~ A 6th Generation Flower Farm ~

8664 360th Street – St. Joseph, MN

Podcast Episode 18

Cut Flowers for Your Landscaping

Welcome to another post on the Sunny Mary Meadow blog. Today, we are going to talk about flowers you can grow in your landscaping that make excellent cut flowers. The thing is that a lot of flowers that you grow outside are really pretty when they bloom, but if you cut them and try to put them in a vase, they’re gonna die.

I’ve mentioned them before, but I have partnered with Unpacked Publishing out of the Twin Cities here in Minnesota. It’s three awesome gals, including my friend Allison, who work really hard to put out ebooks. They collaborate with people that seem to be experts in their field, and then they do a lot of different ebooks on whatever that person might be an expert in. So one person does one on canning, one does one on makeup tutorials, one does one on organizing your house, one wrote an ebook on how to build organization in your closet – she literally built some custom shelves and just tutorials on how to do those types of things. Then they sell the ebooks anywhere from $5-$20, depending on how lengthy it is, and then they offer a really unique partnership with the author … it works out really well. You should follow them on Instagram. Their goal is to partner with a lot of different authors to distribute ebooks to inspire, guide and educate. I am in no way sponsored by them other than I have some books written with them, but they’re just amazing people that do amazing things.

The first one that I wrote was Every Room Blooms, and it is about growing your first cut flower garden. It talks about if you grow a vegetable garden and you want to grow cut flowers, then this is what you do, you pop the seeds in the ground, etc. The next one that I wrote is the one I’m gonna talk about today – Backyard Blooms. The third one I wrote was Bouquets in Bloom which talks about building a bouquet.

So, we’re going to talk about growing flowers in your landscaping that make excellent cut flowers. Not everyone has the room or the desire to plant an entire garden of cut flowers. People will say, “I don’t have the space for that,” or “I don’t want to do that, but I like pretty flowers around my house.” And if once a week they can cut a bouquet, or maybe cut just five stems to add to a small bouquet that they buy from the grocery store, great. So, I’m going to show you what landscaping flowers you can plant around your home that also serve multipurpose as cut flowers. As I said, not all flowers do well in a vase. And if they do, sometimes your landscaping suffers because you’re cutting them off. So, the trick is to symmetrically cut only a few blooms from each plant.

Again, I am in Zone 4B, so the plants that I’m talking about are all hardy in this zone. If I lived in Zone 7 or somewhere warmer, this list would be a lot longer. This isn’t an all-inclusive list, but it’s one that I enjoy and that I like to do. I guarantee if you drive around Central Minnesota (my local area), you’ll be like, “Oh, I know what that is.” Or you’ll recognize some of them. To find out where you are located and what these flowers are going to be hardy too, you’re going to look at the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map. If you go to the link on my website, you’ll find the map and figure out what color you’re in. So, for example, peonies don’t thrive in Florida. And in Minnesota, you have to dig up dahlias in the winter, that’s just the way it is. So you figure out the timing. When it comes to your cut flowers in your landscaping, I am a big fan of mulch to keep your weeds away. I know it’s a little bit more labor-intensive than rocks, but I just think it looks nicer and fresher. You can split, divide, and transplant the plants much easier. I used to put landscaping fabric in my perennial beds and cut holes where the plants would go, and then put the mulch on top, but honestly, it just creates a mess down the road. So now I just skip that altogether, and then twice a year, I sprinkle Preen on them, which is a pre-emergent that will kill seedlings before they start to sprout and keeps the extra weeds from growing. So twice a year, once in the early spring and again mid-summer, I sprinkle some Preen on the existing mulch and beds, and then I’ll just add a few more bags of mulch and rake it in. This makes the mulch look brand new and less faded from the sun, and it prevents the weeds from growing. It’s not a chemical like Roundup. It’s a pre-emergent herbicide, and it kills seeds while germinating. It’s not going to harm existing plants … or established weeds, unfortunately. It forms a barrier to prevent the new weeds from growing, and it just makes things a lot more manageable.

