Growing Cut Flowers in Florida

Let’s talk about growing cut flowers in Florida! Although my main focus is vegetable gardening, I have ventured into cut flowers, fruit trees, and perennial plants. By no means I feel like I am an expert in terms of cut flowers, but I do feel confident enough that my experience and academic background offer a perspective on how to grow cut flowers in Florida.

As I have learned throughout my years growing plants in Florida, things can get more complicated towards summer due to the extreme heat and humidity, but there are still many plants that will grow well here. Just like people up north can not grow tropical plants such as mangoes and bananas, down in Florida, we can not grow all the stone fruits or grapes as people up north. The same can be said about cut flowers; for example, we can not grow peonies here in Florida certain cut flowers, such as yarrows and orchids, may be more difficult to grow in the northern states.  

Seasonal considerations

Florida is a pretty big state (it takes around 20 hours to drive from the most southern part of the sunshine state – Key West-, to the most northern part). This means that growing conditions will vary greatly between different parts of the state. Why does that matter? Well, certain parts of the estate of Florida may be prone to frost in winter, and other parts, such as Key West, will not get any frost at all (temperatures stay 67-91 F year-round). 

The first step to understanding what to grow and when to grow is understanding the weather pattern in your region. So I recommend that you first find out your USDA growing zone then research what is the average temperature by month of your location. 

I like the divide of the growing season in Florida into 2 sections – even though there are 4 seasons. The first section is from October to March, and the second one is from April-September. The first part will consist of cool-season annuals and the second part will consist of warm-season annuals (remember, this post is addressing cut flowers. Mostly annual flowers). This division helps me prepare what type of plants I will sow based on what the requirements are. Some flowers are cool season-loving; therefore, they will be grown from October to March, and others are warm-loving. 

The first growing season is ideal for the cool season flowers, and most flowers can be sow anytime from october-january. Plants will grow from October-April depending on the variety. The second growing is ideal for warm season flowers, and most flowers can be sow march-early may and august-september. June, July and August are the hottest months in Florida. Many cut flowers can be grown during those months but seedlings often struggle to grow due to extreme heat if started on summer.

However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For zones that are prone to frost, if no frost occurs, warm-season flowers can still be grown during winter. Also, for places such as Key West, where winter temperatures vary from 67 to 77, warm-season and cool-season flowers can be grown as well. 

Cool season flowers

As the name suggests, these flowers thrive in cooler temperatures, ideally below 80°F. In Central and Northern Florida, it’s best to plant these seeds around October, while in Southern Florida, November is more suitable. By April, across all regions of Florida, these flowers typically start to appear unhealthy and become prone to diseases.

  1. Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana): Pansies are popular cool-season flowers known for their vibrant colors. The downside of these flowers is that they are extremely slow-growing. I grow them to be used more as an edible flower than a cut flower.
  2. Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus): Snapdragons are versatile cool-season annuals that come in a range of colors and heights. They thrive in Florida’s cooler temperatures, and certain varieties grow extremely fast. This is also one of my favorite winter flowers!
  3. Calendula (Calendula officinalis): Calendula, also known as pot marigold, is a hardy cool-season flower that thrives in Florida’s mild winters. It produces daisy-like blooms in shades of orange and yellow and is prized for its medicinal properties as well. Specific cultivars can also be white, and others are known for producing more resina (the medicinal property used in creams and lotions) than others. 
  4. Stock (Matthiola incana): Stock is a classic cool-season annual known for its fragrant, spikelike blooms and excellent vase life. I loved how these looked, but I have not grown enough to determine where they stand in my heart. lol 
  5. Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) is a captivating annual with delicate fern-like foliage and jewel-toned flowers. I love how denty these flowers are, and they are definitely the most different-looking of all the winter flowers.
  6. Strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum) In Florida, the best time to plant strawflowers is in the fall, from September to November. This timing allows them to establish during the cooler months and bloom in late winter to early spring. Planting during this period also helps avoid the stress of summer heat and reduces issues with pests and diseases. Ensure they are in well-draining soil and a sunny location for optimal growth and flowering.

