How to grow a cut flower garden on a budget

How would you like to have big bouquets of fragrant blooms all summer long from your very own cut flower garden– and only spend a fraction of the cost of purchase?

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I love flowers. My husband occasionally buys me flowers for Mother’s Day or our anniversary. While I enjoy arranging them in vases and seeing them throughout the day, I always feel a little guilty because they’re a bit pricey for something that dies so soon.

I kept snapdragons, morning glory, a hyacinth, dianthus and other flowers in an urban container garden when I lived in an apartment. I didn’t have as much space as I would have liked, but I was able to grow some flowers, many vegetables and some fruit, including a dwarf blueberry plant.

Now, we’re in a house with a yard and I have space for a “real” cut flower garden. I still have my pots, but the yard also came with flower beds. I cleaned out one and planted bulbs in it, and am working on clearing the others for a mix of vegetables and flowers.

A yellow iris blooms in a garden bed
I planted several irises in a garden bed soon after we moved here. It’s been so exciting to see them finally bloom.

My cut flower garden

We’re still early in the process of planting our garden here since we haven’t been in this house long. I planted some veggies in seed trays and am waiting to transplant them. I also planted irises and lilies in the bed I cleaned out, and more lilies in a large wooden planter. They add nice color and size to my cut flower garden.

Both the irises and lilies came from my parents (who originally got their irises from my grandmother) and I also picked up some other plants, including pieces of a wandering Jew plant and lobelia. Next time, I plan to grab some daffodils.

The house already had a couple of varieties of ivy planted here before we moved in, and they could be used in arrangements, as well. My irises just finished blooming and were GORGEOUS. The lilies haven’t bloomed yet, but the plants look healthy.

I also have basil, rosemary, sage, etc. that could potentially be used in an arrangement. My mother-in-law just gifted me a card to buy flowers for Mother’s Day, so I will add a couple of new plants, too!

A yellow iris and smaller purple flower are displayed in a small vase.
My big vases are still packed from the move, but I put an iris and a small purple flower that had broken off the plant in a thin vase in our kitchen.

Getting cheap plants

Ask a friend for extra bulbs, rhizomes, corms or tubers

Plants like irises can split and create a new plant. You can eventually get multiple flowers after planting one or two¬†bulbs, rhizomes, corms or tubers¬†(but don’t bank on that– plants can die or be stolen by animals, like tulips squirrels took from my family’s garden years ago). While they are all different, you’ve probably heard gardeners simply refer to them all as bulbs in conversation. They are all geophytes, which are plants with an underground storage organ, even though all of them have their own distinctly different characteristics.

The plants don’t like to be overcrowded. In fact, most need to be separated every couple of years to keep the plants healthy. If you have a friend or neighbor who has spring bulbs– or geophytes– in their garden, ask if you can help separate their plants in exchange for a few for your own cut flower garden.

Visit the stores after the season ends

Sometimes a store will mark its seed stock down as the seasons draws near to its close. I’ve gotten big seed boxes, near-death plants that I nursed back to health, and seed trays for a few cents by doing this. Clearance garden supplies are great.

The only issues with this are that you can’t know what a store will have left at the end of the season. They may have a lot, or they may have nothing. By the time the sale happens, it also may be too late in the season for you to plant them. You’ll likely have to wait to plant the seeds the following year or grow them inside or in a greenhouse. Seeds don’t always hold up well in storage, but there are steps you can take to help preserve them.

In September 2014, I found one of those awesome sales. I spent $7.19 including tax, and got a TON of boxes and packets of seeds, plus five plastic seed trays that I’m still carefully reusing each year. It keeps money in my pocket and prevents putting a little more plastic in the landfill. I tossed some seeds in a couple of pots in my back yard a couple of weeks ago, and even though they’re four years old I still had a lot pop up!

Photo collage showing a receipt for $7.19 and a cart full of seed trays and seeds.
This is an old photo from 2014, so please excuse the blurriness. This was one of the best deals I’ve ever gotten on plant items. I filled my cart with five seed trays and SO MANY boxes and packets of seeds, mostly for flowers. The grand total? $7.19. This is from four years ago, but I still use the seed trays. (I’m careful to preserve them for financial and environmental reasons.) While the seeds’ viability goes down each year, I’m still having luck with them almost four years later– I just dumped a box a few weeks ago and have tons of little seedlings popping up in my backyard!

Ask a friend for seeds and cuttings

When my plants die, I normally try to collect at least a few seeds from them to have some for the next year, but a lot of people don’t. They either neglect their garden, purchase new plants or purposefully let them go to seed and re-grow new plants.

If you know someone who might let you take a few seeds, ask. You can put the seeds in clearly marked small bags to separate them, then dry them on newspaper or a cut up brown paper bag for about a week to thoroughly dry them. Once they’re dry, you can store them in something airtight– a (labeled!) plastic bag or a glass Mason jar work well. Keep them somewhere dry and cool until you’re ready to plant them.

You can also start some plants from cuttings. To make sure it’ll likely work, you might want to research it online before trying it with a particular plant.

Plants fill a large wooden planter.
All of the plants in this planter came from my parents’ house. (This planter held snapdragons for a few years, but they died when we moved.)

I’ve done this for several types of plants, including ivy. Make sure the cut is clean. If you use a dull knife or scissors, it’ll squish the plant stem. A sharp, quick cut has a higher chance of keeping the stem intact. Remove the leaves from the lowest 1.5-2″ and put it in a clean cup of water. Make sure to keep the water fresh and check for roots regularly. Once you have a nice set of roots on it, you can plant it.

Sometimes you may want to use rooting hormone or follow other special instructions depending on the plant you’re cutting. If you research it ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what you need to have the highest chance of success. Getting cuttings is a quick, easy and cheap way to start a cut flower garden.

Pink, white and yellow snapdragons grow in a large container.
I grew snapdragons in a large planter for several years. I let some self-sow and saved seeds from a few in case I needed them.

Watch for sales

I’ve said before that two of my favorite places to get seeds and live plants are Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and Park Seed.

Just in the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten multiple sale offers. They’ve been hard to resist! If you subscribe to either company’s email newsletters, you will be alerted when there’s a good deal.

This can be different than the end-of-season sales above. Those are great, but you have limited options and may be planting older seeds the next year. Watching for seasonal sales is another option that helps you get more plants for less money, and getting ones designed to plant that year.

When you order live plants from Park, they send it when it’s the appropriate time to plant it in your growing zone. This is great for beginning gardeners (or experienced ones with little knowledge about those particular plants) and increases the chance of plant survival.

DIY bouquets

Until you build up a good-sized cut flower garden, you’ll be limited in the flowers you have available to use. If your budget or helpful friends allow, you may be able to start a great garden in one year. For many of us, it’ll take a couple of years to get a good variety established.

If you want flowers throughout the season, check to see when the ones you want typically bloom in your area. You don’t want your entire flower garden to be finished blooming in the same month.

Consider planting fillers. Dusty Miller, dill, Queen Anne’s Lace and many others are gorgeous in the right arrangement. This site has some good tips for floral arrangements and what to plant in particular areas. A representative at your local greenhouse should be able to help you select good focal flowers and filler varieties.

In addition to when they’ll blossom, you may also want to look at texture, color and how well they’ll grow in your available space before you make any plant purchases.

What have you planted? What would be in your dream cut flower garden?

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