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Cut Flowers Yield Gardening Rewards
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Harvesting flowers is as much fun as picking tomatoes. Many of us began our flower design efforts as children when we picked dandelions or other wildflowers for mom.
Many of our ancestors had special sites for cutting flowers. I suppose they not only took time to smell the roses, but brought them indoors for enjoyment.
The garden dedicated to cutting was usually behind the house and perhaps enclosed in a picket fence. When the flowers were cut, their removal did not detract from the overall landscape.
Today most of us don't have room for a cutting garden, but we can create an integrated garden. In other words we can pack favorite cut flowers in the mixed border. Group perennials and annuals for cutting in with other annuals and perennials for color. Add woody evergreens to give year-round appeal.
Plant in bold drifts, using several plants together so they appear as a single group when they mature.
When choosing flowers, start with your favorites and those that have proven their adaptability for the climates of the South. Zinnias are among the best with bold colors and flowers shapes to please just about anyone.
Annuals or double-flowered marigolds like Discovery, Voyager, Antigua and Marvel are nice choices.
Perennials' increased popularity offers us some of the best cut flowers. You can't beat the purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, garden phlox or liatris.
Trees and shrubs also can be important cut flowers. The buddleia or butterfly bush is gaining recognition as a cut flower. Once cut, it flushes with a new set of blooms. The vitex or lilac chaste tree gives excellent blue cut flowers.
The real queen of cut flowers is the rose. Long stem hybrid teas like French Perfume, Mister Lincoln or Perfect Moment make beautiful cut arrangements, as do antique roses.
Cut flowers are the reward of working the soil, so you want to get the most of those flowers in the vase. Conditioning these flowers before placing in the vase can lengthen their life.
Most flowers like to be conditioned in 100 to 110 degree water. The warm water is taken quickly into the stems. Hot water works for tree and shrub cuttings, and cool water for ferns and spring-flowering bulbs. Experiment some with your flowers.
Some flowers wilt very easily, but there is a little trick that will surprise you with how well it works.
I fill an old aquarium with the proper temperature water and cover it with a board having several 3/4 inch holes. A large pickle jar covered by cardboard with holes also works. Place the flowers through the holes, resting the petals on the board. The petals flatten out and the stems regain their stiffness.
Floral preservatives bought at garden centers and florists also can lengthen your vase life.
With roses, don't forget that when you harvest, you are actually pruning for the next flush of flowers and for the shape and health of the plant. Cut back to a bud with five to seven leaflets and when possible, choose a bud facing outward.
Strip the rose of its foliage and thorns and condition in warm water. Re-cut the stem another inch from the base while holding under water.
Cut flowers are the reward of gardening, so choose the right flowers and condition them for the vase, and their time of enjoyment will be extended.