Warm Season flowers

The flowers on this list love the warm season and are often prone to frost damage. The warm season doesn’t necessarily mean they will thrive throughout Florida’s summer. 

When it comes to selecting warm-season cut flowers to grow in Florida, there are options that thrive in the state’s sunny and humid conditions. Here are some of my favorite choices for warm-season cut flowers:

  • Zinnias (Zinnia elegans): Zinnias are popular warm-season annuals known for their bright and colorful blooms in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, and white. They are easy to grow from seed and produce abundant flowers from late spring to early fall, making them ideal for fresh bouquets and floral arrangements.
  • Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus): Cosmos are charming warm-season annuals with delicate, daisy-like flowers in shades of pink, white, and purple. They have a long blooming period and attract pollinators to the garden, making them a delightful addition to cut flower beds and borders.
  • Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.): Sunflowers are iconic warm-season flowers known for their large, cheerful blooms that follow the sun’s path throughout the day. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, from traditional yellow to deep burgundy, and make stunning focal points in cut flower arrangements.
  • Celosia (Celosia spp.): Celosia, also known as cockscomb or wool flowers, are unique warm-season annuals with vibrant, plume-like flowers in shades of red, orange, yellow, and pink. They add texture and visual interest to bouquets and are prized for their long-lasting blooms.
  • Marigolds (Tagetes spp.): Marigolds are versatile warm-season annuals with cheerful, golden-orange flowers that bloom prolifically throughout the summer months. They are easy to grow and make excellent companion plants for vegetable gardens.

Perennial Flowers

  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is not only a culinary favorite but also an amazing addition to any cut flower garden in Florida. This is one of the easiest herbs to grow in Florida and it comes in shades of white, pink, or purple, basil adds both beauty and fragrance to bouquets and arrangements.
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a hardy perennial with feathery foliage and flat-topped clusters of tiny flowers in vibrant hues of yellow, pink, red, or white. Yarrow is also an easy to grow medicinal that I love! (it does self seed very easily). Drought-tolerant and adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, yarrow is an excellent choice for adding color and texture to Florida cut flower gardens year after year.
  • Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a native perennial prized for its bold, daisy-like flowers and medicinal properties. Available in a range of colors, including shades of purple, pink, orange, and white, echinacea blooms from late spring through summer. Echinacea is also a pollinator magnet, and every single butterfly will skip any flower in my yard to go to my coneflower! Echinacea purpurea is also native to Florida!
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) is a perennial with bright yellow or orange flowers and dark centers that resemble, you guessed it, black eyes. A native wildflower, black-eyed Susan blooms from summer through fall, attracting bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to the garden. Drought-tolerant and adaptable to a variety of soil types. I recommend the use of gloves when handling as the stems are covered in ”spiky hairs” (paleae).

Greenery:

  • Mint (Mentha spp.) is a fragrant herb with aromatic foliage and small, whorled clusters of flowers in shades of white, pink, or purple. With its refreshing scent and lush, green leaves, mint adds texture and fragrance to bouquets and arrangements, making it a popular choice for both culinary and decorative purposes. I do recommend mint 1 from Cody Cove farm. In my opinion
  • Cranberry hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella) is an ornamental shrub prized for its striking foliage and tropical flair. With its deep burgundy leaves and showy, hibiscus-like flowers in shades of red, pink, or white, red leaf hibiscus adds drama and color to bouquets. This is also one of the easiest perrenials to grow in Florida!
  • Bee balm (Monarda spp.), also known as bergamot or Oswego tea, is a perennial herbaceous plant prized for its aromatic foliage and tubular flowers in shades of red, pink, purple, or white. A favorite of pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, bee balm adds color and wildlife interest.  (Monarda punctata) is also a Florida Native bee balm!
  • Blackberry foliage (Rubus spp.) is a versatile and textural addition to cut flower arrangements, featuring vibrant green leaves with serrated edges and a glossy sheen. Whether used as a filler or focal point, blackberry foliage adds depth and interest to bouquets and arrangements, lending a natural and rustic charm to floral designs.
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens) is an aromatic herb with feathery foliage and clusters of small, yellow flowers that add texture and fragrance to cut flower arrangements. Dill is probably one of my favorite greenery plants for my bouquets! Any time that I add it to my bouquets I always get the same question, “what is this amazing smell?.
  • Grapevine (Vitis spp.) is a woody vine prized for its twisting stems and tendrils, which add a whimsical and rustic touch to cut flower arrangements. Whether used as a base for wreaths and garlands or woven into bouquets and centerpieces, grapevine adds natural beauty and texture to floral designs. Florida native grape (muscadine) is a very easy plant to grow!

