Spoil yourself with fresh flowers throughout the year with a spring cutting garden
Wouldn’t you love to spoil yourself with fresh cut flowers all year? Imagine vases full of happy daffodils, lush dahlias, or a row of tiny bud vases with grape hyacinths. You don’t just have to fantasize about it and sigh wistfully thinking of the meals you might have to skip to make that happen. Plant your own spring cutting garden before Halloween!
Greenhouses, nurseries, and hardware stores are winding down from the spring and summer planting frenzies, but they are full of some of the best bulbs for cutting gardens. And fall is the best time to get these little guys in the ground. Head over there now to pick out your favorites, and let us help you get your own cutting garden going for next spring! And for those of you growing on balconies and patios—most of your work will take place in the late winter and early spring, although some of the bulbs mentioned below can be started now.
Before you head down to your local greenhouse, take a tour of the outside of your home and observe the light and shade. Some flowers thrive in the exposed south side of your house, while others will wither in the bright light and intense heat. And because the area may look bare when you cut your flowers, you will want to choose a spot that won’t bother you when the flowers are gone. Or you may want to find one big enough to plant flowers that will bloom at different times of the year. You can grow about 20 plants in a 3- by 6-foot area. As you plan your garden, think about the height of the plants you want and the time of the season they will bloom. You will be planting many bulbs now, but you will want to leave room for other plants that go into the ground in the spring (like spring bulbs, annuals, and perennials). Also, consider any herbs or foliage you will want to include.
Consider your soil, as well. Put your hands in the dirt and consider how dry or moist the soil is. Think about how much water collects in various places during rainstorms and how long it takes for the water to dry up. If the soil in your area of the country is sandy or clay-packed, you will want to add some humus of some sort. This time of year, you can easily add chopped leaves. You can also try peat moss or compost. Your local greenhouse can give you the best advice for your particular soil.
Finally, listen to the crickets. When they stop chirping, it is typically time to get your bulbs in the ground. Or, for you more technical gardeners, get your bulbs in the ground when nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 40’s and 50’s.
Choose your blooms
Now that you know where you are going to plant your cutting garden and have prepped your soil, it’s time to take a look at some of your best options for seeing blooms before the snow has even left your yard. Most of the flowers listed below have overlapping blooming schedules, so the nice thing will be that as your early spring blooms are winding down, your early summer blooms will just be ramping up, and you’ll find yourself planting spring bulbs for the fall color we hope you are enjoying now.
As early as January, you may start to feel wistful for spring as you do your grocery shopping and notice the daffodils and tulips in the floral department. You know they came from warmer climates far away, but you can’t resist. We can’t blame you—we indulge, too! So, let’s get some bulbs in the ground this fall, and you will start to see some tiny flowers breaking through the snow as the days start to get a little bit brighter.
The shorter flowers bloom first, so by Valentines’ Day so in most places, you should start to see snowdrops and crocus popping up to greet you. Be sure to make space for them your cutting garden toward the front, as they only grow a few inches tall. Crocus only grow about 2 or 3 inches tall, and snowdrops grow about 4 to 7 inches tall. Or, plant them willy-nilly in your lawn. They add a pop of color when the grass is dead, and by the time it greens up, their leaves will blend in. Find some mini bud vases to enjoy these little guys inside.
Plant crocus pointy-end up about 3 or 4 inches under some well-draining soil where they will get plenty of sun. The bulbs will rot if you let them get soggy. Also, these don’t make the best edging flowers, so plant them in clusters and space them in among other flowers and plants.
You will also want to plant snowdrops pointy-end up and about 5 inches deep. So, you will just barely cover them with soil. They like the shade, so plant clusters on the north side of your house. Just don’t let the bulbs dry up before you get them in the ground.
As the crocus and snowdrops start to lose their flowers, the hyacinths are ready to take their place.
Hyacinths come in two sizes—small and medium. Grape hyacinths, which are not directly related, grow about 6 to 10 inches and like full sun and well-draining soil. Plant them 2 to 3 inches deep and try mixing them with daffodils and tulips. True hyacinths shoot up to 6 to 12 inches tall with bushier clusters of small flowers. This fall, plant them 7 to 8 inches deep, pointy end up, and 2 to 3 inches apart in a spot where they will get plenty of sun and won’t risk soggy bulbs (which will rot). Some mulch will help them over the winter.
Daffodils and tulips march in next (around the month of March, get it?). Depending on the variety and your location, daffodils and tulips will bloom anywhere from late winter/early spring to early summer. As long as you have well-draining soil and partial to full sun for them, you can plant these in separate clusters or mix them together—whatever suits your aesthetic. Daffodils and tulips should go about 6 inches below ground, and larger tulip bulbs should go couple of inches deeper.
Got a wedding coming up next spring? Be sure to get some anemones in the ground now! They have been a favorite in bridal bouquets lately. Anemone bulbs like to have a soak before they go in the ground, so immerse them in some lukewarm water for 3 to 4 hours before you are ready to put them in the ground. Plant them in well-draining soil in full to half day sunlight about 3 inches deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. It doesn’t matter which end of the bulb goes up.
Just a quick word on one of our favorite spring flowers, ranunculus. The trick to enjoying these rosette-shaped flowers all spring and summer lies in when you plant the bulbs. If you plant them in the fall, they will bloom in early spring. Plant more in the spring, and they will bloom in the summer. Ranunculus actually have claw-shaped tubers instead of bulbs, which you will need to plant in a sunny spot, claw-side down. Be sure not to allow the tubers to rot by over watering them. And if you live in the northern states or have a particularly cold winter, hold off planting these bulbs until spring.
As the days get longer, and those perfect late spring temperatures set in, enjoy the blooms of your autumn labor: lilies, allium, and peonies.
Lillies are a great addition to any cutting garden. With stems ranging anywhere from 2 to 6 feet, and trumpet-shaped, pink, orange, and white blooms, they look gorgeous in the garden and in the vase. Find your sunniest spot and plant the bulbs about 6 inches down and about 8 inches apart with the pointy end up. Don’t drench them, but do keep them well-watered.
Ever wander around the neighborhood around June and wonder what those purple pom-pom shaped flowers are, the ones that look like they came from a Dr. Seuss book? Alliums are a fanciful addition to any bouquet, and they are so fun in the garden. Plant them pointy-side up in a sunny spot about 6 inches deep and 12 to 14 inches apart.
And of course, we would not leave out another of our favorites—peonies! Autumn is the time to make sure you have an abundance of soft, fluffy pink and white blooms to fill your vases and table tops next spring. For an in-depth explanation of how to care for these beauties, see our previous article. Otherwise, just be sure to plant the tubers in a sunny spot just beneath some well-draining soil—about 2 inches deep with the “eyes” up.
Be like Big Bird
In an old Golden Book, Big Bird Brings Spring to Sesame Street, Big Bird is roaming around the neighborhood bereft that he can’t do the fun things he enjoys in spring and summer. He decides to buy some flowers for his nest to lift his winter blahs. On his way home, however, he finds that his friends also have the winter blahs. And one by one, he gives his flowers away to his friends until he has none for himself. But when he looks down the dreary street, he sees his flowers everywhere—almost as if spring has come to Sesame Street.
The point is, even though you may be dreaming of pumpkin pie, bonfires, and hay rides, don’t neglect to get those fall bulbs into the ground. With a little bit of planning and planting, you, too can be like Big Bird and bring spring to your neighborhood!