Consider a Cutting Garden

Everyone loves to give and receive flowers. So great is their appeal, that fresh cut flowers play a role in the celebration of holidays and the milestones of family and personal life over much of the world. It is a particular luxury to have fresh flowers on display at home on a daily basis. What a delight it is to be surrounded indoors by bouquets and arrangements of fragrant, colorful blossoms -to have a bit of the garden in the house.

For gardeners the ultimate pleasure is to be able to cut flowers from their own garden to bring indoors and to give away to friends and family. Many also love to have homegrown blossoms, foliage, and seedheads handy for fresh or dried floral crafts and cooking. However, the problem is always that picking flowers from the garden reduces the floral show in the yard. It is always a tough decision whether to cut flowers for indoors or leave them on display outdoors. The perfect solution to this problem is to establish a separate cultivated area specifically as a cutting garden. Then you can have your flowers and pick them too!

Fill your cutting garden with plants that produce the flowers and foliage you love. Use it as an area to experiment with new plants and colors. Place it where it is not on public display, and indulge your fancy. Consider making it part of your vegetable garden. This is a production garden; created to be cut down, so do not worry about design correctness.

Creating a cutting garden
Create a cutting garden much the same way you initially establish a flower garden. Choose a site that receives generous sun and prepare the soil so that it drains well. Add humus in the form of compost, peat moss, or chopped leaves to improve clay or sandy soil. Create one or more beds of whatever size and shape accommodate the available space. They can be tucked into sunny spots along the back boundary, in a neglected corner, or behind the garage. By their very nature, they are transient, so they are easily changed or reconfigured next season if necessary.

While cutting gardens often look beautiful at the peak of the season, this is incidental. So, because they are not intended for display, a purely utilitarian layout makes the most sense. Then once they are established they are easier to m

aintain and require much less attention than ornamental beds. For this reason, cutting gardens usually resemble traditional vegetable gardens. They are typically planted in widely spaced rows that are easy to move through and between while planting, thinning, fertilizing, deadheading, and, of course, harvesting.

Managing a cutting garden
Be sure and mix into the soil a granular, slow-acting fertilizer at the beginning of the season. This will provide consistent, balanced nutrition to the plants over many, many weeks. Periodic doses of dilute liquid fertilizer sprayed on plant foliage will boost the energy of certain heavy

blooming plants during peak production.

Rather than interplant seeds or young transplants of many different kinds of flowers, group the species of plants for efficient use of space and easy harvest. To get maximum production, plant annuals in succession-early season, mid-season and late season bloomers grouped together. Cluster plants with similar requirements for sun, water and drainage for easier maintenance. Plant tall types together, away from where they might shade smaller ones.

To minimize watering and weeding maintenance, spread a 2 or 3 inch layer of some organic mulch on the soil around the plants in the cutting garden as soon as they are a few inches tall. It does not have to be attractive, so use whatever is inexpensive and at hand, such as chopped leaves, shredded newspaper, or straw. The mulch will discourage weeds, keep the soil moist longer, and contribute nutrients to the soil as it decomposes in the heat of summer. Add to the mulch layer if it breaks down to less than an inch. If you grow plants that are notorious selfseeders, such as spider flower (cleome), removing the mulch at the end of the season will help to clear away most of the seeds as well.

To spur and maintain flower production of annuals, pick blossoms regularly. Deadhead those that remain and become faded. This prevents them from forming seeds which slows flower production. Water about an inch per week if rainfall is unreliable. Unmulched beds will need more

frequent watering, especially in the summer. Keep a look out for aphids on tender young growth or on plants that are stressed and unhappy. Pinch infested tips off or wash the foliage with a strong stream of water from the hose. Insecticidal soap spray will take care of stubborn infestations.

As soon as the blossoms from one stand of flowers have been cut, and/or the plants begin to weaken; pull them, cultivate the bed, and plant new seedlings to provide cut flowers for the weeks to come. For instance, plant only pansies in an area for an early season supply of flowers. Then, when summer heat arrives, replace them in that area with American marigolds or zinnias.

