If you grow hydrangea, spirea, flowering quince, or forsythia in your garden, your vases will overflow with beautiful blooms.
Just as garden-to-table meals satisfy veggie growers, garden-to-vase floral arrangements delight gardeners. They come away with the satisfaction of harvesting, arranging, and relishing the colors, textures, and fragrance of flowers grown at home.
Creating a cutting garden may seem daunting, but there’s a simple solution for growing beautiful blooms without planting hundreds of seeds or dozens of bulbs: add flowering shrubs to your landscape.
Benefits of Growing Shrubs for a Cutting Garden
A beautiful addition to gardens, flowering shrubs offer gorgeous blooms and foliage for floral arrangements without leaving holes in the landscape when harvesting the flowers. Professional growers refer to shrubs affectionately as “woodies,” or woody ornamentals. Many parts of woodies, including shrubs and trees, can be used in floral arrangements: flowering branches, twigs, cones, berries, and even colorful foliage all add interest to your own unique, personal bouquets.
Unlike cutting gardens that rely on labor- and time-intensive seed sowing and bulb planting each year, adding flowering shrubs to the garden provides ongoing harvests for years with little effort. While the initial investment may be greater than growing flowers from seed, over time your budget (and back) will thank you, as the shrubs continue to flourish and produce beautiful blooms each year.
Long-lasting ornamental shrubs require little maintenance, although many woodies benefit from pruning right after flowering. By cutting flowers for use in bouquets, you’re a step ahead of the maintenance schedule!
Some shrubs bloom on old wood, so it’s important to know the pruning needs and flowering habits of your shrubs. The many types and cultivars of hydrangeas often perplex gardeners when pruning. Take a look here to know when to prune.
Which flowering shrub is best for your cutting garden?
With literally thousands of flowering shrubs available, how do you know which is best for your cutting garden? Part of the decision is personal preference: select shrubs with flowers that you love. Perhaps lilacs remind you of the bouquets your mom placed on the kitchen table, snipped from the large backyard hedges. Or maybe you adore the timeless elegance of red roses. Choose shrubs that speak to you—but make sure they’ll grow in your area. Know your USDA hardiness zone, and check the shrubs’ requirements before you buy. (Your local nurseries and garden centers should carry shrubs that work well in your area, but don’t be afraid to ask! If ordering online, most retailers list USDA hardiness zones for each plant.)
When creating your cutting garden, you’ll want beautiful flowers, of course, but also consider foliage and other “fillers” for your flower arrangements. Add elements that provide year-round options for your vases, like forsythia branches for forcing or evergreen foliage for winter arrangements. The options are endless!
To get you started on your garden-to-vase journey, we’ve featured some favorite shrubs which are easy to incorporate into your landscape for a long season of cut flowers.
The Star of Floral Arrangements: Roses
But where do you begin? The options can be overwhelming. From old-world heirloom roses to beautifully formed hybrid tea roses to grandiflora and floribunda roses, you’ll find 300 species and tens of thousands of cultivars when searching for roses. So many choices!
Roses require full sun for best health and most prolific blooms. Start by selecting your favorite color palette and form. Do you love soft, romantic colors, like cream and pink, or do you prefer vivid varieties in bright orange and yellow? Do you adore cabbage roses, with heavy heads filled with hundreds of overlapping petals, or do you like the clean, elegant form of tea roses? Once you narrow down your aesthetic preferences, consider your time commitment. Some roses require higher maintenance than others, but all roses will need a bit of attention to look their best and produce perfect blooms for cutting. Check your plants frequently for pests, especially aphids and Japanese beetles, which can quickly decimate your pretty blooms.
If pests are a problem on your roses, try a strong spray of water to remove them. For a severe infestation, spray the plant with insecticidal soap. For Japanese beetles, fill a bucket with soapy water. Hand-pick the beetles and discard them in the bucket.
Also Starring in Landscapes and Vases: Hydrangeas
While roses top the list of popular cut flowers, hydrangeas follow close behind. From big, blue mopheads to elegant, tapering oakleaf, hydrangeas look stunning not only in the landscape but also in the vase. Best of all, these beauties require minimal care. With “hydra” in the name, obviously, consistent watering is important to keep hydrangeas looking their best. But the wide range of colors, shapes, and sizes means that you’ll find cultivars suited to your preferences.
Remember, too, that soil affects the flower color of some hydrangeas, like Hydrangea macrophylla. While you might purchase a hydrangea that’s pink in the nursery pot, the blooms may ultimately turn blue if your soil is acidic, with a pH of 5.5 or lower.
With so many hydrangeas to choose from, where do you begin?
