Perennials for a Cut Flower Garden
Welcome back to my Summer cut flower series! This series is devoted to home gardeners that want to grow their own bouquets and are curious how to get started. Today, I’ll be focusing on my favorite perennial flowers for the Summer season.
Perennials are some of the most rewarding plants to grow in the garden. Why do I love perennials? Instead of having to start seeds and re-plant each year, perennial plants are only planted once and stay in the garden for years to come. Sure, there’s a tiny bit of feeding or pruning involved, but I find perennials to be less maintenance in the garden. Also, perennial plants are budget-friendly simply because their one-time purchase can provide you with plants for many years to come—this can be done through dividing as well, but that’s a story for another day.
Purchasing Perennial Flowers For Summer
Unlike the annual summer flowers that we talked about last week, this list of perennial flowers aren’t all started from seed. For example, roses are best purchased as bare roots as opposed to seeds or potted plants. Similarly, dahlias are most reliable when purchased as tubers if you’re planning out certain varieties for bouquets. So, I’ll cover each perennial flower specifically and how I prefer to purchase them.
Thankfully, it’s the perfect time of year to purchase these plants. As I’ve talked about before, January is prime bare root season here in Southern California. You might have noticed shelves of tubers and bare roots being displayed at your local nurseries or have been seeing advertisements online for buying bare roots. Seed catalogues simply appear on doorsteps, and suddenly you are looking at your wintry yard wondering what the new year can bring.
My Favorite Perennials For a Cut Flower Garden
I’ll be the first to admit, timing perennials in mild climates can be a bit tricky. There are some perennial flowers that grow from seed, but those seeds are often best started in Fall in order to give the plants time to grow a strong root system before blooming. Therefore, don’t be disappointed if some perennials skip a year before blooming for you. Personally, I’ve found this to be the case with some rudbeckias. If the foliage is looking good, continue to care for the plant all season and it’s likely that the following year it will provide you with flowers!
Lastly, I want to note that the flowers discussed here are perennials in my zone 10 garden, but might not be perennial if you live in a much colder zone. Truthfully, it all comes down to how the plant might survive your Winter temperatures. This is something you can easily research based on your specific gardening zone.
I’m going to start off this list of perennial flowers for Summer with roses because they are so dear to my heart and also excellent cutting flowers. Roses can bloom the first year, but don’t expect tons of cut-worthy blooms because the plants should be focusing on establishing their root systems. In the picture above, I’m holding roses harvested from my two-year old David Austin rose garden! Despite what some might say, roses are not high maintenance nor are they finicky. Yes, there might be some issues with rust or blackspot, but for the most part I’ve killed less roses than any other plant in my garden over the years.
Roses are best purchased now, as bare root plants. I’ve previously written about How to Get Started Growing Roses, and you’ll find all the information there regarding purchasing choices, sources, planning, and basic care.
If you’re looking for a perennial that you can easily start from seed, tolerates hot Summers, and is drought tolerant—-look no further than yarrow (pictured below). Yarrow is a powerhouse perennial for so many reasons! First of all, yarrow is a beautiful cut flower that provides wonderful shape and filler to any bouquet. Additionally, yarrow will draw beneficial insects to your gardens. Bees and butterflies particularly enjoy drinking from the tiny flowers, while ladybugs seem to be attracted to yarrow’s feathery foliage.
You can absolutely purchase yarrow as plants from your local nursery, especially if a certain color catches your eye! But, if you’d like to start now, yarrow is simple to start from seed. I’ve grown both the ‘summer berries’ mix and ‘colorado mix’ with great success. You can find more yarrow growing information here.
Does this surprise you? Oregano is a perennial herb that I have found is excellent for homegrown bouquets as well. Their fragrant green stems bloom into airy, white clusters of flowers that fade into textural green seed heads. Now, oregano is one example of a perennial that might not flower in its first year depending on the length of your season, but you can start it from seed indoors or buy plants from a nursery. Oregano makes a wonderful greenery for arrangements or can be used as a filler flower to create softness and texture. Edible, pollinator-friendly, thrives in warm weather, gorgeous in arranagements— I think oregano will impress you!
