Question of the Week
Answer: Thank you for contacting ATTRA for information about growing specialty cut flowers to sell at farmers’ markets. I understand you are especially interested in sunflowers and dried flowers. Please refer to the ATTRA publications Specialty Cut Flower Production and Marketing and Farmers’ Markets. These should help to answer your questions about growing and selling cut flowers.
If you are thinking about—or already started—growing specialty cut flowers, I want to highly recommend two books by Lynn Byczynski: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers, and Market Farming Success. Both are well written and based on Lynn’s own experience as well as that of many other growers around the country. In the first book, she devotes 2 pages especially to sunflowers, and an entire 11-page section to dried flowers. The book also has a section on marketing flowers and it includes selling at farmers’ markets. You can find ordering information on the website www.growingformarket.com.
Listed below are two Extension publications on sunflowers. They are somewhat dated, but still have good information. I’ll add a few comments here based on my own experience as a farmers’ market grower. Sunflowers continue to be popular at farmers’ markets and among florists. New cultivars for cut flower growers are introduced every year. You can read about them in seed catalogs from companies such as Johnny’s Selected Seed, Harris Seed, and others that specialize in meeting the needs of market gardeners. The pollenless cultivars are now favored by most cut flower growers because they have a longer vase life and do not shed pollen. For the most part, the nonbranching types work best for me; the side shoots of the branching types have smaller flowers and less sturdy stems. My personal favorite, though, is ’Starburst Lemon Aura’, which is a branching type.
I plant the seeds about 9 inches apart in rows with 3 rows about 12 inches apart in permanent beds. Some growers space the plants much closer—as close as 4x4 inches, so you might want to experiment with this. Some growers direct seed outside, others start the plants indoors and set out transplants. From the nonbranching type, you will get one flower per plant, so to get continuous harvest, you will need to succession plant every week or two. You can direct seed about a week before the last frost in the spring. The last planting should be about 60 days before the first fall frost.
I cut the stems at about 36 inches, strip all but the top couple of leaves, and put them directly into water. Customers at the farmers’ market usually prefer open flowers, but if they are cut before the petals open, they will be less vulnerable to pest damage. The flowers will continue to open after they are cut.
At the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, dried flowers show up near the end of the season crafted into wreaths, swags, and garlic braids. Two books that have almost inspired me to try dried flowers are The Complete Book of Everlastings by Mark and Terry Silber, and Microwaved Pressed Flowers by Joanna Sheen. An Extension bulletin that details methods for drying flowers is referenced below.
Stevens, Alan B. et al. 1993. Commercial Specialty Cut Flower Production: Sunflowers. MF-1084. Kansas State University Cooperative Extension Service. 8 p.
Schoellhorn, Rick et al. 2003. Specialty Cut Flower Production Guides for Florida: Sunflowers. ENH885. University of Florida IFAS Extension. 3 p.
Pertuit, Al. 1999. Drying Flowers. HGIC 1151. Clemson University Extension. 3 p.
Byczynski, Lynn. 1997, 2008. The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers. Chelsea Green Publishing. 270 p.
Byczynski, Lynn. Market Farming Success. Fairplain Publications, Lawrence, KS. 138 p.
Sheen, Joanna. 1998. Aurum Press Ltd. Microwaved Pressed Flowers: New Techniques for Brilliant Pressed Flowers. 112 p.
Silberman, Mark and Terry Silberman. 1987, 1992. The Complete Book of Everlastings: Growing, Drying, and Designing with Dried Flowers. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 218 p.
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