3rd January 2024
Thinking of growing your own cut flowers? Transforming your garden into a mass of vibrant colour and then bringing the joy of fresh blooms into your home? From tulips to cosmos, dahlias and zinnia, there is so much satisfaction in nurturing tiny seeds to become beautiful flowers.
To help you embark on your journey of growing cut flowers from seed, we asked cut flower growing expert Sophie Van Gerwen, better known to her Instagram followers as @floraldaysintheshires, to guide us through a year of flowers. Sophie has been growing flowers from seed for over a decade having set up various school gardens and forest schools.
From her garden in Wiltshire, Sophie shares her extensive knowledge to bring you a plethora of tips, mini-tutorials and general advice, tailored to each of the seasons. It’s perfect for beginners, but there are plenty of tips for you if you’ve already been growing for a while.
Whether you have a modest courtyard or balcony space or a sprawling garden, our guide is designed to ensure that you can create your very own patch of flowers, heaven for you and for the pollinators too.
Read on for a trove of tips, with each month unfolding new ideas and secrets. Let’s grow together with this year of growing cut flowers.
JANUARY & FEBURARY – Planning your cut flower garden
The early part of the year is for planning your cut flower garden. This is the time to decide which flowers you would like to grow and where you will grow them. Consider bloom time, height, colour, and how they will look together, but also think about your favourite flowers and the sort of blooms you would love to have indoors through Spring and Summer.
It can be useful to jot down notes, make lists and sketch out your plan for your garden.
Some questions to ask yourself…
🌱Which seeds will you sow?
🌱How many plants will you need?
🌱Will you plant in garden beds or pots and containers?
🌱How will your garden beds look?
🌱Do you need to prep your garden beds?
Order your seeds early to ensure you get the varieties you want.
MARCH – Seed Sowing season
March is the time to start seed sowing. Look back at the plans that you made in February, select your seeds and follow the advice on the packets.
Sophie’s favourite flower varieties that you may like to try include Larkspur, Cornflowers, Sweet Peas, Verbena and Gomphrena. Scabiosa, Cerinthe, Ammi Majus, Salvia Clary Sage, Calendula (these are hardy annuals) and later in the month, Cosmos, Zinnia, Didiscus, Rudbeckia and strawflowers (these are half hardy!)
Use a windowsill propagator and peat-free multipurpose compost with a little added vermiculite to help with drainage.
Then you can start seed sowing. Leave your seeds to propagate indoors on a sunny windowsill to germinate as your greenhouse may not be warm enough. You can move them into a greenhouse once it’s a bit warmer and the seedlings are developing. You will need to transplant your seedlings into individual pots when they have 2-3 sets of leaves upwards.
“Seed sowing is such a wonderfully mindful activity that I just love”, says Sophie.
These tiny seeds of the beginning of what could be, a year of flowers!
Watch Sophie sowing here seeds: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cp7CLUEKbT7/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
Planning to grow sweet peas?
Sweet peas are totally worth growing for the whimsical country garden vibe they create.
Tips for sowing the sweet pea seeds:
🌱 Sow your sweet pea seeds into deep pots or root trainers as any pea plant likes to grow long roots.
🌱Put them on a warm sunny windowsill and they will germinate quite quickly.
🌱Pinch out the growing tips when the seedling has at least 3 pairs of true leaves. This will encourage the plant to branch out giving you more flowers.
🌱Sweet peas need moist and well-drained soil and need a sunny spot.
Once planted outside later in Spring, Sophie grows her sweet peas up obelisks. You can also use a wigwam of canes or sticks, jute netting, a timber screen or trellis.
APRIL – Dahlia potting
Arriving in April, it’s time think about dahlias, which will flower through August and late into Autumn when the first frosts arrive. There are so many styles and colours of dahlia to choose from including single dahlia’s, pompons, cactus and balls. Gardeners World explains. https://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/dahlia-types-explained/
Potting up your dahlia tubers in the Spring means they get a head start with their growth before you plant them in your garden. When your tubers arrive, pot them up using a multipurpose peat-free compost mixed with a little vermiculite.