All right, the first flower that I’m going to talk about that makes an excellent cut flower and goes in your landscaping is hydrangeas. They’re much more of a bush with a strong branch, so you need really sharp shears, and you’re gonna cut it low. My favorite variety of hydrangeas to use as cut flowers is Limelight. It’s a really pretty lime green, and it gets more of a purple as the season goes on. So to grow and bloom for arrangements, when they’re fully open, you just cut them low with sharp shears and remove all the leaves. I also really love to let these bloom in my landscaping all summer and fall, and then around Thanksgiving, I cut them when they’re dried and dead and put them in Thanksgiving centerpieces or porch pots with evergreens. Again, with all of these, don’t take more than a third of the plant, and be sure to symmetrically cut them out. You can definitely put some in a vase, but just keep in mind that they’re not going to regrow. You can remove some, and you’re not going to notice it if you do it right.

The next one that I like to use around my landscaping is coneflower. I’m actually in the process of completely redoing the landscaping around my house, so these are literally the flowers that I’m gonna grow. I like to cut these when the stem is really stiff, but if you wait too long, then the petals are really delicate, and they can fall off. They actually make really pretty dried flowers in the fall once the petals are all off. You then just use the center pods, or just the little balls, for a unique texture in a fall arrangement. You don’t need to hang them upside down or anything like that. Once they fall off, Mother Nature does her thing, and the plants kind of go dormant. The petals of coneflowers face downward, so they’re really unique compared to other flowers, and they’re just really beautiful.

I also love to use flox in arrangements. I will cut them when they’re about a third-to-half open. They’re extremely delicate, so be careful when you touch them. Cut them low, about six inches off the ground, because they will actually branch off and shoot two new stems up and bloom again before the summer is over. They will usually last about a week in the vase. Like I said earlier, make sure you strategically cut the stems symmetrically around the bush of the plant.

The other thing I want to mention is that I actually grow long rows of most of these over in my cut flower garden, rather than just taking some out of my landscaping, so I do grow these and cut off the entire plant, and then just let them regrow the next year. However, I know that the goal of this blog (and my book) is for you to have them just in your landscaping and use some of them, so I just don’t want any confusion there.

The next flower is peonies. I know this is super controversial, and people get confused by it, but with peonies, you’re gonna cut them evenly and never just one side of the plant. You want to really keep that symmetrical. The thing is, if you wait until peonies are perfectly open, they’re not going to work well as a cut flower. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t have them open in the bush and then pick them and bring them inside. They’re gonna last about a day if you do that. But, if you cut them when they’re just barely looking like a marshmallow, and in that squishy “marshmallow” stage, and then bring them inside, they last like five days. You either need to enjoy them outside or enjoy them inside, but you can’t double up. You can’t let them bloom outside and then bring them in, or they’re not going to live. So, I vote to just bring them all inside and decorate your house. Otherwise, you’re going to have to use some support cages that I use around my landscaping – because, honestly, otherwise, they’re just lying on the ground, and they’re not that pretty. So, you need to corral them up in something like cages when the plants are about six inches tall. I put this cage on them, it has like three stakes that go in, and then it just grows up through the cage. Then I lift that about six inches every week. Doing this, you can still cut about half the peonies to bring inside, just be sure to cut them evenly. The stems will then grow through the cage, and then the base of the stems will be supported.

Right now, with my business, I have somewhere between 500-600 peony plants, but I will not be able to cut those for three years. I just planted them last fall, but I did have about 80 of them before, which I also moved over to where my new ones are. So I’m just gonna have to wait with harvesting them. Because of how many I’m growing, one more thing I want to add with peonies is this trick that actually works. When harvesting them, as I said, cut them when they’re in the soft marshmallow stage. The green color will be just cracked open, the colored petals will be barely showing, and the flower bud will feel like you’re squeezing a marshmallow. I remove all of the leaves because they’re just gonna sag anyway, and then I put about 10 of them in a bunch and wrap them in newspaper. I will put those together, and then I’ll put like six bunches of newspaper in each drawer of my fridge/my walk-in cooler and basically dry-store them.

