enjoy in arrangements and bouquets instead of just leaving them in the garden to admire. It is usually mostly annual flowers, some greenery or filler plants, and sometimes a few perennial options.
Where can I grow a cut flower garden?
A cutting garden will need plenty of sunshine! I have my cutting garden in an area with full sun (over 6 hours a day). My cutting garden and vegetable garden are in the same area and have sunshine from early morning until late in the day. Study your sunlight and take into account shadows from buildings and if there are any big trees that cast shadows on the area. I have tall New Hampshire pines in the woods behind my house and every year they block the afternoon sun just a little more!
How big should a cutting garden be?
It totally depends on you and the amount of space you have to grow a cutting garden! Even if you have limited outdoor space… if you have enough room for even one raised bed you can grow a micro-cutting garden! Just set up a raised bed, fill it with a quality raised garden blend & some compost, buy a few packets of annual seeds in varying heights and you can create a lovely garden for yourself to enjoy this year! (That’s the great thing about a cutting garden…you can plant and enjoy it all within a few months’ time!!) It can as large as you want to depending on the time you have to devote to gardening but if you are new to gardening, in general, I always suggest starting small so you don’t get overwhelmed.
What can I grow in a cutting garden?
In a cutting garden, you want to grow a variety of flowers with different colors, different heights, and varying blooming times. Look for seeds at your local garden center or nursery. For online retailers, I love the selection at Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Floret Farms ( this link will bring you to what is in stock still…there was still a large variety of their zinnia seeds which are amazing!), and Eden Brothers, Burpee also has an extensive variety of annual flower seeds for a cutting garden.
When looking at seed packets look at the growing instructions to see when the seed needs to be started…is it something that you need to start indoors if you live in a cold climate like me or can you direct sow the seeds into your garden.
For the first-time flower grower, I would suggest finding varieties of flowers that you can just directly plant out in your garden…much less work!
What I am growing…
- Sweet Peas
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Besides sunshine, one other important element of growing a cutting garden is having quality soil for your flowers to thrive in. When I started my new cutting garden last year I filled my raised beds with a mix of compost that had mulched leave matter, bagged garden soil mix, and some peat to keep it light. I also use an organic fertilizer made especially for flowers (Flower-tone)
What I learned from growing my first cut flower garden.
Last winter I decided that I wanted to add a cutting garden to my gardens. I had fallen madly in love with all the beautiful dahlias some of my gardening friends were growing and I was obsessed with Erin and everything about Floret Flower Farm!! I read her Cut Flower Garden book and was hooked on the idea of adding a cut flower garden.
The day that the Floret Farms seed sale started I was clicking away trying to buy all my dream seeds…I bought a variety of seeds zinnias, poppies, celosia, snapdragons, cosmos, gomphrena, strawflowers, sweet peas, China asters, and dusty millers.
Since I live in growing zone 5b/6a our frost-free date is in late in May. So for some of the flowers I wanted to plant in my cutting garden I needed to start inside. The backs of the flower seed packets have all the information that you need to know about the flower including how many weeks before transplanting you need to start the seed. For the seeds, I was planning to grow it ranged from 4 weeks to about 10.
I wrote an extensive article on starting seeds indoors and what I learned from my first year of growing seeds indoors. It was a fun project and it was perfect to keep me busy in the colder months before I could get outside in the garden.
I started snapdragons, dusty miller, Iceland poppies, celosia, amaranth, sweet peas, strawflowers, & asters inside.
There were plenty of seeds that I started directly in the garden too like all my zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos to name just a few. I also did some succession planting and added more sweet pea and snapdragon, and poppy seeds directly into the ground.
Zinnias love growing in warm soil…I know this flower is commonly started indoors but 1.) I ran out of room and 2.) they did amazingly being directly sown! I actually didn’t even get them into the garden until almost the 2nd week of June because we were having such rainy weather and had my first flowers about a month or so later…but they were the show stoppers and I was cutting zinnias until the frost at Halloween!!
Putting In A Cutting Garden
So when I decided to add a cutting garden last year I knew that it meant I would have to expand my garden space. I already had a 20 x 24 garden space. What I did was add about 16 more feet to the length of the garden to make it 20 x 40,,,it wasn’t easy work!!
First, I measured out the new space for the cutting garden. Then I rototilled the area. Next…and this was a killer…was to remove all the chunks of grass!! My neighbor came over with his tractor and we filled the bucket up with all the grass chunks and he moved them into my compost pile in the woods.
After I did all that hard work…and went inside to take 3 Motrin…I rototilled the entire area again to really loosen up the dirt.
I wanted a mostly raised bed cutting garden, There is nothing wrong with growing your flowers directly in the ground but I love the look of raised beds full of flowers!
Another reason that I wanted to use raised beds is that if I had any critter problems…bunnies or woodchucks… I would be able to wrap the beds with chicken wire to prevent the little buggas from eating all my hard work!! Ugh, I had sooo much damage from a woodchuck family from the year before that I still have nightmares about it!!
