Answer: I am pleased to provide you with information for starting cut flower production. Please see the ATTRA publication Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing.
A few flowers that you might try growing this summer include:
Sunflowers, Helianthus annuus pollenless varieties
Zinnias, Zinnia elegans Benary’s Giant
Goldenrod, Solidago spp.
Gayfeather, Liatris spicata
Gladiolus, Benary’s Giant mix
Tuberoses, Polianthes tuberosa
I suggest these because they are relatively easy to grow, handle, and sell. And except for zinnias, customers can expect a vase life of a week to 10 days if they are harvested at the right stage and handled appropriately after harvest. You can sell these as single stems, bunches, or as simple but striking arrangements. You can find production information on the Web, in seed catalogs, and in books. Or best of all, ask other growers. A few notes based on my experience or that of other growers follows.
Sunflowers: Pollenless varieties are best for cut flower use. They don’t shed pollen on a customer’s table and they have a longer vase life. Check with seed companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seed (see Resources), Harris Seed, or others for suggestions. You can space the plants about 9 inches apart, both in the row and between rows. I prefer seeding directly into the garden rather than starting them in flats to transplant later. Plan to cut one flower stalk per plant. Make succession plantings approximately every week or 10 days beginning about the time of the latest expected frost. Sunflower seedlings will tolerate a light frost.
Zinnias: Benary’s Giant currently seems to be the favorite variety among cut flower growers. I have had good success with season-long bloom by direct seeding one planting after danger of frost, then a second planting about 2 months later. The plants will be blooming in about 60 days from planting. I cut long stems, at least 2 feet (stripping the leaves as I cut), and get lots of blooms per plant. It seems the more I cut, the better the plants continue to grow and send up more blossoms! Cut zinnias do not tolerate temperatures below about 50F. Research shows that vase life of zinnias is extended by use of a hydrating solution, but most farmers’ market vendors don’t use one.
Goldenrod: This is a native plant in much of the U.S. The flowers are a golden yellow. Goldenrod is a perennial. New plants can be started by cuttings taken from the spreading roots of older plants. Or purchase plants from a nursery. Space the plants 18 inches apart. Harvest the flowers when about half the blossoms are open. I think these make a nice “filler” in arrangements with sunflowers.
Gayfeather: This is another native plant. You can get a start by buying corms, plants, or seeds. I buy corms from one of the commercial bulb suppliers such as Gloeckner. Packed in quantities of 100 per box, they are not expensive. Two colors are available, purple and white. I have not tried succession planting, but that would give you an extended bloom season. In my garden, the flower stalks were longer and more abundant the second year after planting. I like to cut the stalks of the white variety while most of the flower buds are still green with just a hint of white. The purple variety is more commonly grown and is a popular color at the farmers’ market.
Gladiolus: I purchase the corms from Miedema Brothers, Inc., Gladiolus Farms, 8604 E. 4500 S. Road, St. Anne, IL 60964-4086, 815-427-8470. The cost has been about 10 cents per corm including shipping when purchased in quantities of 500 per variety. I try to plant them about 6 inches deep, and about 4 inches apart. By planting them deeply, and cutting when no more than 2-3 blossoms are open, I haven’t had much of a problem with the stalks falling over. Floral netting is, however, good insurance, and can be purchased from Gloeckner or Hummert’s or other suppliers. In northwest Arkansas, the corms can be left in the ground over winter. I’ve read that the first planting can be made as early as the ground can be worked, with subsequent plantings every week to 14 days through early summer. This will give you continuous blooms until frost.
Tuberoses: These flowers are known for their fragrance. Some people find it overpowering, and can’t stand to have them inside a room, but others can’t wait for the tuberose season at the farmers’ market. They are definitely a warm weather plant. Planting them when you plant beans or tomatoes is probably appropriate. They will sprout and grow when the soil is warm, and bloom after the days become really warm, usually in August in Northwest Arkansas. I set the bulbs deep enough to cover the tops, and about 9 inches apart in rows about 12 inches apart, with 3 rows per bed. The leaves and flower stalks will be killed by frost; you can then mow them off, dig and store the bulbs in bulb crates in a basement or other place where they won’t be frozen. Or you can leave them in the ground over winter in northwest Arkansas and they will come back the next spring—unless the winter is unusually cold. Tuberoses multiply over time, so you can start with a few and have many in a few years.
The ATTRA publication Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing has contact information for the suppliers I’ve mentioned, and additional suppliers. Among the additional resources listed, I highly recommend Lynn Byczynski’s book The Flower Farmer, which you can find at her website, www.growingformarket.com.
Anon. No date. The basics of growing cut flowers for profit: Frequently asked questions. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.
Anon. No date. Cut Flower Plot. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.
Anon. 2009. Sunflower Comparison. Johnny’s Selected Seeds. 1 p.
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