Cut flowers sounded easy when I started gardening. Just plant some flowers and then cut them, right? Well, there is a lot more to it than that. Cut flowers are often grown from specific varieties that tend to have long, sturdy stems and big, beautiful blooms, and each variety has its own tips to keep them healthy. It also can be hard to find the right varieties in sustainable versions.
So, after a steep learning curve, here is what I have learned about the best cut flower varieties for a sustainable home garden.
Spring and fall planted cut flower varieties
The first thing to consider when planting a sustainable cut flower garden is when you need to plant and where you will put the plants. Check out your garden at different times of day to check the light. Full sun will help you grow field plants like daisies, sunflowers and yarrow. Peonies and dahlias also love full sun most of the time.
For shade, try hellebore, hosta and maybe hydrangeas and irises to start. In a hot climate, you can grow greens and herbs in the shade, even picking flowering varieties that go in bouquets such as flowering basil, mountain mint (watch out: it’s invasive and hardy!) and succulents or globe artichoke.
If you have a combination of sun and shade, you might do well with roses, tulips, daffodils or climbing vines.
Also, consider the water needs of your plants and soil you have available. If you want to throw cosmos seeds in the ground, all you need is a water source and well drained soil and you’re off to the races. For pickier varieties of flowers like lisianthus, however, you have to calculate the perfect humidity, temperature and light while germinating indoors and then make sure you have the right climate to put them outside.
Research each variety of flower and plant them near each other grouped by sun and water needs. Most bulbs plant in the fall and seeds plant in the spring, but there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, you can plant bare peony roots in spring or fall, you just get different results such as delayed growth in some cases.
Best cut flower varieties for a sustainable garden
What makes flowers sustainable is how they are bred, produced and cared for once they are in your garden. You would start by finding sustainable suppliers (listed below), but then you have to plan how you are going to take care of your flowers.
One version of a sustainable garden is one that uses organic compost and makes the most of a small space. For this kind of garden often found on city lots, choose cut flower varieties that like rich soil such as organic roses and peonies, and then succession plant your flowers in several batches through the spring to stretch your bloom season all summer long. Flower varieties that do well succession planting in most climates include: cosmos, yarrow, fritillaria, tulips, dahlias, celosia, snapdragons and sunflowers.
You could even plant several varieties of sunflower or dahlias to change up what you see each part of your growing season. Or, to save even more space, plant your tulip bulbs above your other deeper bulb plants for blooms that pop up in the same space in different parts of the summer. Many short-blooming peony gardens or dahlia gardens overplant tulips and other small early spring bulbs to get two bloom seasons out of the same plot.
The low-water sustainable flower garden uses cacti, succulents and low-water flower varieties like field flowers (thistle, daisies, zinnias, cosmos) found in the Plains states to create beautiful flower gardens without a lot of water. If you choose this kind of garden, make sure you know when your cut flower varieties need water, as some need to be watered in pretty well and then can be left to their own devices over the summer.
Perennials would be a good choice here, too, as they need less work to get them re-established year after year, which can be a challenge in dry and hot environments. Also consider using mulch or rock gardening techniques to hold the soil moisture in place. No-till might work well for a dry flower garden for the same reason, keeping the soil layers in tact.
Large gardens have the most flexibility on which types of flowers you plant. You can probably find a variety of species of cut flower that love your micro climate. Just be careful not to get ahead of yourself. If you have a large space, start with certain types of flowers and experiment a few plants of each type per year until you figure out what works.
We planted rare roses in our cut flower garden thinking they would do as well as the heirloom roses around the house, but our extreme cold winters kept killing them off. It’s back to house garden roses for us. The weeds will also get away from you if you scale up too fast, so be sure you have a plan on how to manage weeds before you start. It may take a few tries before you find which method of weed control works for you.
For large gardens, start with a variety of plants for each growing season and group them by recommended companion planting varieties, or by sun and water needs. We started with a large fenced garden where one corner was greens and herbs, the other corner was dahlias and field flowers, a third area grew comfrey for composting, as well as some berry bushes and fruit trees, and the fourth corner was an experimental area for cover crops and extra flowers like peonies. After a couple years of rotating crops and trying different cut flower varieties, we decided the following:
- – The whole family loves dahlias and peonies for their easy care and big blooms.
- – Nobody likes invasive field flowers as they grow out of control so we cut back on yarrow and mountain mint (it’s still there, but we’re not planting it)!
- – Weed pressure is real, so we re-tilled half our garden with a tractor and stopped trying no-till when we realized weeds will grow on top of mulch and get taller than the flowers.
- – We gave up on certain varieties of flower that take finicky starting conditions like lisianthus. If this happens to you, you can still buy lisianthus plugs locally and not start them yourself, just like we do for tomatoes and peppers.
- – We found that roses and peonies really do prefer drip tape irrigation, but most other plants loved the overhead wobbler sprinklers. We will continue with a combo of watering options.
- – The pre-sprouting of dahlias was time-consuming, so this year we put dahlia tubers directly in the ground along with new peony plants and some direct-sow seeds for cut flowers. The pickier varieties didn’t do well, everything bloomed late, but it was much simpler. Try a few varieties of flowers and see if you have a preference for annuals or perennials, spring flowers or summer direct-sow seed flowers. Everyone has a favorite.
Organic bulb and seed retailers
For home gardening, you’re looking for online or local bulb and seed retailers that offer organic varieties of flowers or sustainably-sourced heirloom varieties. Some retailers have unique varieties of plants on offer, and others have better prices. You will want to shop around for a sense of fair pricing because this can vary widely by variety of flower.
For example, you can purchase heirloom peony varieties that run $70 per root instead of the average of about $15 per root for more common modern varieties. Many cut flowers have to be bred in a specific way such as grafting a rose onto a root stock, and that takes a lot of time and expertise. Expect to pay more for trademarked new bred varieties of flowers or the older heirloom varieties with the prettiest blooms.
Our favorite bulb and seed retailers are as follows. Keep in mind, even when some of these companies aren’t organic, they have a reputation for quality. This plays into sustainability because you need suppliers that are handling plants properly to avoid disease and poor quality to grow a thriving garden, as well as one that produces high germination rates:
- – Territorial Seed offers open pollinated and organic seed production on popular varieties of vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Check out their beautiful Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus bulbs.
- – Johnny’s Seed also offers veggie and flower seeds and bulbs. This is a popular company for home gardeners and micro farmers with quality seeds and good germination rates. We love their lisianthus.
- – Park Seed offers organic flower seeds. They sell a lot of popular home garden varieties of pretty flowers, such as the small Thumbelina zinnias.
- – Eden Brothers rounds out the top four of our supplier list. That’s because this company has an unparalleled selection of popular cut flower varieties of beautiful blooms to choose from, including bulbs.
- – Grace Rose Farm sells rose bushes off their legendary farm so you can get a few of their unique rose varieties in your home garden.
- – Peony’s Envy also sells peony roots spring and fall in a wide variety of unique styles. They even teach you the difference between tree peonies and other popular varieties and how to care for them.
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