Annuals for the cutting garden/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography
As a landscape designer, I’m well versed in perennials and the kind of annuals you buy from a nursery. But when it comes to growing annuals from seeds, my experience lies mainly with zinnias. So recently, I was delighted to attend a webinar hosted by ButterBee Farm owner Laura Beth Resnick on the top annuals she grows for her cutting gardens.
Located in Pikesville, Maryland, ButterBee Farm specializes in growing flowers organically for florists, weddings, and flower lovers across the Maryland and DC areas. Established in 2013, the farm has grown to encompass just around 5 acres. In addition to signature perennials such as peonies and ranunculus, Resnick grows ornamental foliage and thousands of annuals, both in the field and in heated and unheated greenhouses.
The goal, says Resnick, is to provide her customers with flowers and foliage all year-round.
One of ButterBee Farm’s cutting gardens/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography
SETTING YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
There’s so much to learn from Resnick and her wealth of plant knowledge. But today’s focus was on annuals for cutting. And annuals often have quite different needs from those of perennials. For example, while there are perennials that are built for sun and others for shade, annuals need at least 8 hours of sun a day. If your site is shady, it’s not the best location for a cutting garden.
Annuals like zinnias grow best in full sun/Photo: Here By Design
According to Resnick, if you want to successfully grow annuals for cutting, you need three things:
And lots of sun can mean high water needs. Cutting gardens need constant monitoring to make sure thirsty plants are getting enough moisture. Unlike perennials, annuals are shallow-rooted, meaning their roots are located close to the soil surface. They dry out fast once the surface water has evaporated.
Annuals are shallow-rooted
But even with lots of sun and diligent watering, your cutting garden can sometimes under-perform if you don’t know what kind of soil you’re dealing with. Resnick stresses the importance of getting a soil test before planting.
“It’s kind of like getting your blood work done,” she said.
Soil pH, for example, can have a huge effect on plants. And it can determine what kinds of minerals are available.
Good soil is essential to the life of a garden/Photo: shutterstock.com
Luckily, getting a soil test is easier than ever – just dig up some samples, put them in a plastic bag and ship them off to a soil analysis center. You can find them through university extension offices, Agro Lab, or my personal favorite, University of Delaware. They email you the results complete with recommendations for how to improve your soil for what you want to grow.
A GREAT CUTTING GARDEN TAKES PLANNING
Unlike perennials, which come up on schedule year after year, if you’re growing annuals from seeds, it takes some planning. And if you’re growing annuals for a cutting garden, it’s best to start backward. That means, start by determining when you want to have things blooming and then work backward to when you have to plant.
Days to Flower is a key term to remember when purchasing a seed packet. It refers to the amount of days it takes from when the seed germinates until the day it’s ready to be harvested. Some packets won’t tell you, so you may have to do a google search. Johnny’s Selected Seeds, though, does. And Resnick says it’s a good quick stop.
Below is an example of a chart Resnick uses to determine when to plant June annuals for her cutting garden.
KEEP YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
Finally, even the most seasoned of gardeners have failures. No two seasons are alike. Taking notes on what happens each year is really helpful. Resnick stresses creating a planting calendar and referring back to it when making your selections.
Most importantly, when choosing annuals for cutting, strive for diversity. Not everything you try is going to work out. Plant a bunch of different things that bloom in spring, summer and fall. It’s a good way to hedge your bets.
Laura Beth Resnick, Owner ButterBee Farm/Photo: Julie Hove Anderson Photography
TOP ANNUALS FOR CUTTING
Below are Resnick’s top annuals for the cutting garden, organized by season.
Bachelor’s Button, a cool-season annual/Photo credit: shutterstock.com
Larkspur– Resnick direct seeds annual larkspur (which is different from the perennial) in the fall between Sept 15 and October 15. Favorite varieties are Early Grey and the QIS series.
Snapdragon– She loves Chantilly and Madame Butterfly, which she plants in the fall and Rocket and Potomac, which she plants in the spring. She pinches her plants to encourage branching.
Bachelor’s Button (Blue Cornflower)- She direct seeds in the fall. Try Black or Blue Magic. These flowers love to re-seed.
Feverfew– If you plant in the fall, feverfew will bloom earlier in the spring. If you plant in the spring, it will bloom later. Resnick likes the single-flowered Virgo variety.
Scabiosa– She plants in the fall and spring. Her favorite varieties include Ping Pong, Black Knight, and the creamy apricot Fata Morgana.
Deep red sunflower variety ‘Moulin Rouge’/Photo: shutterstock.com
Sunflowers– Resnick plants sunflower seeds every week in summer. ‘You can plant them every week and you’ll have them every week,’ she said. She plants the seeds close together for smaller flower heads, which look better in vases. Favorite varieties include Moulin Rouge (above) and the Procut Series.
Zinnias– She plants every 3 weeks for continuous bloom through fall. Aztec, Persian Carpet (also called Mexican zinnia), Queen Red or Queen Orange are her favorites.
Strawflower- ‘This is what is called ‘everlasting,’ said Resnick. ‘When it blooms, it’s already dried.’ She plants in the spring. Good varieties include Apricot, Purple-red and Silvery Rose.
Cosmos- She plants seeds every 3 weeks in summer and pinches plant tips to promote branching. Resnick prefers the Double Click series over the single flower. It is a little more resilient in the heat.
Celosia– Resnick recommends planting every 2 weeks, from summer to fall. She recommends the Sunday and Chief series. If your budget allows, the Bombay series has the most unusual colors.
Pink gomphrena/Photo: shutterstock.com
Hairy Balls– These are excellent focal flowers, albeit a little strange. They are part of the milkweed family, whose flowers are the only flowers monarch butterflies will eat. Plant seeds in spring or early summer but be mindful of the sap. If you get it in your eyes, it can send you to the hospital.
Marigolds (Tagetes)- Make sure to purchase the cutting variety, not the bedding one, which is short. Resnick plants seeds from summer to fall. She likes the Jedi series, Tagetes erecta, known to be the most disease tolerant and tallest of the cutflower series.
Gomphrena– She plants from summer to fall. Check out the QIS series and Audray series.
Ornamental Kale- She plants from late summer to fall. There are so many different, amazing varieties featuring unusual colors and foliage. Resnick likes the tall variety, Crane, and its feather-leafed version ‘Feather’. Plant in late summer to fall.
Dahlias– Okay, these aren’t seeds, but they are stalwarts of the late summer garden. Plant in early summer. In Maryland, we plant our tubers in June. Resnick loves Cornel Bronze, Nathalie g, Cafe au Lait, and Jowie Linda. Plant 15” apart.
Ready to plant? I am. It’s late July in Maryland, but it’s clear from Resnick’s chart that there is still plenty of time to sow annual seeds. Make sure to check your Plant Hardiness Zone, though. Resnick’s charts are built for her area of Maryland, which is zone 7a – 7b. (All links are for informational purposes only, and are not paid links.)
To see photos of my garden designs, including plant lists, check out my Instagram at carole.herebydesign. I post seasonally from spring through fall.