Growing a Fall Cutting Garden - 27 East

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Growing a Fall Cutting Garden

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A spoon-type chrysanthemum named Red Carousel. This plant was grown from a single cutting planted in May, and you can see the peony hoop that holds up the 24-inch stems.  ANDREW MESSINGER

A spoon-type chrysanthemum named Red Carousel. This plant was grown from a single cutting planted in May, and you can see the peony hoop that holds up the 24-inch stems. ANDREW MESSINGER

A simple tall glass vase on the kitchen table is never empty as long as there are flowers in the garden. This day’s cuttings were two of the mums added to the cutting garden just four months ago.   ANDREW MESSINGER

A simple tall glass vase on the kitchen table is never empty as long as there are flowers in the garden. This day’s cuttings were two of the mums added to the cutting garden just four months ago. ANDREW MESSINGER

A collection of four perennial geranium flowers in a 3-inch-tall vase.  The flowers only last a day but are plentiful in the fall and easily replaced.  ANDREW MESSINGER

A collection of four perennial geranium flowers in a 3-inch-tall vase. The flowers only last a day but are plentiful in the fall and easily replaced. ANDREW MESSINGER

A flower garden outside a restaurant greets visitors but also supplies fall cut flowers for table arrangements.  Note the zinnias of various heights and colors as well as the blue salvia.  ANDREW MESSINGER

A flower garden outside a restaurant greets visitors but also supplies fall cut flowers for table arrangements. Note the zinnias of various heights and colors as well as the blue salvia. ANDREW MESSINGER

Once called fall phlox, the older, traditional Phlox paniculata flowers in September and October with long stems and lightly scented blooms. Unsightly foliage is easily trimmed away from the long stems, which can be cut to size as needed.  ANDREW MESSINGER

Once called fall phlox, the older, traditional Phlox paniculata flowers in September and October with long stems and lightly scented blooms. Unsightly foliage is easily trimmed away from the long stems, which can be cut to size as needed. ANDREW MESSINGER

Hydrangea flowers on the same plant in various shades of white to pink make nice cuts with strong, woody stems.  ANDREW MESSINGER

Hydrangea flowers on the same plant in various shades of white to pink make nice cuts with strong, woody stems. ANDREW MESSINGER

Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum "Fred Stone" grows from 24 to 36 inches in brilliant red. This is another single rooted cutting planted in June and kept upright by a peony hoop. ANDREW MESSINGER

Aconitum nepellus growing in shade, like this one, will have very long stems that are budded from top to bottom. The stems can  be trimmed as needed and the plant will be more compact if it receives more sun.   ANDREW MESSINGER

Aconitum nepellus growing in shade, like this one, will have very long stems that are budded from top to bottom. The stems can be trimmed as needed and the plant will be more compact if it receives more sun. ANDREW MESSINGER

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Hampton Gardener®

  • Publication: Residence
  • Published on: Oct 19, 2023
  • Columnist: Andrew Messinger

Over the years I’ve written several times about cutting gardens. It seems to be a logical spring topic, but after several tries, I now have a fall cutting garden. However, at this time of the year your whole landscape should be a cutting garden since the flowers that are blooming now are in their second blooming season, and all it will take is one frost or very cold night and they’ll be memories.

I’ve always wanted to grow the old-fashioned tall chrysanthemums that were ubiquitous on the large greenhouse ranges that used to dot the East End. The spoons, quills, incurves, reflex, pompoms and spiders are just a few of the types you can grow and bring in for cuts (see libguides.nybg.org/c.php?g=655086&p=4597561 for more). Row after row of mums in beds the length or width of the large glass houses would be forced into bloom almost year-round. With some planning and reading you can grow these in your garden or cutting garden, and since they are daylight sensitive, they all tend to bloom at this time of the year as the days get shorter.

Mums for cutting are not without issues such as diseases and insects. However, if you buy clean plants and keep the insects under control these issues can be minimized. And since we’re talking about mums that will grow 3 feet tall, a structure comes in handy that keeps the plants upright as their heavy blooms open. This is easily done with 4-by-4- or 6-by-6-inch wire fencing stretched over the mum bed at about 2 feet above the ground. Plastic deer fencing is great for this purpose.

One mum that I think everyone should be growing — and it’s a great cut — is the single early Korean apricot. The flowers are about 2 inches wide, and it’s one of the latest mums to bloom in the garden lasting to the end of October. Easily divided in the spring you can develop a clump nearly anywhere and enjoy it as a garden feature as well as for copious cuts.

There are many other flowers that can be used to fill your vase. Fall-blooming anemones as singles and doubles have naturally long stems. These are hardy perennials and when planted early in the spring they usually bloom the first year and require little to no care during the growing season once established. Mostly available in pinks, whites and bicolors, they can be single- or double-flowered, where there is an extra row of petals, making the flower fuller and more interesting. For singles look for Andrea Atkinson (white), Red Riding Hood (pink) and Pocahontas (pink), the latter of which is a semi-double. There is another variety that’s referred to as a “peony” anemone that is a double flower with both white and pink petals.