Bulb/tubers

Dahlia flower

Dahlia’s rank among my top choices for cut flowers, although, like many others, they’re not fond of excessive heat. Typically, they thrive best in the cooler seasons of spring and fall. While both dahlia seeds and bulbs are readily available, I highly recommend opting for bulbs due to their faster turnaround and greater consistency.

 When planting tubers in the spring, I prefer to enrich the soil with compost and organic flower fertilizer, ensuring optimal conditions for growth. Tubers can be safely planted after the last frost, typically around the final week of February. Expect blooms from April through June. In July, I trim the plants back to soil level and apply a protective layer of mulch. Then, come September, a boost of fertilizer encourages their second round of blooming. Fall planting follows the same simple steps as in spring but is planted in September. Tubers will remain dormant in the soil during winter. 

  • Gladiolus 
Gladiolus

Gladiolus, also known as sword lily, is a easy to grow flower in Florida. With its sword-shaped leaves and stunning array of colors including reds, pinks, oranges, yellows, purples, and whites, gladiolus adds an elegant touch to any garden or floral arrangement. Thriving in full sun and well-drained soil, this perennial favorite blooms from late spring to early fall, creating a striking vertical display that never fails to impress.

Soil Preparation and Fertility:

Preparing the soil is essential for successful cut flower cultivation in Florida, where sandy soils are prevalent in many areas. These sandy soils are good for drainage but often lack the necessary nutrients and organic matter crucial for plant growth. I like to improve my soil quality by mending it with 20-30% clay, flower fertilizer, and organic matter. Sandy soils typically have low organic matter content, so it’s crucial to incorporate organic amendments such as compost, aged manure, or peat moss (learn more about peat moss extraction before going this route) to improve soil structure and fertility.

When amending sandy soils, aim to enrich the soil with organic matter to enhance its water retention and nutrient-holding capacity. Work the amendments into the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 8 inches to ensure they are thoroughly mixed and distributed. This process helps create a nutrient-rich growing environment that supports healthy root development and flower production. I like to apply flower fertilizer twice during each growing season, one two weeks prior to planting and one mid-season. Fish emulsion can also be used early in the season (around weeks 2-4 post-transplanting) to encourage green growth but should be stopped once flowering starts. 

Watering and Irrigation:

As I have stated before, Florida soil is extremely sandy, which means that water percolates through it quickly. Along with mending the soil, an irrigation system should be set up. If you would like to learn how to set up your drip irrigation system, click here to learn more. After transplanting, I recommend hand watering for a week or two, then watering as needed. I normally water my plants every day for 20-30 minutes through a drip irrigation system unless it rains. 

Mulching and Weed Control:

Mulching is key to conserving soil moisture, suppressing weeds, and regulating soil temperature in Florida’s gardens. Apply a layer of organic mulch such as shredded bark, straw, or compost around cut flower beds to suppress weed growth and maintain soil moisture levels. I recommend using dye-free mulch. Regularly inspect flower beds for weeds and remove them promptly to prevent competition for nutrients and water.

Pest and Disease Management:

Implementing integrated pest management (IPM) practices is essential for controlling pests and diseases in Florida’s cut flower gardens. Monitor plants regularly for signs of pest damage or disease symptoms and take appropriate action as needed, such as hand-picking pests, using insecticidal soap or neem oil for pest control, and applying fungicides for fungal diseases. Encourage natural predators and beneficial insects to help control pest populations and maintain a healthy garden ecosystem.

