A veteran flower farmer shares her go-to picks for color, texture and variety.
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Gretel and Steve Adams in lisianthus house at Sunny Meadows Flower Farm.
Gretel and Steve, her husband and business partner, in the butterfly ranunculus house.
| Credit: Courtesy of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm

Dream of stepping outside your back door to gather bouquets of blooms? Make it a reality this summer by carving out a sunny corner to plant your own cutting garden. You'll reap plenty of flower bouquets to brighten your home and share with others. Gretel Adams, co-owner of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm, is a veteran flower farmer with one of the nation's largest urban flower farms. For 16 years, she and her husband Steve have grown thousands of cut flowers on their 10-acre farm near downtown Columbus and now share their expertise with new flower growers around the country. Here, Gretel shares her favorite cut flowers for home gardeners, including several annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs.

celosia celway terracotta
Credit: Courtesy of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm

Celosia

These annual plants make exceptional cut flowers thanks to their plume and cockscomb shapes, velvety texture and rich colors. They thrive in hot weather, so wait to put plants in the garden until outdoor daytime temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees.

Tip: The best time of day to harvest flowers is in the morning when temperatures are cool and plants are fully hydrated.

Zinnia Benary Giant Mix Bloom
Credit: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Zinnias

Zinnias explode in rainbows of color all summer long, and they are one of the easiest annual cut flowers to grow (a win-win!). Simply plant seeds directly in the garden bed after the last spring frost. 

Gretel loves Benary's Giant Series for their mostly double varieties, garden vigor and long vase life. She recommends planting them in succession—sowing seeds every week or so for a few weeks—to ensure a long season of blooms well into the fall. Don't sweat it if zinnia leaves develop powdery mildew late in the season; the leaves can easily be stripped before arranging the cut flowers in a vase.

Tip: Harvest zinnias and other annual flowers frequently to encourage more blooms.

Cosmos-'Psyche-White'-2
Credit: Courtesy of Burpee.com

Cosmos

Cosmos is another annual flower that's easy to grow from seed and produces an abundance of blooms. Lucky for gardeners, there are several new cultivars to try, like frilly petaled ones, doubles and even fluted cupcake wrapper-like blooms. 'Psycho White' (pictured here) is a favorite at Sunny Meadows Flower Farm.

Cut sunflowers for arrangement
Credit: Teresa Woodard

Sunflowers

Sensational blooms and surprising hues make these familiar annual flowers a Midwest favorite. They come in a variety of sizes, from two-foot dwarfs to 16-foot mammoths, and shapes include single, double and fluffy semidouble flower heads.

Sunflowers are easy to grow from seeds. Plant after the last spring frost and harvest flowers in July and August. Gretel says Sunny Meadows grows single stem, pollenless varieties like the ProCut series.

Tip: Cut blooms while they are still tight and with petals just starting to open.

AMARANTHUS CRUENTUS HOT BISCUITS
Credit: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Amaranth

With their fluffy spikes and trailing forms, these annuals add drama to floral bouquets. Gretel says the farm's favorites include 'Hot Biscuits' (pictured here) and Velvet Curtains, which feature crimson spires and purple-red foliage. Direct sow amaranth seeds in the garden after the last spring frost. They prefer hot weather and grow quickly in the summer heat.

Tip: Plant plume-type amaranths close together (3-6") to control their robust growth and encourage smaller, more usable stems.

Gomphrena_Qis_Red_Bloom
Credit: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Gomphrena

In later summer, gomphrena—or globe amaranth—are loaded with cheerful round flowers in a variety of colors. Annual transplants are readily available at most garden centers. Plant them in full sun and wait for them to explode with blooms in the hottest days of summer.

Tip: Gomphrena, as well as amaranth and celosia, make wonderful dried cut flowers. Once cut, tie flowers in bundles and hang upside down in a warm, dry place (like in an attic or garage, or near the furnace). 

Peony Paeonia-Dr.-Alexander-Fleming
Credit: Courtesy of Walters Gardens

Peonies

These long-living perennials make prized cut flowers for spring brides. They thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Plant them 2 to 3 feet apart, keeping the crown of the roots even with the soil surface. Wait at least two years, ideally three, to cut blooms typically around Memorial Day.

'Dr. Alexander Fleming' (pictured here) is an all-time favorite heirloom variety with fragrant double flowers. To maximize peonies' vase life, pick them just as their buds are starting to open and soft to squeeze, or as Gretel calls it, "the fluffy marshmallow stage."

Pink and purple dahlia
Credit: Courtesy of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm

Dahlias

Dahlias are grown from tubers and known for their showy, late-season blooms. Gretel prefers ball-shaped dahlias, like these Jowey Winnie (pink) and Downham Royal (burgundy) dahlias, for their long vase life (7-10 days). Larger dinner-plate-sized dahlias are also stunners but have a shorter vase life (only 3-5 days).

Plant dahlia tubers after the last threat of frost and add stakes to later support their stems and heavy blooms. Like most cut flowers, they thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Dig up tubers at the end of the season, store in a dry place over winter and replant in spring. Get more dahlia care advice here. 

Lisianthus assortment 2019
Credit: Courtesy of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm

Lisianthus

Gretel says lisianthus are a beautiful substitute for roses—and they last almost two weeks in a vase! They can be tough to grow from seed, so look for ready-grown annual and perennial lisianthus plants at your local garden center.

Tip: Water lisianthus and other cut flowers from the base of the plant and avoid getting the flowers wet. This helps prevent diseases and ensures prettier blooms.

Eucalyptus-'Gunii-Silverdrop'
Credit: Courtesy of Burpee.com

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus is beloved for its silvery-blue foliage that enhances floral bouquets. And thanks to its rising popularity, many garden centers are now selling ready-grown eucalyptus plants. Gretel's favorites include 'Silver Drop' (shown here) and 'Baby Blue'.

Tip: When growing eucalyptus in the garden, patience is key. Eucalyptus grows slow and won't be ready to cut until August.

Dusty Miller Quicksilver plant
Credit: Courtesy of Ball Horticultural Company

Dusty Miller

With its lacy silvery foilage, this old-time annual is gaining renewed attention as a cut-flower filler. Gretel recommends 'Candicans' and 'New Look' that grow tall enough to use in bouquets. Remove yellow flowers to encourage more foliage growth.

Limelight Prime Hydrangea
Credit: Courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangeas

Gretel says 'Tardiva' and 'Limelight' panicle varieties are their top sellers, beloved for their late-season conical clusters of blooms. Plant these flowering shrubs in a cutting garden or in landscape beds in full sun (6 or more hours of sunlight). Harvest blooms when they reach the desired color, either the early chartreuse color or later pink and red tones. Strip leaves from stems before arranging to minimize wilting.

Both fresh and dried hydrangea blooms make excellent cut flowers. To dry flowers, place fresh stems in a bucket or vase with an inch of water; do not replace the water. Flowers will dry straight and fluffy.