If you want lots of pretty bouquets for your house and to give to friends, you’ll want a nice mix of perennial and annual flowers. In Part 1 we discussed the best annuals for flower arrangements. Now let’s discuss perennials.
The pros and cons of perennials
Perennials are plants that grow back year after year, becoming larger, more vigorous and more prolific each year. Just plant it and once it’s established, there’s really nothing more to worry about. What’s not to love?
Well, for starters, perennials can be expensive. A packet of snapdragon seeds will cost just a couple dollars and give you hundreds of plants. But one perennial plant can cost $15 or more!
Second, they can be pretty picky about where they get planted. After all, if they’re going to put down roots, they want the perfect place. And if you don’t give them what they want, you make find your plant fails to thrive.
Third, perennials put a lot of energy into their permanent growth, so they aren’t too worried about making flowers. Instead of blooming all summer-long, they put a big burst of energy into blooming for a few weeks out of the season.
Lastly, besides have a shorter bloom time, perennials may not give you lots of flowers when they do bloom. Once you cut a flower from a perennial plant, you do not get a lot of bounce-back blooms like you do with annuals. Depending on the plant, you may only get 3-4 good cuttings a season.
Even so, perennials are an important part of a cut flower garden. I’ll help you choose some good ones and make sure you get the most out of your choices.
Keep the costs down
Here are some ways to keep the costs of perennials down.
Participate in your local garden club’s plant sharing.
Ask friends to share some of their surplus when they divide their established plants.
Wait until late in the garden season to buy plants when they go on clearance.
Start from seed.* Some perennials (like Purple Cone Flower and Yarrow) are easy to start from seed.
First, make sure the plant is hardy enough for your area. Lavendar typically only does well in Zone 5 or warmer, but there are a couple varieties that will do OK in zone 4. All of the plants I list here have at least one variety that will grown in Zone 4 or warmer. But be sure to check that the variety you are choosing is hardy for your zone.
Second, know when your plant blooms. For example, asters don’t bloom until the fall and rudbekia bloom mid-summer but start fading by August. Choose a variety of plants so that you will have perennial blooms all summer long.
Third, know what kind home your plant likes. You don’t want to have to move them once they are planted and you want to have plenty of room for them to stretch out and grow. Most perennials used for cut flowers like full to partial sun. But some, like astilbe, thrive in shade. Some like sandy or poor soil, others prefer moist soil.
Fourth, know your plant’s growth habits. Just like different varieties have different cold tolerances, they also have different heights. You don’t want to put a lot of time and energy and give space to a plant that will only grow 4-6″ tall. Asters are my favorite cut flower. But a lot of them grow in short mounds and I want varieties that have long stems.
I’m going to start with my favorite perennial cut flower. These flowers come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. From small round buttons to large pom poms and medium daisy-looking shapes, with every color in the rainbow, your vases will always make an impact with these flowers.
Asters are sturdy and once they get established they give a generous supply of blooms. Their bloom time is limited to the cool end of summer and fall. But that’s just when most of the other perennial flowers are about spent, so that’s another reason this one is a favorite.
Start from seed: Start about 8-10 weeks before your last frost date. Cover the seeds with a light dusting of soil. Put the pots in a plastic bag and seal to keep moisture in. Put the seeds in the refrigerator for two weeks. After two weeks, remove and keep seeds at 70-75° until the germinate.
Meaning: Love, daintiness
Also known as Black-eyed Susan, this is my second favorite flower. It’s super easy to grow and once it’s established will reward you with blooms year after year. It blooms for a good three months, making it one of the longer-producing perennials.
Most of them are yellow with a black or dark brown center, with a single row of petals, much like a daisy. But there are double-petaled varieties as well as colors ranging from pale yellow to deep-orange-almost red. It’s just a beautiful ray of sunshine in my bouquets.
Related to rudbekiah and similar in appearance is the Purple Cone Flower. Most Purple Cone Flower is, well purple. But there are some white varieties. They have a cone-shaped center surrounded by a row or two of petals. These are really easy to start from seed, which is another reason to have some.
Another reason to grow Echinacea is for the medicinal value of the roots. Every 4-5 years, when the Purple Cone Flower starts to get big and unwieldy, dig them up and thin them out a bit. Replant 1/3-1/2 of the roots and use the rest of the roots for your herbal medicine chest.
Start from seed: Start indoors 8-10 weeks before last frost date. Cover with 1/8″ soil and cover to keep seeds dark until they germinate. Keep soil at 70-75° until germination.
I like this flower for it’s dramatic poofy flower. You can get them in shades of from white to deep pink. Another reason I like it is because it’s one of the few shade-loving plants that produces a nice cut flower.
