Cut flowers are a sure win to brighten your home and beautify the outdoors. If you have a garden, you can easily grow your own flowers while taking time to relax and enjoy their outdoor beauty or bring them inside to create an eye-catching floral arrangement.

Flower garden basics

Most flowers (annuals, perennials & biennials) need full sun, rich well-drained soil and access to water. If appearance is a concern, you can always tuck your flower garden in an out-of-the-way spot. Here’s a few layout ideas:

• Plant rows laid out like a vegetable garden.

• Plan a formal design with varying patterns.

• Try an informal design with curving lines and groupings of color.

• Plant in raised beds. 

Whatever design is selected, add in paths to allow access for maintenance and cutting in and around flowering plants. Mulch paths to reduce soil compaction and weeds. Consider grouping plants according to their cultural needs (e.g., water, soil, light, etc.). Place tall plants in the back of the garden, while in the center if planting in an island bed. For ease, avoid intermingling annuals with perennials by placing them separately.

What to plant

Annuals are short-lived but have colorful flowers that bloom continuously until frost if kept up by deadheading. Annuals enable you to experiment and try something new every year. Typically, annuals are started from seed, while some are purchased as transplants. While annuals germinate and die within one year, some will self seed for next year’s crop! In addition to annuals, many flower enthusiasts choose perennials as they bloom at different times of the season, or have long bloom times. Staggered plantings of summer bulbs is a great option for observing longer bloom times in the flower beds.

Choose plants with a variety of colors, textures, shapes, sizes and fragrance. Use large daring flowers, tall spikes, and fascinating foliage. Consider varieties with relatively long stems rather than small. When selecting flowers for fragrance, a little scent is nice in the garden but may be overpowering indoors. When looking for floral arrangement material, think “outside the box” using flowers, berries, and foliage from trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses.

Care of the flower garden

Remember to maintain suitable moisture and weed control in flower beds. Remove fading blooms to prevent plants from setting seed and encourage more blooms. Taller plants may need to be staked or supported. Amend soils with organic matter before planting and consider applying additional fertilizer to support heavy bloom. Use a balanced fertilizer, but keep in mind that too much nitrogen may inhibit flowering. To minimize insect and disease issues, keep plants healthy, provide good air circulation and remove any diseased plants or debris.

Tips for bringing flowers inside

A great deal of information on cutting, arranging and helping flowers last longer can be found online. The following tips are just a few:

• Use sharp clean tools.

• Cut in early morning or evening.

• Cut stem just above bud or node, and place flowers in a bucket of tepid water as you cut them.

• Cut long stems, as you can shorten them later.

• Cut when flower is half open and showing color.

• Condition flowers by standing loosely in water for several hours before arranging.

• Recut stems underwater at an angle before placing in vase.

• Use a variety of sizes and styles of containers as a vase.

• Change water when it becomes cloudy, and recut stems occasionally.

A few suggestions for your flower garden

Annuals - Bachelor’s Button, Calendula, Celosia, Cleome, Cosmos, Dahlia, Gladiolus, Globe Amaranth, Larkspur, Salvia, Snapdragon, Strawflower, Sunflower (smaller varieties), Verbena bonariensis, Zinnia

Perennials - Allium, Astilbe, Baby’s Breath, Blackeyed Susan, Bleeding Heart, Chrysanthemum, Columbine, Coneflower, Coral Bells, Daffodil, Hellebore, Hosta, Iris, Lavender, Lily (Asiatic & Oriental), Peony, Phlox, Poppy, Salvia, Sedum, Shasta Daisy, Tulip

Foliage - Artemisia, Coleus, Ferns, Flowering Cabbage & Kale

Woody Plants - Butterfly Bush, Dogwood, Flowering Cherry & Plum, Forsythia, Hydrangea, Lilac, Pussywillow, Redbud, Rose

Christine Bredenkamp is NCSU Horticulture Extension Agent, Swain & Jackson counties.