New dahlia growth is loved by slugs and snails so starting them off indoors or in your greenhouse will protect them in those early stages.
Water them in but then don’t water them again until you see signs of new growth as overwatering can rot the tuber.
Think about how you going to protect your dahlias when you plant them outside after the last frosts. Sophie uses copper rings which help prevent snail damage and Nematodes for slugs.
Dahlias will need a sunny spot and support when you plant them outside so preparing these things in advance will help you grow these gorgeous flowers for the summer and autumn.
Which way up does a dahlia tuber go? Watch Sophie plant her dahlia tubers: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cqe_eI2KsbM/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
APRIL – Cosmos sowing
Cosmos is a fabulous seed for beginners to grow. A half-hardy annual cut flower that is perfect to sow in April and May.
They are a true “cut and come again” flower as the more you cut from them, the more flowers they produce.
They come in some fabulous colours, work well in the cutting patch or garden and can even be grown in pots or planters.
Sow the seeds in April in peat-free compost straight into 9cm pots and pop them onto a sunny windowsill. They can be planted outdoors into containers and garden beds after the frosts and you will have flowers all summer and into Autumn.
Sophie grew some yellow varieties last year – Xanthos and Kiiro but here are some others you may like to try:
🌱 Pink cupcakes
🌱 Double click Rose Bon Bon
🌱 Apricot Lemonade (great for pots)
🌱 Pink popsocks (great for pots)
END OF APRIL – Pinching out dahlias
Towards the end of April, it’s time to pinch out the growing stems of dahlias to encourage them to bush out.
This, in turn, produces more flowers. We only do this for any potted dahlias that are not sending out more than one stem. If they already have multiple stems, then you won’t need to do this step.
Count from the bottom, 2 or 3 sets of leaves and cut just above the leaf node. If any leaves are damaged cut slightly higher.
Give your potted dahlias a water at this stage and even a little diluted seaweed feed to help give them a boost.
Allow them to grow on in your greenhouse or warm home until the risk of frosts has passed. Then you can begin to harden them off by increasing the time they spend outside each day until you can plant them outside. This hardening off process may take about a week.
Remember you’ll need to think about how you will prevent them being eaten by slugs and snails so invest in some nematodes and copper rings.
How to pinch out your dahlias: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CrkaRd_qjye/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
MAY – Direct sowing
Early May is a good time to direct sow flower seeds as the soil is warming up. There are lots of seeds that can be direct sown, although some do better than others. Seeds that could work with this method include Salvia clary sage, corncockle, cornflowers, calendula, dill, and nigella.
Mix your seed with some multipurpose peat-free compost and follow Sophie’s guidance. https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cr2bwHzK7Gw/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
Loosen the soil where you are going to grow them, then sprinkle with the mix of seed and compost. Push the soil down a little to make sure the seeds have good contact with the ground, water and then allow nature to do its work.
You could even direct sow zinnias and cosmos in this way. Make sure they are well watered and as the seedlings emerge, try to protect them from slugs and snails by using beer traps or wool pellets.
MAY – Planting flowers for pollinators
Did you know one out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollinators such as bees? (source WWF) https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/our-tips-how-bee-friendly. That’s how important bees are. Meaning planting our gardens to attract and support bees and other pollinators is essential.
Sophie’s top flowers for pollinators are Borage, Lavender, Single dahlias, Foxgloves, Sunflowers, Cornflower, Rosemary and Cosmos.
Will you add some of these to your cut flower garden to encourage the bees?
JUNE – Plant out your dahlias
It’s time to plant out your dahlias. Harden them off first by gradually getting them used to being outside during the day over a week. Pop them outside each morning and then put them back into the greenhouse overnight.
