From seed to bouquet, grow your own cut flowers

You don’t need a lot of space or a big budget to grow and enjoy garden-fresh bouquets. Simply fill in a few vacant spaces, add an extra row in flower beds, or fill a container with easy-care flowers from seed.

You’ll kick off the season and enjoy earlier blooms by starting some of the seeds indoors to transfer to the garden once the danger of frost has passed. If you’re not in a rush, want to stretch your budget and extend the flowering time of your garden, sow a few seeds directly in the garden. Just follow the instructions on the seed packet.

Annual flowers are known for their all-season flowering and long vase life. You’ll need to plant annuals each year, but you may decide that the continued flowering is worth it. By supplementing them with perennial flowers and bulbs, you need to plant fewer annuals each year for a season filled with colorful, garden-fresh bouquets.

Here are some easy-care annual flowers that you can start from seed indoors or directly in the garden.

Sow zinnia seeds indoors four weeks before the last spring frost or sow them directly in the garden. Either way, you’ll have flowers about eight weeks after planting. Grow taller varieties like Benary’s Giant for long stems, Queeny Lime Orange or Zowie! Yellow Flame for eye-catching color, or Profusion and Zahara for small, daisy-like blooms on compact, mildew-resistant plants in your low-maintenance cut flower garden.

Like zinnias, cosmos make superb cut flowers, and both tolerate heat and drought in the garden. Start cosmos seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last spring frost or sow directly in the garden. The fine foliage adds texture to the garden and the white, pink or lavender flowers brighten up the mid-summer through fall garden. Plant tall varieties in mass to eliminate the need for staking, or grow shorter varieties like Sonata and Cosmic. Once you have planted cosmos in the garden, you can be rewarded with voluntary seedlings in subsequent years.

Marigolds have long been garden favorites, but they also make superb cut flowers. Like zinnias, you can start them indoors or sow directly in the garden and have flowers in about eight weeks. Include a variety of single, double, large, and small blooms to create a marigold-only arrangement or mix and match with other blooms. The Gem series of marigolds features lacy, citrus-scented leaves and small, single blooms all summer long. Not only are these 12 inch tall plants great in arrangements, but the flowers are edible and attract beneficial insects to your garden.

Include calendula, another edible flower, in your garden and arrangements. Plant seeds directly in the garden from fall through spring when growing in the Deep South, Gulf, and Pacific Coast regions. Those in other regions can plant seeds directly in the garden after the danger of severe frost has passed. Also known as pot marigolds, these plants thrive in cooler temperatures. If plants wilt as temperatures rise, cut them back, continue watering as needed, and watch for new blooms when the weather turns cold. These will reseed easily, so watch for welcome seedlings the following year.

Sunflowers make dramatic statements in the garden and flower vase. 2022 All-America Selections winner Concert Bell grows 10-12 flowers on each stem. You will have a ready-to-use bouquet with each stem removed. The Suncredible yellow sunflower produces four-inch blooms on plants two to three feet tall. Plants continue to flower throughout the season even if you don’t remove spent flowers.

Keep the flowers coming to enjoy in the garden and arrangements with regular picking. The more you pick, the more flowers you will have. Share extras with friends, neighbors or senior centers. Studies at Rutgers University have shown that cut flowers immediately increase happiness and also have a long-term positive impact on the mood of the recipient.

Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including “The Midwest Gardener’s Handbook” and “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. His website is melindamyers.com.

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