Growing a Cutting Garden—with Ranunculus!
Ranunculus are like the Labradoodle of the bulb world; they look like a rose, come in all kinds of gorgeous colors, and arrange beautifully but they do not have a scent. This means they can be enjoyed by people with allergies or who are sensitive to aromas. Though ranunculus are popular cut flowers with florists and wedding bouquet designers, they aren’t as well known to home gardeners. But they’d look fantastic in your garden, so you should plant some!
You’ll want to plant enough to cut and bring indoors to enjoy, too, since they're such great cut flowers. Why let the florists have all the fun?
What Is a Cutting Garden?
This is easy—it’s just what it sounds like! No, really, a cutting garden is composed of plants that you plan to cut for floral arrangements. Typical cutting garden plants have common characteristics, such as nice, strong, straight stems; colorful blooms (or foliage); and they’ll last a long time in a vase. Some have scent, but some don’t.
Cutting gardens can be stand-alone beds (or even rows), dedicated solely to plants you intend to cut. They can even be beds dedicated to a single flower, such as zinnia. Those are often grown by gardeners who are growing for commercial purposes.
Most gardeners will incorporate cutting garden plants or areas within their landscape beds to great effect. Then it’s more a matter of garden design and matching a plant to its environment. It’s good to decide your ultimate purpose—lots of flowers for cutting versus some flowers for cutting—so that you plan the cutting bed garden properly.
How to Plant a Traditional Cutting Garden
Planting a traditional cutting garden isn’t very different from preparing any landscape bed but in most cases, you’ll need a site with lots of sun to get the most flowers. Here are some points to keep in mind:
- Do you want to grow lots of flowers for cutting? If yes, you’ll want an “efficient” bed. That doesn’t always translate into a “pretty” bed because its purpose is more utilitarian. Find a good, sunny spot that’s not front and center of your landscape. Along a fencerow can be a great location so it doesn't look like you just made a bunch of rows in your yard!
- Decide on your favorite plants that you want to grow. Some great options, in addition to ranunculus, include: sunflowers, cosmos, tulips, alliums, narcissus, gaillardias, asters, sweet peas, phlox, peony, coneflowers—you get the picture.
- Since production is more important than garden design, plan the traditional cutting garden bed so that you plant like with like. For instance, a row of zinnias, a row of ranunculus, a row of peonies, a row of daffodils for cutting.
- Since the design part comes later as you arrange the flowers, it’s not so critical to design the bed so that it has an overarching design.
- Consider if any plants need support, such as peonies. Trellises, cages, or string lattice can work wonders here. It's better to place the supports when you plant the bulbs than to wait until they start growing. That way th plants can just grow up through the supports.
- Think about bloom sequence so you have a rotating supply of flowers to cut. Ranunculus are sweater-weather plants; they like cool temperatures, and bloom in spring. Include other plants that bloom in summer and fall in your cutting garden so you have plenty of flowers all season.
How to Plant “Cut-Flower Plots” within Standard Garden Beds
Incorporating a cut-flower into a standard garden/landscape bed is a bit trickier, but nothing you can’t handle. Keep these points in mind:
- What are the existing bed conditions? Sunny? Rich soil? Good drainage? Ranunculus like all these. Match the cutting flower to the bed’s site conditions.
- Even though a cutting-garden plant is often a cut-and-come-again type, meaning cutting stimulates more growth, planting extra ranunculus to cover the “holes” left by cutting is a good idea. Then the overall design of the bed isn’t affected by the missing cut-flowers.
- Scatter "cutting plots" throughout the garden beds so that you're not cutting all of the flowers from one side of the bed, leaving it bare.
- Think about your overall garden design, especially the color scheme. Since ranunculus come in multiple colors, it’s pretty easy to find a complementary one. But you (probably) don’t want to mix a hot color in a bed of cool colors.
Plants that Play Nice with Ranunculus
Ranunculus are “good neighbors” as they play nicely with other plants. Since their blooming season is early spring, many plants bloom concurrently with them. Some plants that also bloom in spring around the same time are late-blooming tulips and late-blooming narcissus.
There is a vast array of alliums that bloom about the same time or a bit later too. Imagine putting together a bouquet of ranunculus and striking allium blossoms. All kinds of perennial plants can take up the slack once ranunculus have done their thing, including coneflowers, phlox, rudbeckia, and peonies. The options are virtually endless.
What You Need to Know about Growing Ranunculus in Colder Climates
Ranunculus can be grown in colder climates, but you may need to treat them as container plants. It's really up to you.
For those in zone 8 and warmer, plant outdoors in fall.
If you live in a colder zone, you can either plant in the landscape in April-May or start the bulbs indoors in a cool spot (such as the garage) in February. Move them outside when all chance of freezing weather has ended, usually about a month before your last-freeze date.
While spring-planted ranunculus may not be as prolific as fall-planted ones, you’ll still be able to enjoy plenty of their colorful tissue-paper blooms, a special treat in the spring.
- Katie Elzer-Peters