When you are ready to plant them, prepare your soil by removing any weeds and get planting. Sophie suggests adding a handful of bone meal to the soil to add phosphorus which helps with healthy root development. Water them in as they will need a drink. Then water them once or twice a week depending on the weather. Sophie also feeds her dahlias every 2 weeks once they start flowering.
Your dahlias will need support as they can grow up to 1.5m tall. You can use a simple system of a roll of stock fencing supported by a bamboo cane or could easily use bamboo canes with string or jute netting. The supports look huge to start with but you’ll be amazed how quickly your dahlias will grow up to and beyond the support.
You will need to protect your newly planted dahlias from slugs and snails. You could treat your beds with nematodes which really helps or use beer traps, copper rings or wool pellets.
Watch Sophie plant out her dahlias: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CtBJcdTKsVS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
JULY – Cut your flowers
July is the month you’ve been working towards and the month to start cutting your flowers to enjoy indoors.
Some tips for you for cutting flowers
1. Cut your flowers using a sharp pair of snips as not to snag the stems.
2. Cut at the beginning or end of the day rather than in the midday sun.
3. Cut with a slight angle to enable any water to run off the old stem rather than into it as this can cause disease.
4. Cut as deep into the flower stem as you like and cut above a pair of leaves if possible.
5. Put your flowers into a bucket of cool water up to their necks and leave for at least 24 hours in a cool place.
6. Take off any leaves that will sit below the water line of your vase to stop any bacteria forming in the water. This will make the blooms last longer in your vase.
JULY – Roses in cut flower gardens
A note about roses, one of the most well-known of all cut flowers.
To keep roses looking fresh and to encourage a second flush, it’s best to deadhead them to stop them from developing rose hips.
To do this, cut off any dead flowers and this will encourage your rose to make new flowers. This is obviously depending on the rose you have as some only flower once during the year.
These roses are Olivia Rose and A Shropshire Lad from David Austin Roses https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/ and they both will flower again once deadheaded.
AUGUST – Time to enjoy your cut flower garden
August is a time to really enjoy the garden and all the flowers you’ve grown. Continue to cut and deadhead which encourages plants to keep producing more flowers before they go to seed.
Feeding your plants throughout August will encourage more growth and flowers into September and beyond.
By August Sophie also has a greenhouse full of biennial seedlings to nurture ready to plant out in September. These include Papaver, Rudbeckia, Angelica Archangelica and foxgloves.
Sophie’s garden in August: https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cvg2OiSKu98/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
LATE AUGUST & SEPTEMBER – Seed collecting
Late August and September are perfect for collect ingseeds from your favourite cut flowers and it’s a great way to save a little money in the process. Saved seed is fresher and should germinate quicker too.
Tips for gathering seeds
You’ll need a pair of scissors, envelopes and a pen.
1. Allow your favourite flowers to go over and develop seed pods.
2. Choose a sunny afternoon to harvest the seed pods and flowers. You want to collect seeds before the pods have burst open.
3. Cut the seed pods or dried flower heads, being careful that the seeds don’t spill all over the place! Catching the seeds into an envelope works well.
4. Put them in a place to dry. This could be on a sunny windowsill or outside if it’s not raining or windy!
5. Once dry, store in a paper envelope naming the seeds straight away. Otherwise you won’t remember which seeds are which.
Seeds Sophie recommends collecting include Poppies, Nigella, Cress, Scabious, Briza, Orach, Dill, Sweet peas, Ammi, Cerinthe, Larkspur, Honesty and Tagetes.
SEPTEMBER – Enjoying dahlias as cut flowers
For September we return to dahlias, the queens of colour in a late Summer and early Autumn garden.
As your dahlias start to get into their stride after a tricky start, you may wonder how to get a decent stem length on your blooms to enable you to use them in a vase.
1. Cut deep into your plant! Dahlias are truly “cut and come again” plants and will reward you with more blooms when they are cut. Don’t worry about cutting off side stems in the process as your plant will grow new ones!
