Garden Variety: Create a cutting garden for flower arrangements

Fresh flowers can brighten indoor spaces as well as landscapes and gardens, and arrangements of them offer opportunities to mix colors and textures in unique ways. For gardeners and others who especially enjoy bouquets, consider creating a cutting garden — a devoted garden space for flowers that are ideal for arrangements.

Start by planting annual flowers and incorporate perennial flowers later. Sow seeds or transplant annuals into the garden in May or early summer in Kansas for midsummer blooms.

Select a site with at least six hours of sun and well-drained soil. Access to water is helpful. If soil drains poorly, mix compost into it prior to planting to improve drainage. Soil is much easier to amend prior to planting. The size of the site depends on what you feel like you can manage.

Some of the best annual flowers for cutting gardens are celosia, cosmos, gomphrena, marigolds, strawflower, sunflowers and zinnias. All of these are easily grown from seed, and many are available as transplants. Seed provides more plants at less cost, and all of the listed species will produce blooms by midsummer that last into fall. Transplants provide blooms earlier in the season and are ideal if you want only a few plants of a species.

Follow label directions for planting depth and spacing when planting the flowers.

Annual flowers require little maintenance. Keep the area free from weeds as much as possible. Weeds compete with desirable plants for water and nutrients. Water the flowers over extended dry periods, and fertilize periodically through the summer to maintain abundant blooms.

There are different species and cultivated varieties of the flower types named above. They vary in color, height, flower size and flower shape.

With celosia, there are three types: crested, plume and spike. Crested celosia is also sometimes called cockscomb because the flower heads resemble the shape and structure of a rooster’s comb. Plume celosia has spiky, feathery flowers. Spike celosias are also called wheat celosias and have a longer spike than the plume types. Celosias vary widely in color: red, orange, yellow, pink, white and many shades between.

Cosmos are tall, sprawling plants (with the exception of dwarf varieties). Place them next to sunflowers or other tall, sturdy species for support, or put them alongside a fence. They come in varying shades of pink, orange and white. Avoid fertilizing cosmos, as it may reduce blooms instead of increasing them.

Gomphrena flower heads are balls that look like clover from a distance but feel papery and dry to the touch. The balls are generally a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch in diameter and come in varying shades of pink, purple and white. Plants may be short or tall depending on variety. Flowers last a long time in bouquets and are easily dried for fall arrangements.

For marigolds, look for tall, old-fashioned varieties over the dwarf varieties created for use in container plantings. Flowers come in shades of orange, yellow and creamy white. They also last a long time and may be dried or preserved. Be on the lookout for spider mites that hide on the bottoms of the leaves. If you notice mites, rinse them from the plants with a high-pressure nozzle or treat as needed.

Strawflower has a daisy-type flower that feels papery to the touch. These also last a long time because they’re already relatively dry. They come in red, pink, orange, yellow and white. Avoid overhead watering and excessive irrigation, as plants are prone to root rot and diseases associated with excess moisture.

Sunflower is the state flower and a cheery addition to any Kansas garden. For the largest flower heads in traditional yellow, plant heirloom varieties such as Mammoth. For smaller spaces and plants, look for dwarf varieties. For variety in color, look for selections with red, orange or gold petals.

Zinnias are another plant in which tall, traditional types are better for cut flowers than newer hybrids that have been created for container plantings and massing in flowerbeds. These are easier to find as seed than as transplants. Traditional varieties may be up to 4 feet tall, have varying flower presentations and come in a range of pinks, purples, reds, yellows, oranges, whites and mixed colors.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


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