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Cutflower Gardening

By Dr. William C. Welch, Landscape Horticulturist
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

The information on the care and handling of cut plant materials, floral preservatives, and special treatments is provided by Jim Johnson, AAF, AIFD, TMF, Director of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A & M University, and Kimberly Williams, SAIFD.

Garden flowers are more popular than ever for decorating homes. They are particularly fitting in restored homes where the correct flowers for the period of the home can be provided. Garden flowers are not likely to look out of place as sometimes do exotic blossoms from afar. Not to be overlooked is the economy of having one's own source for cutflowers. Some gardeners are even creating a business of growing and marketing cutflowers.

There are several advantages to creating a cutting garden. Where flowers are enjoyed and used in large volume in the home, their removal from borders and other landscaped areas may detract from the intended effect. By providing a special cutflower garden, the gardener can anticipate and plan for these needs without disturbing or diminishing landscape plantings. The well-planned cutting garden also offers another very practical advantage: annuals and perennials may be conveniently and efficiently grown in rows where they are easily gathered and maintained.

Cutting gardens need not be unattractive, but it is a sensible to plan to locate them in an area where they are not a focal point when not at their peak. Old-time gardeners often included cutflowers in the vegetable garden where they could tend and harvest them easily. Finer estates would sometimes have a separate area devoted to producing the favorite cutflowers of the family, but annuals such as marigolds, zinnias, poppies, sweet peas, bells of Ireland, celosia, nasturtium, globe amaranth, and larkspur were frequently found in vegetable and cutting gardens of our ancestors. Shasta daisies, phlox, and chrysanthemums were especially popular perennials.

Also popular for cutting are certain shrubs such as forsythia, flowering quince, weigela, and mock orange. Foliage from trees, shrubs, and vines such as magnolia, aspidistra, elaeagnus, English ivy, and ferns is useful in floral designs, and is often found in home landscapes.

Attached is a list of some annuals and perennials that are useful as cutflowers and can be grown in our area. Also attached is information on the care and handling of cut plant materials, floral preservatives, and special treatments.

Care and Handling of
Cut Plant Materials

By Jim Johnson, AAF, AIFD, TMF
Director of the Benz School of Floral Design, Texas A & M University,
and Kimberly Williams, SAIFD.

  1. Harvest garden flowers during the coolest time of day when they are crisp and turgid-early morning or late evening. However, if the flowers have been purchased, remove the wrappings and bindings so the stems can be separated.

  2. Remove lower foliage that would remain underwater in the storage container.

  3. Cut stems with a sharp instrument, making the cuts underwater if possible. This prevents air bubbles from 'clogging' the stems.

  4. Place the materials in clean containers of lukewarm water with preservative added (room temperature up to 100 degrees F.).

  5. Always keep cut material in water while designing. This will prevent wilt due to the loss of water through transpiration.

  6. Always design in clean containers that have been filled with preservative water.

  7. After each use, clean storage containers, vases, liners, and needle point holders with a soapy Clorox7 solution, to kill all bacteria.

  8. Use a floral preservative to provide nutrients and to prevent bacterial growth.

Floral Preservatives

The formula for floral preservatives is simple. It consists of three prime ingredients:

  • Sugar (dextrose, not table sugar). It provides a carbohydrate energy source so flowers can carry on the process of respiration. This helps buds to develop into flowers.

  • Biocide (controls the growth of bacteria). Without it, the addition of sugar to lukewarm water would increase bacteria which would plug the stems and shorten the life of the cut flower.

  • Acidifier (lowers the pH of the water and improves water uptake).

(Commercial floral preservatives may be purchased in liquid or powder form at retail florists. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly as written. A perfectly acceptable home substitute is Listerine mouthwash. (one ounce of Listerine per gallon of water will provide the correct solution).

Special Treatments

Plants vary in composition and growth habit; therefore, care and handling techniques may vary.