2. Disbud your dahlias. Disbudding is the process of removing the side buds on a main stem to allow the plant to put all its energy in the main flower. This means you get larger blooms on the main stem.
3. Feed your dahlias! After a tricky start with all the rain we’ve had, your dahlias may have grown tall but will now need more potassium and phosphorus to grow those beautiful blooms we all love! I feed mine once a week during the flowering season.
Watch Sophie cutting her dahlias https://www.instagram.com/reel/Cw3BPOmrHYk/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
OCTOBER – Tidying up and planning again
In Autumn, jobs for the cut flower garden are more limited, but as light levels drop, it’s important for your plants and seedlings to get as much light as they can during the darker months. And so greenhouses need to be cleaned inside and out. If you have a wooden greenhouse, it may also need oiling to protect it over the winter months.
Hardy annual seedlings and salvia cuttings can be potted up to get them ready for overwintering in the greenhouse.
You might also like to move your succulents under glass, as well as planting up some violas and pansies to bring joy throughout the winter.
Autumn is also a good time to plan what to grow for the following year whilst your success of
Sophie’s Autimn garden: https://www.instagram.com/reel/CyFmtinK_M1/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
OCTOBER – Saving your dahlia tubers for next year
It’s time to think about whether you will lift, dry and store your dahlia tubers or cover them in a layer of mulch, for the winter!
Sophie does a little of both in her Wiltshire garden. The weather is generally wet with some frosts. The dahlia tubers in the garden borders are covered with old compost. This is called mulching and it gives the tubers a layer of protection against the cold weather. Sophie has done this successfully with most of her tubers for the past 4 years, only loosing a few to rot due to it being very wet.
Sophie then lifts her dahlia tubers in the cutting garden. In 2022 she did this too late (during the second week of November). “When we had a very cold spell in early December, the tubers hadn’t had time to properly dry and therefore they all rotted.” So in 2023 Sophie began to lift her dahlias at the end of October to protect them for Winter.
To lift your dahlias, choose a dry day and shake off as much soil as you can. Then turn them upside down and store them in a frost free place to drain and dry. This can be in a greenhouse, shed or kitchen. Then carefully pack them into crates with newspaper, or straw and store them in a frost free garage.
How to care for your dahlia tubers: https://www.instagram.com/p/CyXrj2JqjS_/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
November is the time to start thinking about next year’s garden and making sure you have a colour filled Spring garden.
Tulips planted in pots and containers look stunning and can be useful in smaller gardens or on a patio. They can be grouped together with other pots of tulips or other spring bulbs to make a beautiful spring display. November (or later) is a good time to plant tulips as any earlier they can be susceptible to tulip fire. https://www.rhs.org.uk/disease/tulip-fire
How to plant your tulips
🌱Using a mixture of peat-free multi-purpose compost and horticultural grit for drainage, fill your pots to about 2/3 of the way from the bottom.
🌱Add your tulip bulbs with the pointy end facing upwards. Bulbs can be planted quite close together in pots but they shouldn’t be touching each other.
🌱Cover the bulbs with more compost and top with a layer of grit. This helps to stop soil escaping in heavy rain.
🌱Place them in a sheltered spot outside to stop them becoming waterlogged as this can make the bulbs rot. They do need a frost though and this is encouraged so don’t put them in a greenhouse or shed. Position them in the spring to enjoy their blooms!
🌱If you have lots of squirrels in your area, top with chicken wire, holly leaves or every chilli powder to deter them.
How to plant tulips in pots; https://www.instagram.com/reel/CzO8PkyLGma/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link&igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA==
Growing cut flowers is a thoroughly rewarding way to spend time, sowing seeds, nurturing seedlings, potting on, planting out and reaping the rewards later in the year. We hope you’ve picked up some tips from our year of growing cut flowers and that you have as much fun growing as we did.