The four most popular types of hydrangeas for cut flowers can be found in this “Year of the Hydrangea” article.
The woody stems of trees and shrubs do not take up water when cut as easily as herbaceous plants. When cutting the stem, use pruners that will give a sharp clean cut like those from Corona Tools. Damaged stems can’t ‘drink’ enough water and will die quickly. Remove all foliage that will be under the water line to keep the water cleaner.
With beautiful foliage and fabulous, continuous blooms, hydrangeas make an ideal addition to the landscape—and your vase. Don’t worry if you garden in a small space. New compact cultivars for small-space gardens mean that you don’t need a large landscape to enjoy the beautiful blooms in floral arrangements.
Up-and-Coming Stars for a Cut Flower Garden
When researching which shrubs to add to your cut flower garden, consider the following:
Bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonesis)
Masses of pretty, brilliant blue blooms make this a wonderful addition to landscapes, but the frilly flowers look lovely in bouquets, too. Not only do they add gorgeous color, but the blooms also create interesting texture in arrangements. “Sapphire Surf™ Bluebeard is one of my favorites because it brings that cool color tone to a late-season garden,” says McEnaney. “It’s a fabulous way to offer a contrasting color to the more standard orange, yellows, and reds of late summer and fall. The mass of blooms and fabulous color from Sapphire Surf™ make it a fabulous cut flower garden selection.”
Lilac (Syringa spp.)
Romantics love the heady fragrance of lilacs. With more than 2,000 cultivars of the old-fashioned common lilac, it’s challenging to pick just one for your cutting garden. While notoriously difficult for southern growers, newer species give lilac lovers in zone 8 the chance to enjoy these beauties.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus Occidentalis)
Flowers for a cutting garden often are chosen for color and fragrance. Choosing for form and texture make an ordinary arrangement extraordinary. With unique, round flower heads, buttonbush makes an excellent addition to vases. “While this may not be first on your mind when choosing plants for a cut flower garden,” says McEnaney, “Fiber Optics® Buttonbush has a pincushion-like flower followed by a fantastic seed capsule that brings incredible texture to a cut arrangement.” Plus, pollinators adore this shrub in the landscape—a perfect, multipurpose plant.
Perfectly pretty as a “thriller” in arrangements when it’s in full bloom, forsythia is an excellent late-winter/early spring mood-booster. Snip several branches when they’ve begun to bud and bring them inside to “force” them into flowering. You’ll love the bright burst of cheer they add to cold, gray days.
Dogwood (Cornus alba)
With charming white blooms that grace the spring garden, dogwood makes an exceptional addition to cutting gardens. “When planning for a cutting garden, make sure to think of all four seasons!” says McEnaney. “Not only does Neon Burst™ Dogwood have fabulous white spring flowers against chartreuse foliage, but the winter red stems are a standout. Any plant that can give you multi-season interest deserves a place in a cutting garden.”
Ninebark, willow, viburnum, spirea, flowering quince, hollies…
You’ll find endless options for your cutting garden to keep your vases filled with beautiful blooms and fabulous foliage throughout the seasons. Enjoy your garden-to-vase journey, whether you share bouquets with friends or use cut flowers to fill your home with beauty.
“This post is provided as an educational/inspirational service of the National Garden Bureau and our members. Please credit and link to National Garden Bureau and author member when using all or parts of this article.”
I’m eager to embrace the use of shrub stems in arrangements, but have had mixed results with regard to stamina of the cut branches in the vase. Lilacs are notoriously short-lived and hydrangeas are unpredictable: some are fine, others wilt within 30 minutes. Weigela, deutzia, spirea have done well. Any advice other than “sharp cuts” which all received on the diagonal and under water?
Yes, a clean-cut is always important for all shrubs and flowers. During the hot weather, it is helpful to cut flowers in the morning and place them directly into a bucket of water directly in the garden. Remember, the stems are dirty, so dipping in a diluted bleach solution to clean them before adding to your designs will be helpful. Fresh flower food is also recommended. For Hydrangeas, one technique that has been suggested is to place the stem in boiling water for 30 seconds to remove the sticky substance and clean the stems.
What are the down sides or issues with a shrub cutting garden? Space planning? What’s the effect on the cuts taken from these plants and how can you take the cuttings to ensure that there will be more shoots and stems the next year?
There really aren’t any downsides or issues with a shrub-cutting garden except deciding which shrubs to add since there are so many to choose from. The space planning would depend on the flowering shrubs you add to your garden. You would not want the shrubs to close together which might impede flowering. Often for many flowering shrubs, it is recommended to do yearly maintenance, therefore by cutting the flowers when they are in bloom, you will also be pruning and shaping the shrubs.