Congratulations! You’ve decided to start an organic cut flower garden (or any garden)! Gardening is truly one of the most fulfilling and therapeutic hobbies I have ever had and I hope to one day turn it into a full-time business. My dreams are big but I started small, just a few little plots in my yard filled with colorful blooms I can use throughout the season. It sounds more daunting that it is, I promise you. It all starts with the right plan, some elbow grease and the willingness to learn from your mistakes and keep going!
For a small garden like mine, it usually takes me a few afternoons to set the plan. Although there is much to consider, I try to be as thorough as possible when designing and planning. The more time spent up front, the better the results! Ideally, I do this in the dead of winter (December/January) so I have ample time to get my seeds ordered and work out any kinks. However, life usually happens (especially when you have kids!) and it’s totally ok to make your plan in the early Spring as well!
Starting a vegetable garden? These tips can also be fully applied to growing veggies!
Here are my nine easy-to-follow steps to planning an organic cut flower garden for beginners!
1. Set Your Goals & Assess Your Space
There are a few factors I like to consider and questions I ask myself when first sitting down to set my plan.
- What are your goals for the garden? Is this strictly for your own pleasure? Are you wanting to give flowers to friends and neighbors? Are you a farmer trying to sell market bouquets? These are the very first questions to consider when coming up with your plan because your answers will determine other cascading factors.
- How much space is available/how big would you like your garden to be? This is also key in figuring out your plan, it will determine how many plants you can (or want to) physically fit.
2. Choose Your Location Wisely
Growing cut flowers (and vegetables) requires ample sunlight; the bare minimum is 6 hours of hot, direct sun, but 8-10 is best. Ideally, your garden will also be away from standing water and any large root systems as these can hinder the growth of your flowers.
Also, consider proximity to a water source – make sure your garden is easily reached by a hose so you can water your plants!
3. Get Your Soil Tested* for your organic cut flower garden
*Skip this step if you are doing raised beds.
If you haven’t already, get a soil test done once you’ve picked your exact location. It sounds daunting but the information you can gather from knowing exactly what you’re starting with is golden. You will have a much better idea of what is going on underneath the surface and what (if any) problems need fixing.
Depending on the lab you send it to, this test usually costs around $50 and will provide a comprehensive analysis of your garden’s soil. This includes trace minerals your soil might be lacking and, the best part is they give you recommendations on what types of amendments you can add to remedy any problems!
To collect the sample use a large spade to dig down roughly one foot below the surface. Remove a few tablespoons from the bottom of the whole and place them into a quart-size ball jar. Repeat the process in several other locations around your entire plot so you get samples from multiple different locations, until your jar is full. Label the jar clearly (or according to the specific lab’s requirements) and if you have multiple beds make sure to note to yourself as exact as you can where each jar was sampled.
Keep in mind getting a soil test done takes about two weeks. I send mine to the Cornell University Cooperative Extension but your state might have a more local lab. UMASS Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab is a great one that takes samples from all over the country.
4. Decide Your Design & Plant Spacing
First, I like to grab some graph paper and draw out my design. I am not artistically inclined (at all haha) so a simple birdseye view drawing suffices. I just want to start visualizing, seeing which plants I want to put where and what will make the most sense. You can be as detailed as you’d like with measurements and plant varieties – have fun with it!
Tip: Use a pencil, if you’re anything like me you’ll change your mind 29803 times before you’re done!
As far as plant spacing I am a big supporter of maximizing small spaces. That means I cut in half whatever the seed packet or plant ticket suggests. Most flowers grow wonderfully in half the space! I usually use 6″x6″ or 9″x9″ for my flowers. I learned this technique from my flower-farming mentor, Erin, of Floret Flower Farm out in Skagit Valley, WA. If you haven’t already you have to grab her book, Cut Flower Garden, it is my BIBLE when it comes to flower gardening and has hundreds of pages of invaluable information.
You can snag it RIGHT HERE, from Amazon! I also highly recommend signing up for her newsletter and following her blog!
5. Define Your Site
Next, physically lay out your site. This is exciting because the garden is starting to come to life!
Mark it out with stakes and flags if you are planting directly in the ground, or, if you’re making raised beds, check out my post HERE for a quick and affordable tutorial!
6. Order Seeds
This step is a hard one to place in an exact order, so do what works for you! Ideally, you want to order seeds during the winter but it’s important to have your plan set before you start spending money on seeds. Each year I get sucked down the rabbit hole and tempted by every new variety on the market, the beautiful photos of blooms get me every time! But having a plan in place first will definitely help reel you back in.
You can definitely wait until the last frost date to purchase seedlings/small plants but starting your garden from seed will save a bunch of money. It’s also super rewarding to watch something grow from basically nothing (mamas, you know what I mean!).
