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Advice & More April 2018

The Midnight Gardener

Lift Your Spirits with Cut Flowers

By Lori Rose

When the flowers are ready for the vase, add two drops of bleach and one teaspoon of sugar to each quart of water to keep the flowers fresh and well-fed.

A vase of flowers is a joy. Whether a huge bouquet or one tiny blossom, cut flowers make us happy. It's true –  a few seconds spent contemplating flowers during a busy day will lift your spirits. And that's something everyone can use.

There's nothing like cutting and arranging your own vase of flowers. If growing and arranging flowers sounds scary, your worries are over. You don't have to be especially creative to grow a cutting garden and arrange your colorful harvest like a pro.

Where to grow your cutting garden? That's easy – anywhere. You can use containers of any sort that suits your space needs, or any plot of ground whether in sun or part shade. Just check the light requirements of the plants you choose to grow. You can find that information on the plant tag or seed packet. Make sure your flowers get good, fertile soil. Mixing in some compost is a great way to amend any soil.

Which flowers are grown specifically for cutting? The list is almost limitless, however there are some flowers that have a longer vase life than others, and some that lend themselves better to cutting than others. Annuals, perennials, everlastings, bulbs, and even plants grown only for their leaves can be destined for the vase.

Annuals are flowers that grow, bloom, and die in one growing season. Many annuals that are good for cutting can be grown from seed, such as cosmos, larkspur and zinnias. They sprout quickly, they grow easily, and they come in a rainbow of colors –  zinnias even come in green.

Perennials are plants that die back each winter and (sometimes) return fresh in the spring. These are best suited to a plot of ground instead of a container. Reliable, easy-care choices for spring flowers are iris and peonies. Summer blooms like Shasta daisy and purple coneflower are lovely in the vase.

Everlastings, like statice, baby's breath and globe amaranth are easy to dry and they should last, well, forever. They give an interesting texture and subtle color to dried or fresh arrangements. Statice and baby's breath make lovely, airy fillers for cut flower arrangements. Globe amaranth, has pompom flowers that are lovely in the garden as well as in dried bouquets.

Spring and summer blooming bulbs make great cut flowers. Tulips, daffodils and alliums last a long time in the vase, and cheer us out of the winter blues. Lilies, gladiolas, and dahlias provide unique colors and shapes, whether you choose a single blossom or create a one-of-a-kind floral masterpiece.

Don't limit your bouquets to just flowers. Any arrangement, even a simple store-bought bouquet, can be fleshed out with branches of forsythia, evergreens, or even autumn leaves. Ferns, ivy and ornamental grasses are also perennials, and will add grace and texture to both the garden and the vase.

When and how to cut? Theodore James, Jr., author of the comprehensive book The Cut-Flower Garden, suggests cutting flowers early in the day when the stems are firm and filled with water. Use sharp shears or a knife to prevent injury to the growing plant.

When you get the flowers inside, cut each stem at a 45-degree angle under water so air is not absorbed into the stem. The angle allows water into the stem while a flat cut will cause the stem to clog as it rests flat on the bottom of the vase. Remove all leaves that will be below the water line of the vase.

For flowers or branches with woody stems (lilacs, dogwoods, azaleas, roses and also chrysanthemums), smash the bottom inch with a hammer, or cut a slit about 1/3 of the way up the bottom. Flowers with hollow stems (daffodils, zinnias, Shasta daisies, lupines, dahlias, poppies) need the sap that leaks out the bottom or they will wilt quickly. Prevent leaking by searing the bottom of the stem with a match or candle flame.

When the flowers are ready for the vase, add two drops of bleach and one teaspoon of sugar to each quart of water to keep the flowers fresh and well-fed.

Your time, effort, inspiration, and creativity will be richly rewarded with the knowledge that you can create vase after vase of beautiful bouquets.


Lori Rose, the Midnight Gardener, has gardened since childhood and is a Temple University Certified Master Home Gardener and member of the Association for Garden Communicators (GWA).

Meet Lori