book open to illustration of Alice in Wonderland

The wonderland of a cutting garden

Remember the scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice finds her very tiny self in the midst of a singing flower garden? Want to feel like Alice in the garden? We’re here to help you make that fantasy come true. Welcome to part 2 of growing a cutting garden. If you’ve been following us, then you have already planned your cutting garden and started your seeds. As you are carefully tending the seeds and the seedlings you will start to see sprouting in the coming weeks, start learning how to plant and maintain your cutting garden now.

Wonderland planting

Prep your soil: As soon as the ground has thawed enough for you to start digging, it is time to get started. Gardeners call this step “amending the soil,” which means you are going to dig it up, add organic matter, and mix it in to give your plants more nutrients in which to grow. So while you could use a rototiller (and many people do), beginners may not have one or may not want to use such a loud, dangerous machine. A shovel, a garden fork, and a rake will do the job just fine.

Dig down as far as you can and turn up the soil with your shovel. Break up the dirt with the garden fork, and by all means, remove any weeds at this point. Dump in organic matter like sifted wood chips, compost, and leaves (they can be wet or dry) and mix well with your garden fork. When everything is evenly mixed (you may have to turn up more soil–go for two shovel heads deep), rake it smooth. Now you are ready to plant!

dirty hands above soil

Deep and wide–spacing and depth: Grab your seedlings, your bulbs, and your planting grid. Like humans, plants like to be with others, but still need their space. So space your seedlings and bulbs according to their individual constitution. Your seed packages will tell you how much space each particular perennial needs, but if you inadvertently threw them away, most perennials need 18 to 24 inches between each other. Plant the seedlings deep enough to cover the roots, but leave the green shoots above the ground. Pack the soil firmly, but not solidly around it. With regards to bulbs, again, refer to the spacing guide they came with. But if you don’t have it, in general, small bulbs need about 4 inches of space, and larger bulbs need about 5. Don’t bury your bulbs too deep, but don’t let them peek out of the soil either (the weather will get to them). Go about 3 to 4 inches deep and don’t pack the soil over them too solidly.

Grow tall or stay small?

Drink me: After you plant your seedlings and bulbs, you will want to water your cutting garden evenly and thoroughly, taking care not to damage any baby plants. After that, follow the watering guides for each plant. Some may need a bit more, but most will not need as much as you think they should. Pay attention to the weather and check your soil daily. Don’t let it dry out, but don’t let it stay soggy. If it rains, you don’t have to water; if it’s hot and dry, you will have to water a bit more. Also, try to water early in the day, rather than later so the soil and foliage can dry out during the day. You can water gently with a hose at the soil level or overhead with a watering can or a soaker hose.

Hostile invaders: As the flowers in told Alice, “Why, you’re nothing but a common weed. Leave!” Since our flowers cannot simply insult a weed out of their flower bed, we have to do it for them. When you are checking your soil for moisture each day, pull up the little baby weeds as soon as you see them. The smaller they are, the easier they are to pull up at the root level. Don’t let them take over, or they will strangle your pretty flowers. Be vigilant!

close up of pink dahlia

Deadheading and cutting: This might hurt your feelings in the beginning, but you will need to pinch the flowers off of your seedlings the first time they start to bloom. Believe it or not, this will encourage more growth later, and allow the little baby plant to put its energy into growing stronger roots to give you more and bigger flowers later. Once your flowers start to flourish and grow tall, you can implement whatever deadheading and cutting strategy you wish. When blooms fade, cut or pinch the stalk under the faded flower just below the first set of leaves. And to harvest them for your home (or a gift), cut them in the morning before the bees get to work. Put the stems in water immediately (so bring a bucket full of water with you). Then when you arrange them, cut the stem one more time underwater to encourage it to pull more water up. And for more ideas about extending vase life, see our article about it.

Waking up from a dream

As your seedlings and bulbs grow and you start to enjoy fresh cut flowers in your home, it will seem like winter was but a dream. So don’t waste time chasing white rabbits now. Focus on your growing seeds, and soon your home will be filled with the sweet smell of flowers, and you will be soaking up the beauty of the world outside tending your garden. Happy spring, everyone!