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Like most gardening endeavors, a cutting garden is rewarding simply in its cultivation. However, there is an added bonus in planting this type of garden in that you can bring all of that lovely color and fragrance inside and not feel guilty about cutting the blossoms. Since the garden is not meant to be an addition to the landscape, the guidelines for setting up are a bit different. The best location for a cutting garden may not be as the focal point of your garden, but somewhere off to the side so you won't harm your view by constantly cutting the blossoms. The actual layout and care will be very similar to a vegetable garden. You want something you can easily walk around in and weed.
Sicne most plants prefer full sun, your best location should have at least six hours of full sun. There are some shade loving plants you might like to use in an arrangement, so you could consider planting a shade garden as well, if space permits. As with any garden, prepare the soil thoroughly by having a soil test and amending with the appropriate materials.
When laying out your garden, situate the flowering shrubs at the North end so as to not shade out the other plants, then lay out rows of perennials, biennials, and then annuals. Plant annuals closer together than usual because you want to promote longer stems, rather than bushy plants. With biennial rows, plant them half way across with biennials, and half with annuals, so you can have something producing in the row while the biennial is in its first year of vegetative growth. After the annuals are spent, replace them with biennials. The next year you will have a full row of biennials.
A good site is close to a water supply. You will need to irrigate to have the best specimens, so an investment in mulch and drip irrigation is a good idea.
There are a few culture tips which you may already be using in your ornamental gardens that are very useful when trying to create large specimen flowers. Disbudding is one of those. Most people don't have the time to go through their ornamental garden and disbud to create larger blossoms, but in a cutting garden it is a good idea. By removing some of the buds on a plant, you force it to create larger blossoms on the ones that are left. Not all plants respond in this way, but a few that respond well are chrysanthemums, carnations, dahlias, and peonies. The best time to disbud is in the early summer, when the buds are defined, but there is still time for the plant to put energy into the other blossoms.
Since you will be encouraging long stems and large blossoms, you will probably need to stake your plants to keep the blossoms from pulling down and breaking or bending. Staking is easy to do, and there are many different methods. Bamboo canes are one of the most versatile tools to help you with your staking and tying of plants. Buy canes that are a bit longer than you think they need to be because you will have to secure them into the ground. Staking early on in the growing season works best, when you aren't trying to pull up a flower or correct a problem, but are simply supplying support.
There are as many different methods of care as there are flowers. The key to a long-lasting flower arrangement is making sure the flower receives the maximum amount of water as quickly as possible after cutting. This means the flowers in the early morning, not when it is really hot, and carrying a bucket of water with you to immediately place the flowers in. When the bucket is full, carry the flowers into a cool, dark spt, and let them condition themselves before arranging them. This helps more than anything else you can do for your flowers.
Plants that ooze sap, are woody, or are very wobbly need a little extra preparation. Oozing stems need to be seared by being held over a flame. This seals the cut and allows the flower to take up water. Woody stems sometimes need to be hammered to enable water uptake. Weak stemmed flowers should be wrapped in newspaper, and then placed in water.
The use of floral preservatives also prolongs the life of your arrangement. There are many commercially available ones that are convenient and also work very well.
For more information on growing cut flowers or on soil testing, contact your local horticulture extension agent. There are also many good books and articles on growing and arranging flowers.
Flowers for Cutting and Drying by Anne Horan & Robert Mason eds., Time-Life Books, Inc., New Jersey, 1990.
Flowers When You Want Them by John James, Hawthorn Books Inc., New York, 1977.
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