Cutting Class

A how-to for creating a cutting garden in your Southwest Florida backyard.

Photo by Elizabeth Beans Cohn
Photo by Elizabeth Beans Cohn

There is no better way to instantly enliven a home’s interior and boost the mood of its inhabitants than a bouquet of fresh flowers. Instead of outsourcing your blooms, consider planting your own supply for year-round procurement.

The daughter of a landscape architect, Elizabeth Beans Cohn grew up with her feet in the dirt. She spent her youngest years gardening beside her mother and grandmother before earning a degree in botany and environmental science from Miami University in Ohio. Today she is the Associate Director of Horticulture at the Naples Botanical Garden, which, in addition to serving as visual inspiration for backyard gardeners, also offers on-site classes and Dig Deeper online instructionals on a variety of horticulture subjects. In an effort to encourage people to share in her love of gardening, Cohn has agreed to unearth her top strategies for creating a bountiful cutting garden.

Spring flowers on self-made wooden flower box, euro palette

Step #1: Selecting the space

The soil in Southwest Florida is fairly poor and not suited for growing many annuals and cut flowers. I recommend planting in raised beds, beds off of direct soil, or you can even create mounds of good soil on top of existing soil. My raised beds are only 6 inches above the soil line, but the higher you go, the better your yield.

Full sun is required for most cut flowers. Watch your yard for a year, as the angle of the sun changes from season to season. The area of your yard that gets the full sun all day throughout the year is the area you want to place your cut flower beds.

Planting pelargonium flower into window box in garden. Woman holding flowering plant seedling. Gardening at spring

Step #2: Preparing the area

Good soil is key for plants to thrive. To grow the strongest and best-looking plants, you need to add more nutrients to the soil with compost. I usually do a mixture of half topsoil and half compost.

I would highly recommend killing off the existing turf or weeds where you want to put your bed. A great way to do this is scalp the existing plant material (cut it very low) and then place cardboard over top of it. Make sure you remove all tape and plastic from the cardboard as the plastic will never break down. Then you can add your soil directly on top of the cardboard, which will break down over time.

Girl cuts or trims the  bush (rose) with secateur in the garden

Step #3: Selecting the varieties and size of your flowers

Split your growing season into two separate seasons, the wet season (summer) and dry season (winter).

Wet Season:


Zinnias thrive in our heat, but can also do well in our dry cooler winters. Sometimes they can get a little leggy and fall over, so I would recommend putting them in the middle of your bed. My favorite varieties are the Queen mixes.


Marigolds thrive in our heat, but tend to get leggy when the days get shorter. There are compact varieties that are perfect for putting in the front or edge of your bed.

Cranberry hibiscus

Cranberry hibiscus is grown for its foliage, which is a beautiful burgundy color. The stems wilt quickly if not put in water right away, but usually bounce back after being in the air conditioning and water. It can turn into a small shrub if left unpruned, so put this in the back or middle of your garden, giving it about 4 feet around to spread out and grow in height.


I love adding the stems to arrangements to give it a delicious smell. The flowers are also beautiful and add a different texture to your arrangement. I would give it a 2-foot radius, as it can sometimes grow to 2 feet tall. My favorite varieties are the Thai kinds because they do the best in our heat and the leaves and stems have a purple tint.


I love this flower because you can not only use it in regular arrangements, but you can use it as dried floral. Gomphrena is a lower plant so it can be planted in the front of a planting. My favorite varieties include Audray White and Raspberry Cream.


Fennel, the host plant of the swallowtail butterfly, usually flowers in the summer when the heat starts to increase and the sun is high. You can use the bulbs to cook with and the leaves are a great feathery addition in cut flower arrangements.

Dry Season:


Same as above, but they won’t get quite as leggy as they do in the summer.


Same as above, although a dry season variety I’ve had luck with is Genovese.


Dry or use fresh in an arrangement with water. Celosia can get tall, so I would suggest they be in the middle of your bed. My favorite varieties are Flamingo Feather and Celway Terracotta.


Famous for being used as a dried flower, but can [also be used as fresh]. Put strawflower in the middle of the bed as it can get some height to it. My favorite are the Peach mixes.


There are so many different varieties of sunflowers nowadays that it is fun to grow a few different kinds. Most varieties are still very tall (5 feet or more) and should be grown in the back or middle of your bed. However, they have created dwarf varieties that bloom at a shorter height (1 to 2 feet). One of my favorite large varieties is Autumn Beauty.

Cropped shot of new plants being watered from a pink watering can

Step #4: Developing a maintenance plan

Mulching helps a lot if you want to keep other weeds out. It is also a great way to add more nutrients to the soil. My favorite is FloriMulch because it is made using invasive melaleuca and does not have any dyes in it.

Water is key! Especially in the dry season/winter, once the rains stop, it is essential to water your cut flower garden. I water almost every day during the dry season. Drip is best, but a sprinkler works perfectly fine, too. Even hand-watering, which is a great way to assess your plants and check for insects or pests, works.

Step #5: Keeping the flowers healthy

Plants take time. Be patient and make sure they are getting the correct amount of water. I also like to use natural fertilizers like fish fertilizer on all my cut flowers and vegetables. It is diluted with water, so I apply with a watering can.

The more you harvest your flowers, the more blooms you are going to get. Just like any plant, the more you pay attention and address issues sooner, the healthier your flowers will be.

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