Take It Slow When You Plant a Cut-Flower Garden

Lily Morgan keeps things fresh.
Lily Morgan keeps things fresh. Courtesy of Lily Farm Fresh.
If you decide to plant a garden that will produce flowers perfect for cutting all summer, local Slow Flowers proponents have some useful advice.

Most cut-flower plants require full sun, which is six to eight hours a day, so plan your site accordingly, advises Gretchen Langston of Blooms, a Fort Collins-based floral farm. More important, though, is the soil. “If we could pick one thing to put all of our energy into for the success of our flowers, it would be the soil,” she says. “Use an organic, weed-free compost to enrich your existing soil. We use almost no other fertilizers at all. Good, healthy soil is everything.”

But water helps, too, and Langston suggests installing drip irrigation, if possible, to conserve water and ensure slow, deep watering of the plants’ root systems.

Picking the right plants is also key. “For selection of flowers, we have a great Cut Flower Garden that includes a beautiful variety of ‘cut and come again’ flowers that give the longest and most amount of flowers in your garden,” says Meg McGuire of Red Daisy Farm. “Some of these flowers include zinnias, salvia, celosia, Queen Anne’s lace, cosmos, strawflower, gomphrena and snapdragons.”

Add some flowering herbs for both body and emotional support, advises Lily Morgan. She grows hemp, chamomile, yarrow, sage, rosemary, mint, nettles, fennel, comfrey, lavender and feverfew at Lily Farm Fresh for farm-to-face skin care and flowering buds. “I’m thinking everyone should be growing echinacea with beautiful purple flowers right now for aid in immunity,” she adds.

Timing is important to the final project. “Letting your homegrown stems bloom out to their full ripe expression will be tempting,” warns Cindy Ollig of the Perfect Petal, “but stepping in and harvesting right before a bloom fully opens gives it longer to expand and linger in your vase.”

Once you’ve cut your flowers, consider how to put them together. “Create a vision for your arrangement,” says Paula Newberry-Arnold, owner of Newberry Brothers floral and design company. “Determine the overall size and shape, and a color or design scheme. Gather your materials and prep the florals by removing any unwanted leaves, especially in the portion of the stem that will be submerged in water. Fill in your arrangement and remember to re-cut the stems for longevity, and completely change the water every two to three days.”

And while bleach is no cure to the pandemic that has created such a demand for cut blooms, it can help make those slow flowers last longer. “Add a small drop of bleach to the water at the start to help prevent bacteria from forming in the container,” suggests Newberry-Arnold. “Don’t overdo it!”

Here's are eight plants perfect for a cut-flower garden in Denver:
click to enlarge GETTY IMAGES
Getty Images

The sunflower is native to the Americas and is cultivated in the southern United States and Mexico. “They grow super-easy in Colorado,” says Lily Morgan. “You just need to water them until they get a good start, and then they take off on their own.”

When to sow: When daytime temperatures reach 60 to 70 degrees
Sunlight needs: 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily
Cut months: May, June, July, August, September
Color: Yellow
Cut length: 12 to 48+ inches

click to enlarge CHAD CHISHOLM
Chad Chisholm
A durable perennial, the blooms signal the onset of spring in many cultures.

When to sow:
Plant bulbs in the fall, two weeks before the first frost
Sunlight needs: Full or partial sun in early spring
Cut month: April, May
Color: Yellow, white, orange, apricot
Cut length: 12 to 24 inches

click to enlarge CHAD CHISHOLM
Chad Chisholm
A long-living perennial, this flowering plant does well in various Rocky Mountain soils and has a stunning, scented bloom.

When to sow: Late September through October
Sunlight exposure: 6 to 8 hours of direct sun
Cut months: May, June, July, August, September
Color: White, pink, red, coral, maroon yellow
Cut length: 12 to 24 inches

click to enlarge CHAD CHISHOLM
Chad Chisholm
One of the fastest, least demanding flowers to grow. The blooms regenerate throughout the summer for long pops of color, but since these are annuals, they need to be replanted yearly. As a bonus, they attract butterflies.
When to sow: Zinnias prefer daytime temperatures around 60 degrees; space out sowing for color all summer.

