Cut Flowers: Bringing Outdoor Beauty Inside

Cut flowers provide a variety of uses. Not only can freshly cut flowers be enjoyed in beautiful bouquets, but they can be used for more permanent accents as well. For instance, cut flowers can be dried and crafted into decorative wreaths, centerpieces, sconces, etc. Cut flowers can also be used to make fragrant sachets and potpourri. The possibilities are endless. Use them as decorative accents in your home or as unique gifts for family and friends. Create a twig and flower wreath by gathering some 6 inch twigs from your favorite trees or shrubs. Collect them with or without buds; this is more a personal choice. Wrap the twigs onto a wire wreath frame (or construct one from a hanger) with wire or bread ties. Add dried flowers, such as purple and yellow statice; you could also add some eucalyptus and wheat stems, if desired. Attach a piece of wire to the back for hanging. A wreath full of rose buds and baby’s breath looks lovely topped off with ribbon; or perhaps, a grapevine wreath decorated with sprigs of milkweed pods, baby’s breath, statice, and wheat would be more to your liking. Add some ribbon and pinecones for additional interest. These, of course, are only suggestions. Whatever design you choose is ultimately up to you.

There are several ways to dry flowers. One of the easiest is air drying. Simply cut the desired flowers in equal lengths and divide them into small bunches. Fasten these together with twine or other suitable material that prevents crushing stems. Hang upside down in a dark, dry area such as an attic or pantry. Avoid places that are high in humidity, such as basements. Allow approximately two weeks for the flowers to dry. Popular cut flowers for this method include goldenrod, baby’s breath, statice, hydrangea, salvia, yarrow, Heather, tansy, and globe amaranth. Another easy option is to seal flowers in an airtight container of silica gel. This absorbs moisture from flowers while preserving their natural colors and only takes about two weeks to dry. Silica gel can be purchased at most garden centers, or you can improvise by using cornmeal instead. Carnation, marigold, dahlia, rose, larkspur, hollyhock, clematis, black-eyed Susan, and zinnia all work well for this method. Pressing flowers between sheets of newspaper and boards is another alternative. Top the layers off with a heavy object. This process usually takes up to four weeks before flowers are dry, depending on the particular flower. Good choices for this method might include aster, marigold, zinnia, violet, mum, pansy, dahlia, buttercup, cosmos, daisy, and rose.

Annuals, perennials, bulbs, and even woody plants can be used as cut flowers. Annuals are generally grown every year and offer significant blooming throughout the seasons. Since these flowers survive only a year, annual trips to garden centers or nurseries will be needed, unless you collect their seeds. Perennials also provide an abundance of blooms but present another bonus as well; they only require a one-time planting as these plants return each year, drastically cutting your need to continually purchase additional flowers. Bulbs are often treated as annuals; however, there are perennial varieties. These flowers can provide outstanding blooms but can be costly if purchased each year. On the other hand, taking bulbs out of the ground and over-wintering them indoors can ensure an endless supply of blooms once spring returns. Woody plants offer the opportunity to harvest something at nearly any time of the year. For instance, during spring and summer, these plants will produce amazing buds and blooms; during fall and winter, they will provide stunning berries, interesting bark, and colorful foliage.

Cut flowers can offer many design options. For example, they can be grown in large or small plots, raised beds, island flowerbeds, borders, and even containers. When designing you cut-flower garden, choose a site with well-drained soil that receives full sun and shelter from wind. Windbreaks such as hedges or trees are ok, but these may compete with the garden for moisture and nutrients; therefore, it may be more suitable to use a wall, fence, or trellis instead. For better results, the soil should be enriched with compost. Of course, as with most any plant, water is critical; therefore, locate the cut-flower garden near an ample water source. If your design includes placement along an existing wall, fence, or other similar structure, you may want to put taller plants in the back and gradually work your way down. For instance, tall plants such as hollyhocks and sunflowers would be placed the furthest back, while medium plants such as dahlias or snapdragons would be placed next and followed by smaller growing plants like alyssum along the front edge. If the garden is set within an island or raised bed, the same downward progression should be followed with exception to larger plants. These would be placed in the center instead. Use a similar planting scheme for multiple flowers grown in one container. Raised beds, in my opinion, are the easiest to prepare and care for. They provide adequate drainage and allow for easier maintenance and harvesting as all sides are generally accessible. For easy access, make the beds no more than 3 or 4 feet wide. Incorporating mulched paths or walkways between individual beds will also add to its appearance. As with most any garden design, you can be as creative as you would like. You should never feel forced into designing a garden as someone else would; experimenting is part of the fun.

Flowers bloom at various times within the growing season; plan your cut garden accordingly, and you will enjoy them year round. To give the cut garden additional interest, plant an assortment of flowers with various shades of color as well as different heights and textures. You do not have to feel limited to flowers in the cut garden. Incorporate interesting foliage plants, such as wheat or eucalyptus, and use them as fillers for bouquets and wreaths. Many herbs and evergreens also make lovely additions. Plants should be put into the ground once the soil has warmed and the threat of frost has passed. Overhead watering should be avoided, if possible; this can lead to significant splashing or flower damage. It is often better to implement some sort of drip irrigation system for watering. Supplying the garden with mulch will help retain moisture and reduce weeding. Freshly harvested flowers, whether for bouquet usage or drying, should be placed in lukewarm water immediately to avoid wilting.

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