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Planning our annual flower field is one of my favorite tasks that I do each year because, for us, it’s where everything started.
If you’ve been with us for any length of time then you may already know how Two Sisters Flower Farm came to be. You see, for me, growing a cut flower garden was a project that I decided to take on because I was looking for something that I could just pour all of my creative energy into.
I remember so many nights spent scrolling on Pinterest, reading about this concept of flower farming + I was so inspired by what I found. I was truly in awe of how beautiful these flower gardens were and I just knew I just needed to replicate that for myself someway somehow.
Maybe you have a similar dream of cultivating a bit of beauty in your own backyard, but you feel limited because your thumb is unnaturally green…
…trust me when I say that your dream is NOT out of reach. If I can grow cut flowers, it’s proof that anyone can.
So in this blog post I’m going to share exactly how I plan our cut flower garden.
Planning a Cut Flower Garden:
What trips most people up and keeps them from evening trying their hand as growing flowers is they don’t know what to plant, when to plant it and how much to plant.
Those are definitely some big questions to answer but as you’ll see they aren’t nearly as complicated as we make it out to be.
Let me help you break it down…
What to Plant in Your Cutting Garden:
Let’s start with the What– most flowers that are grown for cut-flower production are considered annuals, meaning they grow for one season and then typically die with the onset of freezing weather in the fall.
Annuals make great cut flowers because they are relatively inexpensive. You truly don’t have to spend a lot to get started; they grow quickly- especially compared to perennials that may take multiple years to mature so you get to enjoy your flowers right away; and they are a lot of different varieties to choose from- so no matter your personal tastes and preferences, you’ll be sure to find something you love!
What specifically you choose to plant will depend largely on the purpose behind your cutting garden. The great thing about being in charge of your flower garden is that you get to make the rules.
If your goal is to have flowers for market bouquets, you’ll likely want to plant a good mix of focal flowers like zinnias + sunflowers with fresh greens like basil and of course have a little room for some whimsy like cosmos.
If your goal is to design for weddings or other events you may want to grow the same flower varieties but in pastel tones that are more popular with designers
And if your goal is to grow flowers for your own personal enjoyment, the great thing about that is that you can grow quite literally whatever you want.
Some of my favorites flower varieties to grow for cut flower production include things like: zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, celosia, snapdragons, and amaranth.
How Many Flowers Should You Plant in Your Cutting Garden:
The next question you’re likely thinking is how much to plant?
how much space you have available to use for your garden will tell you how many flowers that you can plant there.
Knowing how much space you have is the key to knowing how many plants you can grow, so it’s important to decide on your garden space before you get started growing anything.
And don’t be fooled, it doesn’t take much to grow armloads of flowers. In fact, for most beginner gardeners a simple 3-ft by 10-ft piece of ground is all you’ll need.
You see, annuals (because of their short life cycle) often require much less space than what is typical of the mature perennials that you’re likely familiar with.
In my flower garden, I plant all my flowers just 9 to 12 inches apart. The exception is single-stemmed sunflowers which I plant just 6 inches apart.
What this really means is that within a 30 square foot flower bed (that 3-ft by 10-ft space that I just mentioned)- that sort of spacing allows for anywhere between 30 and 105 plants!
Trust me, I know how tempting it is to want to grow the biggest garden possible, but I want to offer you a word of caution:
Getting seeds into the ground is often the easy part. It’s the weeding, the watering, the fertilizing, the pest control + the harvesting that takes a good amount of time + effort which a lot of people often don’t account for.
Flower farming is extremely rewarding work, but remember it still is work! So my encouragement is that you start small. Become efficient with how you manage a small garden and build from there.
Here at Two Sisters Flower Farm we grow on about a quarter acre plot- which is very large. We started with a much smaller garden space our first year, and like everything else we do around here, we gradually worked our way up to growing flowers on this kind of scale.
To decide on how much to plant here, I simply take the flowers I decided on earlier and plug them into my garden space
Understand that I like to keep my rows as uniform as possible so I tend to plant flowers that have the same spacing requirements within the same row.
For example, we grow a lot of zinnias- we grow them with 9 inch spacing. Basil, snapdragons and globe amaranth are also plants that do well with 9 inch spacing.
For these plants I can fit 4 rows of them inside my 3ft wide bed. So in a bed that’s 100 ft long. I tend to fit about 530 plants in there- Remember it doesn’t take a lot of growing space to grow a lot of flowers!
Now, cosmos, marigolds and celosia are a little bit bulkier plants so I tend to space them 12” apart- which means I get about 3 rows of plants per 3′ wide bed and within that entire 100′ long bed, I can fit about 300 plants.
Single-stemmed sunflowers and lisianthus are both flowers that don’t need a lot of space. I space them just 6” apart which means in that same 3′ by 100′ row- I can fit about 6 rows of plants or about 200 plants per row- so a total of 1200 plants within that entire bed!
Now if you’re confused about plant spacing- the back of your seed packets will give you some sort of clue on how much space your plants require.
When to Plant Your Cutting Garden:
Last but not least is when to plant your flowers? Like I previously mentioned, annuals can’t tolerate cold temperatures and do best with plenty of warmth and sunshine which means that your growing season will largely be determined by your first and last frost dates.
You can get a sense for what’s normal for your region’s climate based off of the USDA Hardiness Zone Map. Knowing which hardiness zone you reside in gives you an estimate of the first and last frost dates of your area, which will ultimately give you a sense for how long your growing season is.
In Michigan, where I live, I’m located in Zone 5b. My frost-free growing season *typically* starts May 15th and ends around October 15th giving me about 150 days of frost-free growing time.
Understand that these are not hard + fast dates; and they will fluctuate from season to season; however, knowing your season’s key dates will give you something to aim for!
While I’m always eager to get a jump on the season, I’ve learned through experience that it’s better to wait for nightly temperatures to stay consistently above 65 degrees- so pay extra careful to your weather forecast and you should have a good idea of when is the right time for you to plant your flowers outdoors.
If you’re like me you’ll learn (probably the hard way) to have patience with this step. Between the chilly air and cool soil, planting too early can be a death sentence for some heat-loving annuals.
And let’s face it, there’s few things more heartbreaking to a gardener than losing your seed babies before the season has even begun!
Now if you do want to get a early start to the season, you can always choose to start your seeds inside your home before your last frost date and transplant your seedlings into the garden once the weather is sufficiently warm.
Every plant is different in terms of how long it will take to mature, but you can find all the information pertaining to specific flower varieties on the back of each seed packet.
The instructions will say something like this: “Start seed indoors in trays 4-6 weeks before last frost; transplant out after all danger of frost has passed. “
Generally your slow growing stuff can be started 10-12 weeks inside prior to your last frost. These are things like snapdragons,
Your medium-paced growers like are usually started 8-10 weeks before last frost.
And then your fast growing flowers – like zinnias and cosmos don’t need a lot of time in their trays at all, typically just 4- 6 weeks.
And there you have it.. we’ve just conquered the what, where, and when of planting a summer cutting garden. The only thing left now is for you to get your hands in the dirt and start growing.
Wishing you an abundant season ahead!