Support and Staking:

In Florida’s warm and often breezy climate, providing proper support and staking for cut flowers is essential to prevent tall or heavy blooms from bending or breaking. Whether it’s delicate stems of snapdragons or towering spikes of gladiolus, using stakes, trellises, or cages ensures that flowers remain upright and secure throughout their growth. By offering support early in the season and regularly checking for stability as plants mature, gardeners can protect their prized blooms from wind damage and maintain the aesthetic appeal of their cut flower gardens.

For dahlias, an upside-down tomato cage can be used (just like those cheap ones found in big box stores). For other flowers, such as zinnias and cosmos, staking and netting can be used. Do you have to cage or stake your flowers? Not necessarily, but this is a common practice for small-scale flower growers to ensure stems are kept straight. I personally don’t stake my flowers because I don’t grow commercially and don’t grow enough.

Deadheading and Pruning:

Deadheading and pruning are vital tasks in maintaining the health and appearance of cut flower plants in Florida. Removing spent blooms not only tidies up the garden but also encourages continuous flowering by redirecting the plant’s energy towards producing new buds. Additionally, pruning dead or diseased foliage helps improve airflow, reducing the risk of fungal diseases in Florida’s humid conditions.

I know many gardeners feel bad about deadheading and pruning, but believe me when I say these steps are necessary to increase blooms! The more you remove blooms the more you will harvest!

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Care:

Harvesting cut flowers at the peak of freshness and providing proper post-harvest care are essential steps to ensure longevity and quality. When harvesting, use sharp, clean pruners and cut flowers early in the morning when they are fully hydrated or late afternoon, avoid mid day harvest as plants tend to wilt quickly (specially around the hotter months). Immediately place harvested stems in a bucket of clean, lukewarm water to prevent wilting and dehydration. Remove excess foliage from stems and recut them underwater to prevent air bubbles from forming, then arrange flowers in a clean vase filled with fresh water and floral preservatives. Keep cut flowers in a cool, shaded area away from direct sunlight and drafts to prolong their vase life and enjoy their beauty indoors.

For zinnias, do the wiggle test before harvesting. The wiggle test consists of gently wiggling the stems a few inches under the flower to assess the stem strength. If the stems wiggle too much, flowers aren’t ready to harvest.

For cosmos, it is advised to harvest flowers before blooming to extend vase’s life. The same is true for sunflowers but for a different reason. Sunflower is a pest and beneficial magnet! Harvesting right before bloom helps prevent pest damage (also, prevent bringing any pests inside your home lol).

Designing a flower bouquet

  • Focal Flowers: These are the main attraction of the bouquet, usually larger blooms that draw the eye. Examples include dahlias, hydrangeas, or sunflowers. Arrange them in the center or slightly off-center to create a focal point.
  • Spikes: Spiky flowers add height and structure to the bouquet. Examples include gladiolus, salvias, or snapdragons. Place them towards the back or sides of the bouquet to add vertical interest.
  • Disks: Disk-shaped flowers provide contrast and texture. Examples include cosmos, zinnias, or dahlias. Scatter them throughout the bouquet to fill in gaps and add visual interest.
  • Filler: Filler flowers and foliage add volume and softness to the bouquet. Examples include baby’s breath, statice, or ferns. Use them to fill out the bouquet and create a balanced look.
  • Air: Air elements, such as branches or grasses, add movement and lightness to the bouquet. Examples include eucalyptus, lavender, or ornamental grasses. Use them sparingly to add texture and dimension without overwhelming the arrangement.

Conclusion:

In summary, cultivating a successful cut flower garden in Florida requires attention to detail and proactive care. By implementing proper support and staking, deadheading and pruning, and mastering harvesting and post-harvest care techniques, gardeners can ensure their flowers thrive in the state’s unique climate. Investing time and effort into these essential practices not only promotes healthier plants but also extends the blooming period, allowing for a continuous supply of fresh flowers. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or new to the world of cut flower cultivation, adopting these strategies will help you create a vibrant and flourishing garden that brings beauty and enjoyment year-round.

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