I went back and forth deciding if rudbeckia should be on this list. Rudbeckia is complicated when it comes to understanding which varieties are annual, perennial, or biennial. Furthermore, this can also depend on your garden zone. While rudbeckia is really beautiful and blooms profusely (see photo), I’m far from saying I understand the ins and outs of this flower. What I can tell you, is that rudbeckia hirta varieties (like ‘sahara’ and ‘cherokee sunset’) have performed like short-lived perennials for me. Essentially, short-lived perennials only last a few years although they can still self-seed in your garden.
The main reason I’m including rudbeckia here is just because they are so darn beautiful when we do get it right. Furthermore, I’ve witnessed rudbeckia self-seeding in both my garden and my mom’s to the point where we haven’t had to sow any seeds for many years. They are prolific bloomers and wonderful for pollinators too!
You can start rudbeckia seed indoors about 5-7 weeks before you want to plant them out. In mild climates, it is possible to start rudbeckia seeds in Fall and plant them out so they can establish before it gets too cold. Also, this is one flower you can also purchase from a nursery if starting from seed sounds too daunting.
One of my favorite Summer cut flowers are dahlias. Dahlias aren’t the most low maintenance summer perennials in my garden (far from it), but for some reason a big bouquet of dahlias makes it all worth it. For those of you who are new here, I’ve written a few articles on dahlias previously. From Tips for Magnificent Dahlias, how to start dahlias early in pots, and how to grow dahlias from seed, you’ll probably find the answers to your most pressing dahlia questions somewhere on my site. Additionally, I recently shared some tips for those of you struggling to grow dahlias where it gets really hot in the Summer.
If you’re just starting to add dahlias to your garden, I’d recommend starting with dahlia tubers as opposed to seeds or plants. After the season is over, you can decide whether or not you want to dig up your dahlia tubers, or leave them over Winter in the soil. For warm zones (like 8-10) many gardeners leave their dahlias in the ground like the rest of their perennials and just keep an eye out for rotting.
This last perennial flower for Summer is one that truly enjoys hot, dry weather. Gaillardia is a wildflower that grows in more arid soil, and can withstand hotter temperatures than most flowers on this list. Also know as “blanket flower” you’ll find that gaillardia comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors! My personal experience with gaillardia started with a seed mix for wildflowers. I had no idea what I was planting and suddenly these vibrant red and yellow daisy-looking blooms were going crazy in the garden! While most gaillardia varieties are known to be short-lived perennials, I have seen some listed as annuals, so be aware!
At one point my aunt gave me a potted gaillardia plant with bright lemon-yellow flowers. Sadly, the stems were too short to be good for bouquets, but I found it a home at the border of my garden. To my surprise, this little plant has been coming back year after year with little to no watering or care! While this did teach me to look for taller varieties for a cutting garden, it also has demonstrated that gaillardia has a lot of potential as a heat-loving summer perennial. Especially for the gardener that wants a “cottage look” in the garden, gaillardia will please both your eyes and the visiting pollinators.
Perennials Need a Little More Permanent Space
One downside of perennials is that there’s a little more commitment involved at first. Perennials will appreciate a semi-permanent space where they can settle down and send out some good roots. In return, some perennials will reward you by growing and spreading so reliably that your garden will look full and verdant for years! Essentially, perennial plants would benefit from having a little more of a garden plan than the annual flowers I discussed last week. But if you’re not a planner, that’s okay, don’t let me discourage you at all! Nothing in the garden is really permanent. We’ve moved many a rose, hydrangea, iris, camellia, fruit tree….you name it.
I hope you enjoyed the introduction to this Summer Cut Flower Series—annual and perennial flowers for summer—as we can now move on to some of the more active parts of growing flowers. For instance, I’ll be sowing seeds starting next month and pruning roses, and planning out where a lot of these plants will go. It’s brought me a lot of joy to revisit my favorite cut flowers and I hope we can all have a floriferous Summer!