Plants for the cutting garden
Lots of different kinds of flowering plants are suitable for a cutting garden. Long-stemmed annuals or perennials are most useful. Typically, colorful annual flowers dominate these gardens, because they are such enthusiastic bloomers. Cutting their blossoms only encourages them to produce more. All kinds of daisies are enormously popular and combine well with lots of other flowers.

Long blooming perennials have a place in the cutting garden as well as in the more formal flower border. Plants such as coral bells and fringed bleeding heart will produce flowers all season, especially if they are regularly picked. Some, such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans produce bold, bristly seedheads that are ideal for floral crafts. Of course perennials can be depended upon to bloom next seasonno need to replant that part of the cutting garden

Don’t forget foliage plants that contribute texture and color to both fresh and dried arrangements. Silverleafed artemisia varieties, lamb’s ears and herbs such as lavender contribute grayish-silver foliage that is both handsome and aromatic.

The following is a list of suggested annuals, perennials, and foliage plants. This list is just a beginning. There are certainly more cut flowers available.

Annuals for a cutting garden
[* indicates good for drying also]
Ageratum (Floss Flower)
Amaranthus caudatus (Love Lies Bleeding)
Ammi majus (Bishop’s Flower)
Bells of Ireland
Callistephus chinesis (China Aster)
Celosia, cristata (Cockscomb)*
Celosia, plumosa (Feather)*
Celosia, spicata (Wheat)*
Centaurea (Bachelors’ Button)
Cleome (Spider Flower)
Dimorphoteca sinuata (Cape Marigold)
Eustoma (Lisianthus)
Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth)*
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)*
Helichrysum (Strawflower)
Helipterium (Everlasting)
Matthiola (stock)
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
Nigella damascena (Love-fn-A Mist)
Reseda Odorata (Mignonette)
Salvia farinacea
Scabiosa (Pincushion flower)
Sweet Pea
Verbena bonariensis

Perennials for a cutting garden
Achillea (Yarrow)*
Chrysanthemum, such as Shasta Daisy
Dianthus, deltoids (Pinks)
Digitalis (Foxglove)
Echinacea (Purple Coneflower)
Echinops exaltatus (Globe Thistle)*
Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath)*
Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)
Nicotiana (Flowering Tobacco)
Poppy, Shirley or Iceland
Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan)
Solidago (Goldenrod)

Foliage for a cutting garden
Asparagus, densiflorus
Asparagus, sprengeri
Dusty Miller
Euphorbia (Snow on the Mountain)
Flowering Cabbage
Flowering Kale
Sage, Tri-color

Landscape Design

There is no easy way to teach landscape design and most home gardeners cringe at the thought of it, however, I’d like to introduce you to one particular landscape design concept that you might find interesting and useful, that of landscape mass and landscape void.

Every landscape is made up of masses of plants and areas void of plants — areas planted and areas that are open. Often the balance between the planted and the open spaces, and the arrangement of the planted and open spaces can determine the overall effectiveness of a landscape design.

Where The Voids Are
A void in landscaping could be a lawn, or an expanse of ground cover or gravel. It could also be a patio or garden pool. A void is simply an open area in the landscape. The key to landscape design is that you can plan and shape the void, rather than just let it happen by accident. For example, my wife and I are in the process of landscaping our three acre property. We are planning and planting a screen of evergreens on the western edge of our property to provide some privacy from the neighboring lot. Between the evergreen screen and the house we are planning to develop a small, perhaps 40 foot diameter, oval lawn area. Near the house this oval lawn area, the void, will be surrounded by small shrubs. Thus, we’ll end up with a wonderful small, almost hidden, oval lawn area surrounded by short shrubs to the north and south, and large evergreens to the west.

Developing the Masses
Voids are most effective when surrounded by a significant amount of mass. The mass is the planted areas of the home landscape. Too often we plant in straight narrow rows. We line up shrubs across the front of the house, or across the back fence. We neglect trying to develop depth and mass in our planting, and yet it is mass that so nicely sets off the voids. In most cases it is best to have an orderly transition between the masses and voids in the landscape. For example, start with a flower border. Back it with low-growing shrubs, behind which you plant taller growing shrubs. Finally, add a collection of trees. Pay attention to the way the mass of plants will appear when standing, or sitting, in the void.

