Growing a cut flower garden, whether it’s a small plot in your backyard or for profit as part of a flower farm is extremely rewarding. While many perennial flowers make beautiful cut flowers, the true heart of a cut flower garden is annual flowers grown from seed.
Starting flowers from seed can seem intimidating, but it’s quite easy once you get the hang of it. I’ve compiled a list with pictures of my favourite annual cut flowers that are easy to grow, plus a list of those which are harder for beginners. It doesn’t mean you can’t grow the harder ones, they’re just a bit more challenging!
How Long Does it Take to Grow Cut Flowers from Seed?
The days to maturity of each annual flower will vary. The seed packet of each flower variety will give a range of how long the flower needs to grow. Most cut flowers that I grow have a range of 70-100 days to maturity.
One confusing thing about the term “days to maturity” is that it measures the time it takes from the seed being in the ground to the first bloom that opens. This means that you might have 70 days until the first bloom, but it might be more like 80 or 85 days until the flower really gets going.
This is probably not a problem in places with longer growing seasons, but I live in zone 3 in Saskatchewan, where we only have 90-100 growing days depending on what the frost decides to do that year.
Because I have a short growing season, I start almost all of my cut flowers indoors, then direct seed a second crop of the seeds with a shorter number of days to maturity. This way, I’m guaranteed flowers even if we have an early frost and something unexpected happens at either end of the growing season.
When Do I Start Flowers From Seed Indoors?
Generally, I start my flowers 4-6 weeks before I intend to set them outside. I have started them earlier, but I find that they are difficult to harden off and take forever to get going. I’m working on refining my hardening off process, and I promise to share it with you when I find something that’s a little more fool-proof.
That said, there are some varieties that need to be started 8 weeks or more before you intend to plant. Check your seed packets to confirm when it’s best to plant.
Where is the Best Place to Buy Cut Flower Seeds?
You can buy cut flower seeds at your local garden centre or from online seed companies. If you don’t care too much about specific varieties and colours, it’s fine to pick up whatever you find at a garden centre or even a big box store.
If you’re looking for specific specialty colours or the prettiest flowers to blow up your IG feed, you’ll probably need to order online. I’ve compiled a list of the best places to buy seeds for a cutting garden in Canada, the US, and Europe.
The Best Annual Cut Flower Seeds for Beginners
With all that out of the way, here are my favourite easy-to-grow cut flowers that are perfect for beginners. At the end of the list, I’ll also include others which I think you should avoid, either because they have really long days to maturity, or are difficult to grow.
Amaranth is one of the easiest possible flowers for a beginner, especially the Love Lies Bleeding variety pictured here. Direct sow early in the spring, basically forget about them (an occasional watering is appreciated) and collect the blooms in the fall.
Calendula is a multipurpose flower in the garden. It’s a beautiful and versatile cut flower, it is a beneficial flower in the vegetable garden, and it’s leaves are great dried in homemade beauty products. Who knew a flower that’s so pretty could have so many uses?
Cosmos are a wonderful cut-and-come-again flower. There are so many beautiful varieties available that you don’t have to just stick to the basic ones. Try the cupcake, double flowering, or lemon varieties.
Pincushions are amazing because they look good at every point in their life cycle. Whether you cut them when they’re just emerging, in bloom, or as a seed pod, they look interesting in the vase.
Rudbeckia is available in both perennial and annual varieties. This beautiful flower will bloom in late summer and last all the way into the fall until a hard frost.
- The 36 Best Cut Flowers (Mostly Perennials)
- 53 Favourite Perennials for Zone 3
- Where to Buy Floret-Style Cut Flower Seeds in Canada
Snapdragons are easy to find in garden centres and big box stores if you aren’t able to start them from seed yourself. Look for the Madame Butterfly and Rocket varieties to ensure they grow tall enough for cutting.
Snapdragons are surprisingly hardy, and will survive the first frost of the season.
Stock is not a cut-and-come-again flower, but it’s so pretty and so easy to start from seed that it still makes my list. My stock plants also survived the hardening off process in the spring the easiest.
Strawflowers are hands down my new favourite cut flower to grow from seed. Almost every seed I planted came up, they last a long time in the vase, are a cut-and-come-again flower, and are easy and fun to save seeds from. Just make sure you purchase a tall variety, and not a dwarf one that’s meant for pots.
A fall garden isn’t complete without sunflowers! You don’t have to stick with just the yellow ones either. There’s a whole range of beautiful blooms in brown, red, pink, and orange too, with many variations in between. Choose branching varieties so you get the most blooms possible.
In my opinion, zinnias are the backbone of a cut flower garden. There’s so many varieties with gorgeous, vibrant colours, in any size. They’re easy to start from seed, and grow well direct soon too. For something different, try growing the Zinderella and Queen Lime varieties.
Cut Flowers Beginners Should Avoid
While I’m a firm believer that you should plant what you love, I also think a head’s up as to what might be difficult for beginners is good too. The following flowers on my list are either hard to grow, had some surprising negatives for them, or require an extra long period to maturity.
Please remember that it’s my personal opinion and what is difficult in my zone 3 garden on the prairies, might not be as difficult where you live.
Okay, okay, stop sharpening your pitchforks! I love poppies, but here’s why I think they might not be the best choice for beginners.
- Icelandic poppies are finicky to grow in a short growing season. I was able to get them to work by starting them in compostable newsprint pots (Icelandic poppies don’t like to be transplanted, but have a longer period of maturity that doesn’t work in my growing zone). Clearly, from the photo above, I was able to get them to work. However, I don’t think most beginners would be willing to do all the extra steps.
- Poppy Blooms are short lived. Last year I planted Thai, Shirley, California, and Icelandic poppies. No matter what variety it was, the blooms barely lasted.
- Poppies tend to Re-Seed themselves. This can be a great thing or a terrible thing. The poppies I planted from seed two years ago reseeded themselves and I was thrilled. However, you might not be so thrilled if you didn’t know that poppies would reseed and you didn’t want them there every year.
- Poppy stems aren’t that strong. Again, this isn’t the end of the world. But I find it really annoying when I want to put them in a bouquet with other flowers.
The lisianthus flower is stunningly beautiful, much like a rose. However, it takes around 200 days to mature and requires very specific growing conditions. Again, I realize that this flower is not impossible to grow, and with a bit of research you can figure it out. But if you’re a beginner, it’s probably best to wait a few years before you tackle it.
Ready to grow your own beautiful cut flower garden, without the hassel?
I’ve taken all the guesswork out of creating a cut flower garden with my e-book, Cut Flowers Made Simple. It’s the perfect way for beginner and intermediate gardeners to start their own cut flower garden with or without seed starting.
Click on the picture to find out more or get your copy.
So what do you think? Any flower you think should be added to this list? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.