Ready to get your hands dirty in the yard, but unsure of where to start? Planning a summer cutting garden can be your easiest and most rewarding garden project. Learn the basics and transform your space in just one weekend.

Give me one weekend, a patch of full sun dirt and just a bit of pocket change and I'll give you a cutting garden that will bring you more joy than any farmers market flowers. Nothing delights me more than clipping a bouquet of sunflowers, sweetpeas and fresh herbs for my kitchen table every week. Even if you swear by your black thumbs, I promise you can nurture a thriving haven for bumblebees, butterflies and birds and delight in your own home flower garden. Here's my step-by-step guide to planting a cutting garden.

Tools you will need:

  • Shovel and/or hoe
  • Hand shovel and rake
  • Gloves (optional)
  • Organic fertilizer
  • Organic soil (several bags depending on your space)
  • Ground cover (several bags depending on your space)
  • Seeds and seedlings (see recommendations below)

Prep your soil

shovel in soilFirst things first. All dirt is not created equal. Never plant anything in soil that has not been prepared (e.g. turned over and fed). Your plant babies will benefit from a home rich in nutrients and with good drainage (loosened dirt). Fertilizing and composting is a science and there is much to read up on when it comes to balancing the pH of your soil, but I keep it simple by focusing on sun-loving plants that will thrive on an initial feeding of this organic fertilizer and then monthly feedings of an all-purpose fertilizer.

Get ready to work your soil as soon as winter has broken and the risk of frost is over. Every part of the country has its own distinctive climate and micro-climates, so if you're really unsure of when to start planting, visit your local nursery. Try to avoid the weekends when it will be overly crowded, and seek out a knowledgeable employee. Describe your project and ask for tips. Don't buy any plants or seeds on your first trip. Take photos and notes on any plants that strike your fancy and go home to digest the information. Or check out your local library's gardening section. They will likely have a selection of books relevant to your particular region and micro-climate.

Soak your dirt really well prior to digging. This will make your manual labor a bit easier. Work your existing soil by turning over the first six inches or so with a shovel and hoe. Clear area of rocks and leaves. After this is done, work in a bag or two of organic soil and compost from the nursery. This is the hard labor portion of the project. Start early in the morning and enlist some help, if you can. The sooner you are done, the sooner you can start planting.

Design like a pro

Flower garden flowers

Now you can start designing your garden. I like to sketch my space and roughly diagram what I want to plant. As I plan, I make a list of plants, seedlings and seeds I'll be looking for on my nursery run. Think about your space. Can you fit one row of plants, two or three? Sketch from back to front, starting with your tallest flowers or climbers and finishing up with your ground cover, herbs or small pops of color. Start small and space plants according to their directions. Don't be tempted to fill every patch of dirt. Your plants will grow and they need space to develop their roots. You can always fill in with nursery goodies as the season progresses. Always best to start small. The following are easy to start from seeds and are great along a fence:

Note^Start seeds in an empty egg carton indoors in a sunny window. Transplant them to your garden when they are an inch or so tall.

Flower garden in progress

Back row

From seeds:

  • Sunflowers
  • Morning glory vine
  • Nasturtium vine (delicious edible flower)

From seedling:

  • Delphinium

From bulb or seedling:

  • Dahlia

Middle row

I like to fill a middle row with hearty plants that will stay all year-round. These are investment pieces like rose bushes and lavender. While lavender is inexpensive, it is sturdy and evergreen and will produce flowers for most of the year. Many rose bushes will bloom for up to half the year. They will need to be cut way back for the winter, but your first spring buds will more than make up for the barren months. I cannot get enough of my hot pink and bright orange roses. They absolutely make any bouquet a show stopper. Mix in some cosmos or poppies for added visual interest.

Plants and seedlings:

  • Tea roses
  • Lavender
  • Cosmos
  • Echinacea
  • Gerbera daisies

From seeds:

  • Cosmos
  • Poppies

Front row

Your front row should be reserved for small flowers to add color (these can be switched out every few months as the seasons change), ground cover and herbs.

Seedlings:

  • Pansies
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Mint (keep it trimmed back as it can be invasive) 

Flower garden in bloom

The finishing touches

After you have planted your babies, cover all exposed soil with a mulch or ground cover. This will help keep moisture in the ground after waterings, prevent soil erosion and help to choke out weeds. It also gives your space a neat and tidy appearance.

Flower garden bouquetThe fruits of your labor

Once your garden starts to bloom, don't be afraid to pick flowers. Trimming your plants (or deadheading spent flowers) will encourage new growth. I love to mix a single rose with one other show stopper like a dahlia or delphinium, a handful of lavender and some sprigs of herb for added fragrance and greenery. These make cheerful and organic-looking bouquets for your nightstand and your neighbors. Remember to water daily during the warmest months, weed weekly and feed monthly. Your garden will delight you for many months to come.


More gardening tips

A pallet garden for small spaces
Herb garden in a box
How to create a kid-friendly and parent-friendly backyard

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