Astilbe is one of the first plants to bloom and the show is quickly over. But you can extend the blooming season by planting different varieties that bloom later in the season.
Meaning: “I will be waiting for you”
The traditional white Shasta daisy is cold hardy in most zone in the US. But there are other varieties that come in different colors: pinks, lavender and blues. Not all of these are as cold hard as the Shasts daisy, so be sure to check if the plant you’re considering is good for your region.
And not all daisies have a nice long stem, so make sure the variety you’re getting has a nice and tall.
Once established, they make a very nice cut flower, blooming for about 3 months in late summer to early fall.
Start from seed: Sow on the surface of the soil. Needs light to germinate. Keep soil temperature 65-70°.
Meaning: Innocence, hope
Although I include the delphinium in my perennial collection, technically it’s a biennial. That means it grows up in its first year but doesn’t bloom until its second year. But it will self-seed itself and if you don’t disturb the ground each fall, you’ll get a new batch of flowers every year.
Lots of gardeners say that the Gladiolus is one of the best, most sought-after cut flower. And it is. Except the gladiolus (which grows from a bulb) is not hardy below Zone 6 or 7. So you have to dig the bulbs up each fall and put them in a cool garage or refrigerator, then replant them the next year. That’s just too much work for me.
But I think the delphinium has the same dramatic fill as the gladiolus. It doesn’t have the same varied color pallet as the gladiolus but I am happy to forgive that since it’s so much easier to care for. Most delphiniums are light blue to dark blue. But you can find some white and pink varieties.
Start from seed: Start 8-10 weeks before last frost date. Sow on the surface of the soil. Put the pots in a plastic bag and seal to keep the moisture in. Refrigerate for two weeks. After two weeks, take
them out of the fridge and remove the plastic. Cover the seeds to keep them in darkness until germination. Keep soil temperature 50-55°.
Meaning: big-heartedness, fun, lightness and levity.
Salvia can have a strong, sagey scent. But it’s one of those plants that requires very little attention. It produces pretty dark blue-to-purple spikes that make a nice accent in my flower arrangements. It’s one of the earliest plants to start blooming and is usually spent by July. You can encourage it to bloom longer by cutting off spent blooms.
Meaning: “I think of you”
I just love–LOVE!–roses. But I haven’t had very good luck growing them. The long-stemmed varieties (like Tea or Grandiflora) like a warmer climate thank we have here. Still, the Floribunda and shrub varieties that are suited to this climate (USDA Hardiness Zone 4, but closer to 3) are pretty. The blossoms of these varieties grow in bunches at the end of 4-8″ stems. That’s a long enough to stick a bundle in the middle of a small bouquet.
At the end of the season, I collect the rose hips and use them in making a tasty jelly. Or I chop them up and dehydrate them. After they are dried, I store them in a dark-colored glass jar. Rose hips are rich in vitamins and especially high in vitamin C. The
citrusy flavor makes a tasty addition to herb teas.
Meaning: The meaning of the rose depends on the color: Love (red), mourning (dark crimson), happiness (pink), “I’m worthy of you” (white), jealousy, decrease of love, infidelity (yellow)
There are so many varieties of Asian lilies I hardly know where to begin. But this is another “plant it and forget it” plant. It is grown from tubers that will spread each season. You’ll want to dig up the tubers and replant them (or gift them.) The only drawback to this flower is that they don’t last long after you pick them — usually about 2-3 days. Lilies come in all sorts of colors and patterns that make for a stunning bouquet, so don’t be timid: plant them to your heart’s content.
Meaning: purity and refined beauty
Most lavender is only hardy in Zone 5 or warmer. But recently new varieties have been developed that will survive in Zone 4. And I love this plant so much that I’m willing to give it some extra mulch in the fall to protect it from winter’s extremes.
The lavender flowers are a pretty purple bundle sitting atop a 10-15″ stock. They bloom for most of the summer and well into the fall. I love lavender for it’s aroma. What a lovely, intense scent! And besides being pretty, it has so many other uses. It can be used in cooking and for medicinal purposes. A good
multipurpose flower that no garden should be without.
So there you have it. My favorite annuals and my favorite perennials. Start with two or three of each (annual and perennial) and add to it each year until you have a flower garden that brings color to your yard and home.
Perennials can be a little tricky to start from seed, which is why most people like to
buy plants at the nursery. But you really should try your hand at starting them from seed. Daisy, aster and echinacea are just a few of the perennials that are relatively easy to start from seed. My favorite resource is this A-Z guide: Flowers, from Seed to Bloom. Like the title suggests, it tells you everything you need to know to get the best results from your flowers. I couldn’t live without this book!