For my cutting garden, I added 8 wood-raised beds. They came in a kit and were so easy to assemble and looked great! With the price of lumbar last year, there wasn’t much difference between buying the supplies to build a raised bed or buying a kit.
One big mistake that I made was not lining the raised beds with chicken wire before I added the dirt. I was invaded by voles everywhere in my gardens last year. They got into the raised beds and were eating some of the flowers last season.
Voles look like dark gray mice but so fast…like superhero fast…ugh!! What voles do is tunnel under the ground and eat your plant’s roots, they also scamper above ground and just go for the base of your plants and eat through them before dragging the stalk back to their tunnels…which are everywhere!!
I can not tell you how much damage they did to my shade garden last Spring…I had to wrap chicken wire around the base of so many of my plants. They actually took out an entire gorgeous clematis vine that I had just assembled a new larger obelisk for because it was so amazing…that one still hurts!!
So once the ground thaws I think my first major garden chore is going to be removing the soil from the beds and putting down chicken wire before my heart is broken again!!
Planting a Cutting Garden
Where I live in New Hampshire we can have pretty wacky weather and we have had frosts into May some years.
Memorial Day weekend is usually when I do all the tender annual and vegetable planting. Some years if it’s been unseasonable warm and the forecast looks like it’s going to stay that way I’ll start planting before that date. Last year it rained the entire weekend and was just so cold…so I didn’t get my garden in then.
My first garden task was to plant the trays that I had started indoors that had been hardening off on my porch for the past few weeks.
Here’s a shot after everything was planted in June. Wait until you see how this looks by September!!
My zinnia seeds went into the ground late but a couple of weeks after I planted them they were already growing like crazy!!
The zinnias went from just popping through the soil at the end of June to blooming at the beginning of August…
I planted 8 different Floret Farms zinnia seeds…and I think every single one came up!! They were spectacular and I am such a fangirl of zinnias now!!
Here are some of the zinnias I grew (I forget 1 variety!!): Benary’s Giant Carmine, Lilliput Mix, Queen Lime Blush, Queen Lime Orange, Cupcake Pink, Cinderella Peach, Marzurkia.
Here’s the link to Johnny’s zinnia seeds (still in stock as of 2.6.22).
Here’s the link to Floret Farms zinnia seeds (what’s left in stock 2.6.22)
Here’s the link to Eden Brothers zinnia seeds
One of the other favorites that I grew in my cutting garden was the dahlias. Oh, I am hooked on them!! One wonderful thing is that they start blooming late in the Summer and right until there was a killing frost.
They were spectacular and super easy to grow! I planted Dahlia tubers, they go in the ground after the danger of frost has gone by. What I did was dig a hole twice as big as the tuber. I added organic fertilizer and a small handful of bone meal into the hole then mixed it in with the soil before putting the tuber in laying horizontally with the eye facing upward.
Dahlias do need some sort of plant supports to hold them up straight. I just used bamboo stakes and tied the stalks to them for support. I like the organic look of the bamboo in my garden.
One very important care tip when growing dahlias is that you need to pinch the plant back. When the dahlia plant is about a foot tall I went in with my snips and cut a few inches off the center stalk. What this does is tell the plant to send out more branches…which means more stems with more flowers in the end. (Although it feels awful to cut it back!!)
The earwigs did attack them…I have never had a problem before in my garden with them and actually have hardly ever seen them.
If you have slug problems in your area they will find your dahlias..so try Sluggo to stop the problem.
One thing to keep in mind is that dahlias are a very late season bloomer! They started in late August almost September and were still flowering when I got a freeze at the end of October…I have never been so happy to have an extremely late freeze date as last year! I wanted to see every single bloom open.
The night we were going to have a freeze I went out and cut every last one to bring in and enjoy for as long as I could.
In cold climates, as we have in the Northeast, once there is a freeze you can cut the plant back and dig up the tubers to overwinter in a cool dark spot in your home.
Dahlias grow more tubers as they mature during the growing season…so you plant 1 tuber in the Spring and when you dig them up in the Fall you have a bunch that you can overwinter. Then you can separate the bunch and plant even more dahlias the following year…amazing right!!
I was planning to do this but the darn voles that I mentioned earlier went underground and ate all the tubers up…I am 1000% sure that my neighbors heard me scream a few colorful words when I saw all the damage!! Look at this crime against gardening… (they are gnawed right to the stem!!)
The dahlias and zinnias made the prettiest flower arrangements! I mean just look at this centerpiece I whipped together for a Harvest Dinner.
I didn’t know just how big of a strawflower lover I was going to be by the end of my gardening season! I had never grown strawflowers before…I was mainly growing them for the pretty dried flowers they make
They were really easy to start directly in my cutting garden. Strawflowers were low maintenance, I made sure they were watered and fertilized and they did the rest. Perfect flower seed for beginner gardeners to add to their cutting garden.
