Gardening in Southwest NM | Growing a Cut Flower Garden |

As everything escalates in price, many of us are looking for ways to make do, grow our own, or adapt to all the shortages and changes. Bringing some bright, colorful flowers from the garden lifts my spirits without crunching the budget.

It is wonderful to go out in the morning — the best time to cut flowers — and come in with a bucket of blooms to arrange in vases to tuck around the house or share with friends. I delight in keeping an informal vase of flowers on my kitchen counter to enjoy every day.

In the Southwest, delicate flowers are not easy to grow, but do not despair. There are many annuals and perennials that thrive in our early spring, summer, and fall. With planning, we can have flowers in winter, or at least some evergreens.

First Steps

First, for any flower bed, select a sunny location. Too much shade will decrease the number of blooms, though some afternoon shade is helpful. Whether you have sandy or clay soil — or even rock — prepare a growing bed for the plants.

With our dismal soil, I usually recommend a raised bed or a large trough for growing annuals. Add lots of compost and organic matter to the planting area. Plan to dedicate a hose and sprinkler to the flower garden, so that it is easy to water, especially for sprouting seeds. With our spring winds and warm temperatures, seeds will require a spray to moisten the area for 15 minutes at least once a day to prevent them from drying out before the young plants have enough roots to survive.

A sunny perennial border provides additional cut flowers over several seasons. Some well-placed shrubs provide stems, leaves, and berries for texture and late-season decorations. Most of these permanent plants also prefer a location with at least a half day of sun and an irrigation system.

Southwest NM Conditions

No matter what we do with sun, soil, and water, not all plants will thrive in our environment. Some simply will not survive no matter how much you fuss. So, let’s focus on plants most likely to succeed, provide abundant blooms, and return the next season. Sometimes annuals will return year after year if they are allowed to go to seed and get water at the appropriate time in their growing cycle.

Sowing annual flowers at the right time is key to good germination and healthy growth. Most annuals should be planted in fall or in early spring. The seed packets provide instructions, such as six weeks before the first or last freeze. Our last average freeze date in the Mesilla Valley is around April 1 — and the joke may be on us if we plant seeds or tender plants too early.

Since our summers quickly become too hot for successful growth, planting perennials is most productive in the spring or fall. We shouldn’t forget bulbs to give us stems for our late winter and early spring displays. Yarrow, artemisia, meadow sage, mealycup sage, Jupiter’s beard, penstemons, and pincushion flower add color to the perennial border and the vase.

Spring-blooming bulbs should be planted in late fall or winter and summer bulbs and rhizomes should be planted in spring. Most gardeners have the best luck with paperwhites and daffodils for spring color. I also treasure Lady Jane tulips. The seed head makes a lovely dried flower for arrangements. Consider adding summer bloomers such as iris and day lily.

If the cutting garden is a new project, don’t be overly ambitious: Maintaining plants in the summer heat is murderous on the plants and gardener. Start small with some easy annuals in a manageable bed with a few perennials for the future.

Getting Creative

Of course, most of us think only of flowers when planning our cutting gardens. However, I was reminded and inspired by additional creative choices in the book A Year in Flowers: Designing Gorgeous Arrangements in Every Season by Erin Benzakein. Her selection of cut flowers also includes stems from shrubs, airy grasses, and a wide range of other leaves, berries, and seed pods for her displays.

You may include trees and shrubs to cut for arrangements in your landscape. Hardy choices for these materials include heavenly bamboo, silverberry, viburnum, cypress, winter jasmine, redbud, smokebush, artemisia, pyracantha, and apache plume. Vines also add to a landscape and to the vase. Consider adding honeysuckle, ivy, purple hyacinth, or jasmine.

While Benzakein’s book focuses on arranging flowers, it devotes attention to the range of warm to cool colors of a variety of plants. It also emphasizes blending a variety of textures and expands the idea of a cut flower to include stems of herbs and vegetables in bouquets. Some excellent herbs for floral arrangements would include rosemary, lavender, mint, sage, oregano, parsley, and cilantro. I often use basil, especially the purple varieties. A posy or jar of fresh basil makes an excellent gift.

With a dedicated cutting bed, a blooming border, and landscape shrubs that contribute evergreens, we can have flower arrangements nearly year-round. I spend the extra effort to tend to a cutting garden for the colorful flowers to keep on my kitchen counter and to invite birds, bees, and butterflies into my garden. So many delights to cheer up any day!

Twelve easy to grow and prolific blooming cut flowers from seed:

  • Bells of Ireland
  • Cosmos
  • Blanket flower
  • Bunny tails grass
  • Gomphrena
  • Larkspur
  • Mexican sunflower/Tithonia
  • Marigold
  • Ornamental pepper
  • Sunflower
  • Yarrow
  • Zinnia

Written and photography by Jackye Meinecke

Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2021

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