These plants emerge late in the spring so give them until early June, when they usually break through the soil, before you assume they are dead. They are easily divided to make more, and this should be done as soon as you see the foliage emerging. They can be scattered among other garden plants, and the stems will rise above the other plantings, revealing the flowers, which can be cut on the long stems.

Often overlooked are a few of the late-blooming hosta varieties, which mostly have blue flowers at this time of the year but there are some whites. You can find a listing of some of these varieties here: plantsgalore.com/hostas/societies/00-Journal/0000-Hosta-Journal-Flowers-Fall-Blooming.htm. Keep one thing in mind though. From late September into mid-October, hummingbirds visit the hosta flowers for nectar. Hold off on removing all the stems and be selective until the hummers are gone.

Phlox paniculata is also a great late-season cut flower, and most varieties have a very delicate scent that I think is wonderful. In fact, these plants were once called fall phlox before breeders decided to develop earlier types. Again, look for types that are long stemmed as these can always be trimmed to size. The pinks seem to be the latest bloomers, but many varieties that haven’t been infected with powdery mildew may bloom into mid-October and beyond.

The late-blooming Aconitum nepellus (monkshood) has very long stems and brilliant blue flowers that begin to appear in late September into October. Established plants can send up 12 to 15 stems with foliage that’s very similar to delphiniums. This plant will grow in partial shade to full sun but in partial shade you’ll get longer stems. As a bonus this plant is both deer and rabbit resistant. A caution though, some people can be sensitive to this plant and you may want to use gloves when handling it.

Delphiniums are all great for fall cutting. Many varieties that bloom early in the summer will rebloom in the fall. If you put some in the cutting garden for fall cuts or even in the garden, when cut down to a foot or so after the initial blooming period in the spring/summer they may rebloom in the fall. The downside in my experience is that Delphiniums allowed to bloom in the fall are usually the ones most likely not to overwinter. This is because the plant expends so much energy for the fall bloom that it can often lack the “energy” to make it through the winter. The New Zealand hybrids are fantastic for cuts.

There are also a number of salvias, both annuals and perennials, that make great fall cut flowers. Last year I accidentally planted 3-gallon pots of Salvia “Rockin Deep Purple,” which had incredible color and seemed to bloom forever until late October. I say accidentally because for some reason I thought it was a perennial. When it didn’t return in the spring I went back and looked at the tag — an annual. But what a great plant for cuts with a striking color.

Some digitalis, especially those that you cut back after their first summer flush of blooms, will rebloom in the fall but with shorter flower stalks. There is also a white-blooming Heuchera “Autumn Bride,” which blooms from late September through October with long wiry stems and white flowers.

In annuals and nonhardy plants, tuberous Dahlias can push out some magnificent flowers until there’s a frost. The trick here is to plant the tubers as late as possible in the spring or early summer to get great fall blooms on long stems. Remember though that the tubers are very cold sensitive and once the foliage is damaged by a frost the tubers deteriorate quickly. Once cut, flame the end of the stem with a match or lighter to make the flower last longer.

Two other favorite annuals that make great late cuts are cosmos and zinnias. Both should be grown from seed; choose varieties that are long stemmed. Unlike cell pack plants, the ones you’ll sow outdoors in the garden in June will flower late, and the zinnias at least will hold their flowers well into the fall.

Some zinnias to consider are Benaray’s Giant, Uproar Rose, Queen Red Lime, Queen Lime Orange and the smaller-blooming Oklahoma series. For cosmos, the tall ones are the bipinnatus species, and for mixed colors look for the Sensation Mix seeds. Good pollinator-attracting varieties include Cup Cakes and Sea Shells.

My fall cuts go into a very simple vase on the kitchen table. I’m not a flower arranger, but I do my best when it comes to height, color and scent. If you’re talented or have a knack for arranging, you should also consider using some of the ornamental grasses that are now putting on a great show. With plumes of white and pink, both arching and vertical, they can make a nice statement in a vase or arrangement that’s large enough.

And don’t forget the roses. Some just go crazy after the summer heat with blooms and scents aplenty. Remove as much foliage as you can with just the stem and flower remaining unless you leave a few leaves at the top. Fully developed buds that are showing color can also be cut on stems. Some will open and some won’t, but even the ones that don’t open add some appeal to any arrangement.

And last, but not least, are the hydrangeas. With all the new varieties around you can pick flowering stems that have made the transition from white to pink to red, or just pick the colors and styles you like. These flowers can have a long vase life, but they represent a design challenge since the flowers can be very large. Maybe just a display of cut hydrangeas?

For those will smaller spaces and a small vase, consider the flowers of perennial geraniums. These flowers don’t last very long but the plants are so prolific that they can be replaced every day. There are whites, reds, maroon, striped and spotted. I’ve found these very attractive in bunches of five or more stems in a very small and short vase.

Do your cutting either early in the morning, late in the day or on a cloudy day. These cuts will last longer and won’t wilt before you get them in the house. Once cut to your preferred height immediately get them into cold water. If you’re not ready to arrange them put them in cold water in a dark space until you use them. Keep enjoying as long as you can and keep growing.

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