My suggestions for easy first-time annuals from seed? Zinnias, Cosmos, Sunflowers, Basil, and gomphrena. These are by far the easiest I’ve found from my experience but the world is your oyster! Try whatever you’d like! Its a trial and error process for sure but there is so much information out there so just make sure you do your research. The book I referenced above, has a ton of great, user-friendly info on hundreds of flower varieties, including how to start them from seed!
My favorite places to buy seeds? You can start at your local garden center, I love being able to actually talk to a staff member and ask questions. But here are my favorite online sources:
- Floret Flower – For Heirloom and rare but absolutely BEAUTIFUL flower seed varieties
- Renee’s Garden – My favorite for organic and heirloom veggie seeds
- Johnny’s – Reliable, tested varieties and great mixes for beginners. They offer both flower and veggie seeds as well as tools, supplies and tons of info!
- Eden Brothers – For bulbs and tubers like Gladiolus and dahlias
7. Amend Your Soil & Prep Beds
Here are my tips/reminders for amending your soil to get it where it needs to be:
- First, remember everything begins and ends with soil, you get what you give. Flowers and veggie plants vigorously suck the nutrients out of the soil so I can’t stress enough that your soil has to be healthy and nutrient dense from the start.
- Utilize compost – can’t speak highly enough of this stuff! Compost is king! It improves soil structure, provides essential nutrients and enhances fertility. It makes sandy soil retain water better and it makes clay soil drain better, like magic! You can find compost at your local garden center, either by the bag or by the yard.
- Lucky for you if you got your soil tested! You can follow their super helpful recommendations on exactly what to do to amend your soil.
- I amend our soil just before we plant in the early spring by mixing in compost – about 4 bags per 4’x8′ bed. But this is also a task you could do the leg work for in Autumn. After cleaning out your beds in the fall get a head start for next year by adding that compost or simply the fallen leaves that are starting to rot.
- Consider adding beneficial nematodes and earth worm castings. Both carry essential nutrients to keep your soil strong AND they deter harmful pests that could come to attack your plants later in the season!
8. Watering & Organic Weed Management Plan
Before actually planting you’re going to want to think about your plan for watering and weed management.
Irrigation or even soaker hoses are a great option for two reasons – less work for you (YES!) and more moisture delivered directly too the plants’ roots/less water on the foliage. They are sometimes a pain to set up and can get clogged easily, especially in clay soils but they are definitely worth considering!
Watering Tip: Water in the morning! Plants like to hydrate throughout the hot, sunny days (much like humans!). Watering at night can cause rot and invite harmful fungi and diseases!
Whether you are using irrigation, a hose, a sprinkler or watering can just make sure you have your plan set.
As for organic weed management, my recommendations depend on garden size. Because we grow organically we do not use harmful chemicals in our garden. Our garden is relatively small so I weed by hand or use my good old collinear hoe to physically remove them. Remember, you’ll probably have to weed weekly this way!
Mulching is another great organic method for weed suppression in any size bed. Types of mulch include traditional, rotted leaves, straw or dried grass. Note that old hay is not good for mulch because it may harbor weed seeds.
9. Planting Time!
Yay! Time to plant and watch your garden flourish! Here are my quick tips for planting:
- A butter knife works great for digging in small seedlings or use a small hand trowel for digging in bigger plants.
- After planting, water seedlings in deeply to avoid shock from the transplanting and sprinkle holes with some mycorrhizal fungi. It’s a beneficial combination of fungi that helps plants root and physically strengthens their root systems.
- Apply a weekly application of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion for the first 4-6 weeks (until the plants look lush, green, bushy and healthy). Our favorite brand for seaweed fertilizer and fish emulsion is Neptune’s Harvest, just follow the instructions on the labels.
- We also apply compost tea once a month, this stuff is a game changer.
My last reminder… think of you plants as living, breathing life. Similarly to humans and animals, the better the plants are cared for in the beginning the better they’ll be for life.
10 Easiest Cut Flowers for Beginners
These babies grow prolifically from seed/tuber without much effort so as a beginner I would definitely jump in and try your hand with these picks!
- Herbs like sage, lavender and basil!
Congratulations, you made it to the end of the post! Please comment or email with any questions and good luck with your organic cut flower garden or vegetable garden!
Stay tuned for more of my gardening posts, I would love to hear if YOU have specific questions on planning your garden or ideas for future garden-related posts! Some ideas I’ve had are Support Systems for Flowers, Post-Harvest Flower Care, and My Favorite Farmer-Florist Tools – the possibilities are endless so I’d love to know what YOU want to see!
Recommended Book: Cut Flower Garden, Erin Benzakein
Photo Credit: My Motherhood Story
Photo Shoot Location: Tiny Hearts Farm
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