The longest I’ve kept them like this is eight weeks. You literally keep them in there. I don’t think that I’ll ever get to the stage of doing that on a large scale for my business because why wouldn’t I just stick them in a vase and sell them? Unless it’s still prime tulip season, and I want to wait and have these for a couple of weeks later, or maybe if there’s a wedding … like if my sister gets married July 15th, and I tell her I’ll save her 1000 peonies. Then, when you want to use them, you simply unwrap them from the newspaper, cut about an inch of the stem off, and place them in water. I did it with about 100 stems in 2020 or 2021, I can’t remember. I think of all 100 stems, there were maybe two buds that didn’t fully open. To my knowledge, the rest completely opened up, and they were beautiful. I also know a lot of DIY brides that have done this, and then they get to have peonies in early July in Minnesota. It really does work. But like I said, for my business do I want to risk it? What if, for some reason, it doesn’t work that time? Plus, to pick them just to store them to sell them later doesn’t make a lot of sense unless I had a really good reason to. We’ll see. Never say never. Maybe I’ll pack 1000 of them or something. We’ll see.

Another good landscaping flower to use as a cut flower is a Russian sage. This plant is so useful for cut-flower arrangements. It’s not your traditional flower, and it’s some height and some spikes. If you cut off one branch of your Russian sage bush, you can really divvy it up because pretty much any part of it looks good, whether it’s the bottom or the tips. You can put it in a vase and just get rid of the petals that are below the water. You just kind of run your fingers down the stem and remove them, and it’s still going to look great. I plan to buy about 30 of these, hopefully in July when they go on clearance, and just make a whole row of them in a hedge, maybe along my peonies, because they’re just such good workhorses, and they can be cut all season long, not just at peak bloom time. They definitely have a unique smell to them. I don’t think it’s a good or a bad smell but be careful because sometimes people get migraines from certain smells and they have a fragrance.

Rudbeckia, or Black-eyed Susans, are one of my favorite flowers. They grow wild all over my township. My best friends know to just ignore me if they see me in their ditch with scissors and an ice cream bucket. I pick these when they’re just barely opening, and I love mixing them with coneflowers and sunflowers. They’re wild and whimsical and do a good job. Once again, as I said earlier, never cut more than about a third of the plant. You can cut it evenly, and you’re not going to notice that it’s gone in the landscaping. Just be strategic and symmetrical.

The next one, which I think most people are really surprised about, is hostas. I use these in arrangements in early June when they’re green and much shorter, and I’m in a pinch to get flowers before others are in bloom. Once late summer comes, they start changing colors and look really good with the dahlias. Their stems are just a dream to work with because they’re really stiff, and they give structure to arrangements. I typically love to use them when the cute little purple and white stems come out of them. A lot of people will cut them because they don’t like the look of them. They bloom down the stem … they actually bloom top to bottom instead of bottom to top, which is different from most flowers. I love using them about mid-June in a vase – they just give a little bit of height and dimension to arrangements. And as I said, the leaves and the flowers are great.

One of my absolute favorites is spirea because they bloom right around the same time as peonies and lilies. My neighbors have this perfectly pruned and symmetric bush, and it just looks fantastic. Whereas I let mine grow at different lengths, and I think they still look nice and pretty in my landscaping, but I don’t perfectly trim them down because it isn’t as obvious when I cut them and steal some random flowers from it. They last a good 10 days in a vase. I have the pink ones and the white ones, and I absolutely love them.

Another cut flower in your landscaping that you can use is lilacs. Again, they’re not here for a long time, but they’re here for a good time. They’re only going to last three to four days, but they’re awesome. I love them and they smell so good, but just know that they’re only gonna last three or four days. But that’s okay. The season is so short – fill your house with them as long as you can – they just have that beautiful smell. Cut them when about half of the buds are open, and use really sharp pruning shears to cut them because they are wood. Cut them at a 45-degree angle and immediately put them in cold water … I’m saying bring a pitcher of water out there with you. Don’t wait to bring them inside the house to get them in water … 10 minutes can make a difference. So, the old wives tale that I sometimes use is, once it’s warm enough for lilacs to bloom, the soil is warm enough to plant your dahlias.