  • Avoid using the tender new growth of most plants, as it has not developed a cell structure sturdy enough to keep it from wilting.

  • Short-lived blossoms such as daylilies, hibiscus, iris, lotus, magnolia, and passion flowers should be cut in the bud stage and allowed to open in the finished design.

  • The long standing practice of crushing woody stems is not recommended, because this damages the cell structure and actually impedes water uptake. Make a clean cut instead.

  • Blossoms with tremendous petal surface area compared to their small stem size benefit from being submerged in water at room temperature.

  • Depending on their petal substance and color, blossoms can remain underwater for a few minutes (white and pastel camellias, gardenias, orchids and roses) to a few hours (anthuriums gerberas, hydrangeas, lilacs, dark colored roses and most other tropical flowers). Wilted flowers can be revived by cutting the stem underwater and submerging the entire flower until revived.

Annuals and Perennials Useful as Cutflowers

French Hollyhock Althea zebrina, Malva sylestris zebrina
Snapdragon Antirrhinum majus
Calendula Calendula officinalis
Cockscomb Celosia argentia
Cornflower Centaurea cyanus
Cleome Cleome hasslerana
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus
Feverfew Chrysanthemum parthenium
Hyacinth Bean Dolichos lablab
Bluebell Eustoma grandiflora
Globe Amaranth
(Bachelor Button)
Gomphrena globosa
Baby's Breath Gypsophila paniculata
Sunflower Helianthus annuus
Larkspur Consolida ajaris
Pinks Dianthus plumarius
Candytuft Iberis umbellata
Standing Cypress Ipomopsis rubra
Sweetpea Lathyrus odoratus
Stock Mathiola incana
Statice Limonium spp.
Nasturtium Tropaeolum majus
Marigold Tagetes spp.
Pansy Viola tricolor
Zinnia Zinnia elegans
Yarrow Achillea spp.
Coral Vine Antigonon leptopus
Aster Aster spp.
Ornamental Onions Allium spp.
Peruvian Lily Alstroemeria pulchella
Columbine Aquilegia spp.
Butterfly Weed Asclepias spp.
Aspidistra Aspidistra elatior
Garden Asparagus Asparagus officinalis
Canna Canna x generalis
Chrysanthemum Chrysanthemum x morifolium
Shasta Daisy Chrysanthemum x superbum
Oxeye Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum
Clerodendrum Clerodendrum x speciosum
Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceloata
Crinum Crinum spp.
Montbretia Crocosmia pottsii
Gardens Pinks and Carnations Dianthus spp.
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea
Hardy Ageratum Eupatorium coelestinum
Ferns Dryopteris normalis
Leatherleaf Fern Rumohra adiantiformis
Gerbera Daisy Gerbera jamesonii
Gingers Alpinia, Costus, Curcuma, Hedychium, Zinziber
Gladiolus Gladiolus x hortulanus
Sunflower Helianthus spp.
Amaryllis Hippeastrum spp.
Hyacinth Hyacinthus spp.
Iris Iris spp.
Red Hot Poker Kniphofia uvaria
Snowflake Leucojum aestivum
Liatris, Gayfeather Liatris spp.
Lily Lilium candidum, L. tigrinum, L. formosanum
Spider Lily Lycoris radiata
Purple Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria
Narcissus, Daffodils Narcissus spp.
Penstemon Penstemon spp.
Summer Phlox Phlox paniculata
Obedient Plant Physostegia virginiana
Balloon Flower Platycodon grandiflorus
Tuberose Polianthes tuberosa
Salvia Salvia leucantha
Indigo Spires S. X 'Indigo Spires'
Butterfly Vine Stigmaphyllon ciliatum
Stoke's Aster Stokesia laevis
Mexican Marigold Mint Tagetes lucida
Society Garlic Tulbaghia violacea
Calla Lily Zantedeschia aethiopica

Parts of the above and additional information are from Perennial Garden Color by William C. Welch (Taylor Publishing Co., Dallas)