Sunlight needs: Full, direct sun
Cut months: Month: May, June, July, August, September
Color: Multi-color, orange, pink, purple, red, white, yellow
Cut length: 12 to 18 inches

click to enlarge CHAD CHISHOLM
Chad Chisholm
Also known as sage, this perennial is part of the mint family and commonly has a whimsical, deep-purple flower spear that attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds.

When to sow: Any time after the last frost
Sunlight exposure: Full, direct sun
Cut months: May, June, July, August, September
Color: Blue, green, pink, purple, red, white, yellow
Cut length: 12 to 18 inches

click to enlarge GETTY IMAGES
Getty Images
Part of the daisy family, this drought-tolerant perennial is found in a multitude of landscapes throughout the state. The cone flower attracts butterflies and is touted for its medicinal purposes.

When to sow: In spring after the frost, or in fall before the first frost
Sunlight needs: 4+ hours of full, direct sun
Cut months: May, June, July, August, September
Color: Red, gold, rose, pink, coral, orange, purple, white
Cut length: 12 to 18 inches

click to enlarge GETTY IMAGES
Getty Images
The quirky name comes from the dragon-shaped face of the blooms. This perennial is native to rocky areas throughout Colorado.

When to sow: Start seeds indoors, then plant after the last frost. They are slow growers!
Sunlight needs: Partial shade to full sun
Cut months: May, June, July, August, September
Color: White, yellow, pink, red, orange, peach, purple, violet
Cut length: 6 inches

click to enlarge CHAD CHISHOLM
Chad Chisholm
One of the most popular signals of spring, the showy tulip comes in many colors.
When to sow: The bulb must be planted before the first frost in fall, since the plant needs at least fourteen weeks of chilly weather to produce spring flowers.

Sunlight needs: Partial shade to full sun
Cut months: April, May, June
Color: White, yellow, pink, red, orange, peach, purple, multi-color
Cut length: 4 to 28 inches

Resources for a Cut-Flower Garden:

Lily Farm Fresh Organics and Event Center
Lily Morgan grows blooms and herbs in Weld County for her organic skin care company, Lily Farm Fresh Organics, the world’s first USDA-certified organic grower for skin care. During her 35-year tenure, she’s seen her garden beds go from a fifteen-acre farm in Henderson to an eighty-acre spread directly across the street from the Wildlife Sanctuary in Keenesburg, with a farm, processing facility, event center, hands-on educational space and resources for those who want to grow their own herbs.

A cut-flower grower, the Fort Collins-based Blooms supplies local floral and event designers with flowers and fillers. Specialties include spring bulbs, peonies, woodies, grasses and annuals, as well as decorative autumn products such as ornamental corn, pumpkins, squash and gourds. While you can find Blooms flowers at regional farmers’ markets, the farm also offers a seasonal flower subscription, as well as curbside pick-up. Informative flower and agriculture classes will return with social-distancing measures this summer.

Red Daisy Farm
This family-owned and -operated flower farm in Brighton specializes in cut peonies but has 2,500 other flowers each year. From a one-acre field, Red Daisy has grown into a multi-acre spread, with a fresh, cut-flower CSA that sold out in its inaugural year. The farm supplies flowers to local event and wedding planners, but customers can make appointments for curbside pick-up of over two dozen local varieties, including garden roses, alliums, foliage, woody perennials, dahlias and zinnias.

Newberry Brothers
A local, family-owned floral and design business, Newberry Brothers got its start in a Cherry Creek greenhouse 75 years ago. It’s now located in Glendale, and focuses on sourcing local flowers and greenery from Colorado farmers and markets as the growing seasons allow, then using them for special events and occasions. During the pandemic, Newberry is creating yard decor for drive-by celebrations and offering curbside pick-up and no-contact delivery, as well as weekly and monthly flower memberships.

The Perfect Petal
This Denver-based floral operation focuses entirely on local blooms that change as the season expands. They begin with tulips and daffodils, and then peonies arrive along with ranunculus; the picks culminate with dahlias and a riot of foliage. While the downtown location is currently closed, the Highland shop offers curbside pick-up and delivery, and had a record Mother’s Day.
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