All right, the next one is tulips, and if you go back and listen to my entire episode on tulips, you’ll get a lot more information about this, but they make an excellent cut flower. Again, growing them as a gardener versus growing them as a cut-flower farmer are two totally different things. If you are growing them for production, you’re going to want to dig up the whole bulb because you need that stem length, you need that storage time it provides, and they’re not going to consistently bloom every year. If you cut them and you don’t let them die back naturally, they’re not going to have enough energy to regenerate a new flower for the next year, or there’ll be a very short and weak-looking flower. So technically, they’re a perennial, but when used as a cut flower, you treat them as an annual. One thing that I suggest, and I’m going to do this in my own landscaping, is to dig a big hole and plant about a dozen of them en masse, so they’re all kind of together. Then that way, if I do end up cutting some of them just for myself, it’s like, “Okay, well, I had 12 of them, and I cut four of them. Then next year, I’ll only have eight blooming, and there’ll be four little greenery stems.” And then I’m just really curious what will happen the year after that … like, do 12 of them bloom again? I don’t know, it’s gonna be my own little experiment within my landscaping to see how they expand. That’s gonna be playing the long game on that experiment. Here is a link to the tulip episode so that you can read the whole thing.

Another option is lilies. I love using lilies as cut flowers, but the problem is if you cut them all the way down to the bottom of the stem, they’re not going to bloom the next year. So, don’t cut more than a third of the stem when it comes to lilies. You also want to cut them when they’re just barely opening. Daylilies make terrible cut flowers, don’t do it, or just plan to use them in your landscaping. They will die in a vase, they’re not meant to be a cut flower, just don’t try it.

Lastly, we have irises. These will bloom in the spring, and they spread like crazy. Seriously, a small group of roots can take over a flower bed. I love the way they look in a vase, but they only last a couple of days. For that reason, I will not sell them in my arrangements because customers don’t like it when their flowers are dead on day two. However, they usually have three blooms on each stem that open in succession. So, if you just remove the one stem that dies and then let the other two blooms open up, they’re great. I do that in my house all the time, but I’m not going to sell them to customers.

If you have any questions, I’m here to help. Feel free to reach out to me on social media, via my website, email, etc. Let me know what you think. Abbey, what questions do you have?

Abbey: First, I have an idea – Sunny Mary Meadow t-shirts with lilacs on them that say, “Not here for a long time. Here for a good time.”

Liz: That’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Abbey: Then my question has to do with the Preen that you mentioned early in the post. You said to use that with mulch in your landscaping. Do you think it could be used with rocks, per se … chunks of granite? Which is what I’m working with.

Liz: Oh, for sure. For sure. And I will stir it into my soil too. Um, before I used landscape fabric, that’s what we used all the time.

Abbey: Okay, because when we bought our house, it came with some little baby hostas and granite rocks everywhere. Well, now the hostas have gone nuclear, and the weeds have taken over and are running the asylum. So, I’m thinking this year I’ll try that. You said early spring and then mid-summer?

Liz: Yeah. So, any established weeds it’s not going to kill, though.

Abbey: Honestly, I could stand to kill a few hostas. That would make my life a lot better.

Liz: Yeah, I know. I know. I would honestly, by hand, pull out what you can. I mean, unless you want to spray Roundup and you’re good with that. But otherwise, pull those out. Dig them out by the root. Don’t just snap off the top because that’s basically like mowing the lawn. That’s how Josh always pulled weeds. Like, he’d just break off the top, and I was like, “What are you doing? That doesn’t do anything. It’s just gonna grow back. You need to pull it by the root. Anyway, it was just funny. But yeah, definitely mix some Preen in there to keep new weeds from coming up.

Abbey: Where can I buy that?

Liz: Fleet Farm, Menards, Amazon, … wherever.

Abbey: So, it’s not a specialty thing, I can just go anywhere?

Liz: Nope, it’s like little tiny balls that you sprinkle around.

Abbey: Okay. Perfect. That’s the only question I had.

Liz: All right. Thank you.

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