Honestly, I have never seen strawflowers growing in a garden! The flower buds are unbelievable…amazingly detailed and really stunning to capture in a photo. They were a true joy for me in my cutting garden!
What is super fun is that the buds close up tight at night and then slowly open during the day. Another thing to know about strawflowers is that the same flower will bloom for weeks and weeks. They were also blooming right until the freeze around Halloween.
In September, I started cutting them to bring inside to dry. I made little bunches and hung them upside down. Strawflowers were also one of the cut flowers that I save the seeds from to grow this year. If you leave them in the garden they will dry and go to seed, which looks very similar to a fuzzy dandelion.
Growing celosia & amaranth
I had great success growing both of these varieties of flowers for my cutting garden from seed…in fact, I think every seed I planted grew because I had too many plants (which isn’t a bad thing!!)
What I really liked about the celosia is that it grows up straight and tall before the flowers start opening. I grew the amaranth in the back row so it could hang over the fence.
The amaranth flowers are definitely the show-offs of the cutting garden!! You could see them from the street and I had quite a few walkers stop to admire them,
The celosia flowers were just incredible! They lasted for weeks in my bouquets which made them a cut flower garden must-have for me this year. The celosia is just as soft and fuzzy as they look like in the picture too!! Fun flower!!
These are the Floret Farms seeds I grew (available as of 2.8.22)
Snapdragons were one of the seeds that needed to be started inside about 10-12 weeks before I transplanted them into the garden. It wasn’t difficult and they really did take off and thrive once I planted them outside in the cutting garden,
Snapdragons are very unusual flowers and have multiple flower buds on each stem. There is also a wide variety of snapdragon colors and heights. The more I cut stems for my arrangements the more snapdragons that seemed to appear!
I will definitely be adding more snapdragons to my cutting garden this season!!
One of the best parts of having a cutting garden is that well after most of my perennials were done blooming in my other gardens…it was still going strong!! This is a shot I took at the end of September…in New Hampshire…just amazing!!
What else I added to my cutting garden
The last thing I want to go over with you is the extra things that you can add to your garden to get that cottage garden look. Along with the raised beds in my cutting garden, I added a few garden structures for my plants to climb on.. they are pretty too!
Cottage style Garden tower
Last Spring I put together this cottage garden tower...using a cheap…like super cheap tomato cage and bamboo stakes!! I saw some expensive ones online and I knew I could make something similar for a whole lot less (my favorite thing to do!!)
I added a black-eyed Susan vine and enjoyed watching it take over the tower as the Summer went by.
sweet pea trellis
Sweet peas need something to grow up on and attach themselves to with their tendrils. I knew that I wanted to make something that fits in with the cottage-style cutting garden that I dreamed of when I was planning it out all winter. After browsing through English gardening magazines I came up with my own version of a sweet pea trellis.
SWEET PEA TRELLIS SUPPLIES: 4, 5, or 6 ft bamboo garden stakes, ball of twine, rope or jute twine to tie corner supports.
- Take 2 bamboo stakes and cross them to create a V near the top ( I stuck the ends deep into the raised bed)
- Use strong jute twine or thin rope to secure the bamboo pieces together. Repeat at the other end.
- Then lay a bamboo stake across the 2 supports you have created and nestle down in the V and secure it in place with jute twine.
I am making a double-length trellis. My raised beds are 4 ft long each.
- After the top supports were in I added 3 more bamboo pieces running horizontally across the trellis; tying them in place at the ends with jute twine.
- For extra support for the entire structure I added wood garden stakes at the ends and secured them to the trellis. (you can see them in this picture)
All I did was run the twine up and over the bamboo down the length of the trellis every few inches so the sweet peas will have something to hold on to as they grow.
After I was done I went back and ran twine around the legs near the bottom of the trellis when I realized that there was too big of a space for the little sweet peas to reach the trellis.
One thing I had wanted to add to my cutting garden was some sort of pretty potting table. I also knew that since it was going to be exposed to the elements I didn’t want to spend much on it. Amazingly, I found the perfect table at a dumpster!! So it was free…the perfect price, right?!!
You can see the entire transformation of my Upcycled DIY Potting Bench for all the details!
So to wrap up, starting a cutting garden was really the highlight of my gardening season last year. I would highly recommend starting at least a small area dedicated to just cutting flowers..it will bring you so much joy! I promise!!
One thing that I will do differently this year is to start my sweet peas and poppy seeds directly in my garden; I didn’t have very good luck transplanting those 2 flowers…after my seedlings fizzled out I did direct seed and had much better success! I am also going to add a few new varieties of flowers this year now that I have got the hang of it!
Looking for more gardening inspiration? Here are two of my favorites to follow:
Here’s to a Great Gardening Season!!
**If you have any specific questions that I didn’t cover here just drop me an email at [email protected] and I will help you out**