One thing I like to do is have a void area immediately outside a frequently used window in the house. When you look out the window you see across the void to the mass planting. I try to develop this mass planting area to be as interesting and attractive as possible when seen from the window.

Mystery in the Landscape
If your yard is large enough often you can have two void areas divided by a large mass planting and then develop a connecting pathway between the voids. As you travel through the path you catch glimpses of the approaching void and this creates a bit of mystery as to what’s just around the bend. Often a piece of statuary, or something as simple as a birdbath, can be placed in the voids to act as a focal point. If the mass planting area is large enough the path can be made to twist and wind with interesting plants scattered along the way to lead you through to the next void.

Think About It
As you walk in and through your yard this spring think about the arrangement of the masses and voids in your landscape. Then think about ways to improve their relationships to each other. This type of landscape exploration is foreign to many gardeners but it really helps in making those basic landscape design changes that pay big dividends in the long run.

Integrated Pest Management

Remove weeds from your lawn before they set seed. You can use a trowel or asparagus knife to remove weeds like dandelion, plantain, and clover if there are only a few of them. If you don’t have time to pull the weeds, spot treat weedy areas with a selective herbicide for broadleaf weeds. Do not spray on a windy day and be sure to use a sprayer that produces a coarse spray rather than a fine mist to avoid drift that is harmful to other plants in your landscape. You can also prepare a small amount of herbicide and use a disposable sponge and disposable rubber glove to wipe the herbicide on the weed foliage.

Check wild cherry trees and apples for Eastern tent caterpillars. During the day, the fuzzy black caterpillars rest in silken webs in the crotches between branches. Remove the nests, caterpillars and all. A stick or pole may be helpful for removing nests that are out of reach.

If you’re doing some spring mulching, be sure to do the job right. Use no more than two inches of mulch and keep it a few inches away from the trunks of trees to prevent decay of the bark. Avoid covering the crowns of perennials or shrubs with mulch, since it encourages diseases such as Southern blight.

Instead of purchasing beneficial insects, conserve those that nature sends your way. Spray pesticides only when it is absolutely necessary, and treat only the plants that are being attacked by pests or diseases. Whenever possible, use a reduced-risk pesticide such as horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem seed extract to combat pests and diseases. These pesticides have minimal impact on beneficial insects. Look for insect predators when you note a burgeoning insect problem; they may be working to bring it under control for you. You can avoid using pesticides that harm beneficial insects by exploring other control options. Physically remove pest insects from their host plants with a jet of water from your garden hose, or hand pick them into a bucket of soapy water. Be sure that you are providing your landscape plants with the conditions they need to thrive; healthy plants are less likely to be subject to pest and disease problems. When shopping for new plants, be sure to select pest and disease resistant varieties whenever you can.

Resist the temptation to rush spring growth with heavy applications of fertilizer. Lawns, if fertilized now, will be much more prone to disease when hot, humid weather arrives. Heavily fertilized trees and shrubs are better hosts for aphids, scale insects, and diseases such as fire blight. Make a mental note to fertilize in the autumn when most plants are making new root growth and are best able to use the nutrients you apply. Spring flowering bulbs are an important exception to this rule. Fertilize them as the flowers fade to promote healthy foliage that will result in a bigger bulb and more flowers next spring.

Check azaleas, andromeda, and rhododendrons for lace bug hatchlings. Look at last year’s foliage; if you notice yellow stipples on the leaves, it is likely that last year’s lace bugs laid eggs on the underside of the leaves. The black eggs are well camouflaged by the tarry black excrement left by the adult lace bugs. It is easiest to detect them using the beat test. Place a white sheet of paper under the foliage and tap the plant vigorously. Young lace bugs are black, spiny, and no larger than a pinhead. If you detect large numbers of them, spray infested plants with horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or a pesticide containing acephate.

Ovulinia petal blight may cause azalea flowers to turn tan and mushy if rainy weather coincides with their bloom. Apply a fungicide labelled for petal blight to your azaleas when the flower buds have begun to show color. The life of the flowers may be prolonged by as much as two weeks with this treatment.