GARDEN VIEW: Tips for starting a cut flower garden

One of my biggest pleasures as a child was bringing flowers from our garden to neighbors who were home bound. My grandmother had a fragrant rose garden and my mom grew large patches of annuals, especially zinnias and marigolds, in front of beds of white spirea (Spiraea nipponica) and Camellias (C. japonica).Whenever someone needed cheering up, a container of chicken soup and a bouquet of flowers were the symbols of love and support that most everyone appreciated.

During this time of COVID-19 quarantine, I have missed having an abundant cut flower garden and I am working on changing that. Before planting the first seed, however, there are a few things to consider and some preparation work to be done.

First off, I am in a much different climate now and I need to consider what flowers will grow here and what kind of filler materials will work in a vase to highlight the flowers. I want flowers that will last at least five days in a vase.

South Texas is a Zone 9b and our soils are very calcareous (salty), so plants requiring acid soil conditions are out of consideration and plants that are not known to grow past a Zone 8 will not do well. Our soils are heavy clay and lack organic matter. So an addition of compost and consideration of fertilizer requirements has to be figured in. Some flowers require rich soils, while others are not so picky.

Raised beds are best for soil drainage and help to reduce weeds if I eliminate the grass, cover the soil with thick cardboard and weed cloth, and then add the top soil (or packaged “garden soil”) and compost to the bed.

For best results, I am drawing out every square foot of the area to be used and marking the areas that are shaded. Sun loving zinnias will not be happy in full shade and shade loving coleus will not tolerate full sun. It is so easy to search the web for “cut flower seeds” and get carried away with buying, before you know how much space and sunlight is available. Seeds are very seasonal and good germination is only assured if seed packets are planted within a year. And, to begin, seeds are the least expensive way to start a cut flower garden.

And, a final consideration must be given to how much time I have to devote to caring for flowers. All cut flowers must be cut to do well.

Most annual flowers will need to be cut a couple of times per week to perform well (similar to getting the most of an herb garden).

Without regular cutting the annual cut flower garden will be very short lived.

And finally, drip irrigation is a must to regulate the amount of water that is delivered to seeds and seedlings.

Flowers, just like vegetable plants, will not be forgiving if irrigating is not on a regular basis.

So, with planning and preparation I hope to have a bit of flower cheer to share. I’ll keep you posted.

Barbara Storz is a local horticulturist. You can find her on Facebook at barbara.a.storz.