Thursday, October 7, 2010

How To Plant A Cutting Garden

How To Plant A Cutting Garden

Like vegetable and herb gardens, cutting gardens are planted more for production than for display. Here's how to plant a cutting garden that will provide fresh flowers to cut and bring indoors, from early spring until the first killing frost.

The purpose of any cutting garden is to supply fresh flowers. However, if production is the only goal, then many of the traditional design issues associated with gardens can be set aside. Take, for example, a cutting garden that is tucked away behind a garage. Because it is not meant to be viewed, flowers with strong or clashing colors don’t have to be separated and plants can be cut right down to the ground without worrying about the garden’s patchy appearance. Paths and other features can be planned strictly for utility rather than decorative value.

Sometimes it is possible to make a cutting garden do double duty as a display garden. Many people don’t have the space to devote just to cut flowers. The greatest challenge in a garden like this is to avoid a ragged, over-harvested appearance. You can accomplish this by snipping individual blossoms here and there without picking every flower, but to do this, you have to have a lot of material. Try using the technique of “over planting,” growing things much closer together than is usually recommended, to squeeze more flowers out of a small space. To keep plants from crowding each other out, cut perennials back hard when they finish blooming and pull out annuals as soon as they are spent, replacing them immediately with something else. When you’re deciding which flowers to cut, a good trick is to leave the older blooms in place and pick the ones that are just emerging.

The National Garden Bureau offers the following tips for planting a cutting garden:
  • For best production, pick a sunny spot with well-drained soil. If the soil is poor, mix in compost or peat moss.
  • Before planting, mix into the soil a granular, slow-acting fertilizer. This will provide consistent, balanced nutrition to plants over many weeks.
  • During the growing season, use periodic doses of diluted liquid fertilizer to boost production.
  • Rather than interplant seeds or young transplants of many different kinds of flowers, group the species together for ease of harvest and efficient use of space. Plant tall types together, away from where they might shade smaller ones.
  • To minimize watering and weeding, spread a 3-inch layer of mulch on the soil around the plants as soon as they are a few inches tall.
  • To maintain flower production, pick blossoms regularly. A plant will keep setting buds if old blooms are not allowed to go to seed.
  • As soon as seasonal plants begin to peter out, pull them out to make way for others. For instance, plant pansies in an area for an early supply of flowers during cool weather. When the heat begins to weaken them, replace them with marigolds or zinnias.
  • Don’t forget foliage plants that contribute texture and color to fresh flower arrangements. Herbs such as lavender provide grayish-green foliage that is both handsome and aromatic.
  • Planting bulbs such as tulips and daffodils in the fall is usually regarded as a virtually foolproof way to obtain flowers for cutting in the spring, at least the first year you plant them. In cutting gardens, they can be planted much closer together than is usually recommended, supplying a mass of blooms for both cutting and outdoor display.
  • Summer bulbs including gladiolas, dahlias and tuberoses can also be planted successively in small batches once the danger of frost has passed, to yield an ongoing supply of fresh flowers.

To get the best performance from any cut flower, it’s best to do the cutting in the morning, and then get the stems in water immediately, a feat best accomplished by carrying a pail of water into the garden with you. Other tricks are re-cutting the stems while they are under water, adding a drop or two of chlorine bleach to the water in a vase to keep bacteria down, and changing the water daily.

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