Cut Branches for Indoor Arrangements and Forcing

What could be more useful than a cutting garden that includes flowers, colorful or variegated leaves, and interesting plant parts to bring indoors and display throughout the year — even during those nasty Chicago winters! The best cutting gardens are well integrated into existing landscapes and designed to bring enjoyment for all seasons.

First things first

To establish a cutting garden, first take an inventory of your plants and organize them by season of bloom. Note which plants have ornamental fruit, bark, and seedpods in winter, as well as good fall color. Once you have the inventory, consult plant catalogs and horticulture books to see other exciting plants that might fill any seasonal gaps.

Winter interest

Too often we forget that plants with winter interest make simple yet stately indoor bouquets. A simple vase filled with redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea) looks stunning on a dining room table. When choosing plants for winter interest, look for decorative seedpods, peeling or colored bark, brightly colored fruits, and evergreen leaves or needles. Some underused and often forgotten selections for winter cutting are suggested below:

Plants with decorative seedheads or seedpods

Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), Harry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'), joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), and many of the ornamental grasses.

Plants with colorful or ornamental bark

Fox Valley® river birch (Betula nigra 'Little King'), redtwig or yellowtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea), seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides), oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), shrub roses (Rosa hybrida), China Snow® Peking lilac (Syringa pekinensis 'Morton') and white willow (Salix alba).

Plants with ornamental fruit displays

Crab apple (Malus sp.), Erie linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum 'Erie'), purple beautyberry (Calicarpa dichotoma), black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa 'Morton' Iroquois Beauty™ or Aronia melancarpo var. elata), Redwing™ American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum 'J N Select'), rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa) and Winter Gold winterberry (Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold').

Plants with evergreen leaves or needles

Chicagoland Green® boxwood (Buxus 'Glencoe'), creeping Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata), Emerald Sentinel™ eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana 'Corcorcor'), Hinoki falsecypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Filicoides'), Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata) and lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana).

Forcing spring blooms

Forsythia, dogwood, redbud and other early spring-blooming trees and shrubs will provide indoor color if heavily budded branches are forced into bloom. Cut a few weeks before normal bloom time, and put the stems in warm water in a vase, changing the water daily. Buds will start to open within a few days, bringing spring magic indoors.

From colorful winter stems and fruits to fragrant, velvety roses, bold perennials and ever-blooming summer annuals, it is easy to plant a cutting garden for all seasons. The goal of your design is to be able to walk outside any day of the year and find something of interest to bring indoors and brighten your day.