A little bit about Melanie
Melanie and husband George own a 19.2-acre certified
organic farm in Emmaus, PA, where they, with son
Don and daughter Ruth, have operated a modified
CSA and members-only home market stand, sold at
Farmers’ Markets, to health food stores
and restaurants. Melanie specializes in specialty
cut flowers. A former newspaper reporter, she
also is a freelance garden writer. She is a member
of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
||"Regular customers who would
spend $30 a week for fresh flowers told me they could
spend half as much this year, if that,” he says.
It wasn’t just the cheap South American imports
that were impacting prices either. The economy was hitting
home, and these customers, worried about the future, were
watching their wallets more carefully. Add to that a miserable,
wet spring and summer in the Northeast, and bingo. The
friend’s business was down over last year, too.
||Flower grower Paul Shumaker keeps
his season on Never Should Have Started Farm (we’ve
been there, too) near Bangor, Pa., going with dried flowers
into Thanksgiving, followed closely by natural Christmas
wreaths. The value-added products kept the bottom line
happier in this difficult fresh-flower year. Paul likes
the extra income, but “it can get pretty cold working
with frozen greenery in December,” he admits.
17, 2003: Making the rounds this past month, the
latest USDA Floriculture Crops Summary painted a bleak picture
that wasn’t exactly a surprise to those of us in the
cut-flower business. Domestic flower value had declined 5
percent since 1999, with the biggest drop coming in the last
year. Snapdragons, carnations, larkspur, roses, lisianthus
and several other common favorites all declined in value.
Lissies’ (my personal pick) dropped by a whopping 25
percent. While lilies were up in number of stems sold, they,
too, were down in dollar value, along with tulips, gladiolas
and gerbera daisies.
A friend who sells flowers in an upscale Philadelphia market
noticed the trend early this past summer. “Regular customers
who would spend $30 a week for fresh flowers told me they
could spend half as much this year, if that,” he says.
It wasn’t just the cheap South American imports that
were impacting prices either. The economy was hitting home,
and these customers, worried about the future, were watching
their wallets more carefully. Add to that a miserable, wet
spring and summer in the Northeast, and bingo. The friend’s
business was down over last year, too. Sound familiar?
‘Tis the Season to Extend
While my Philadelphia friend helped a sagging bottom line
with an increased number of a certain value added floral product
(natural Christmas wreaths) other growers are finding ways
to keep cut-flower production rolling into the holidays (and
to jumpstart it early, too).
My flower partner and I were able to sell all the bouquets
we could make this summer. But we, too, saw more customers
watching impulse purchases. So, beginning this winter, we’re
concentrating on more hoophouse production to bolster spring
and fall sales. We’ve got dianthus and larkspur in and
plan more early hoophouse starts for sunflowers, snapdragons,
lisianthus and possibly more (bearing in mind the power of
It’s certainly no secret that flower growers around
the country are increasingly working with several hardy crops
well suited for harvesting from November through March (examples
As growers all over the country are beginning to welcome
winter more openly, farmers’ markets are extending their
season to Thanksgiving and even into the Christmas season.
Some are even going year-round. Our brand new market in Emmaus,
Pa., which was to have ended at the end of October, ran to
Thanksgiving this year. Another market we did in Telford,
Pa., had a group of hearty souls who’d done likewise
for the past two years.
At a regional meeting of the Association of Specialty Cut
Flower Growers last summer, cut flower guru Dave Dowling talked
about the upside of winter production, a staple of his Farmhouse
Flowers & Plants business in Brookeville, MD.
Dowling’s recommendations for winter production in
colder regions: lilies, sunflowers, amaryllis, anemones and
ranunculus. Other winter harvest crops that can keep the cash
flow alive include field-grown shrubs like winter berry holly
(berried branches harvested in late November and perfect for
holiday decorating); red twig dogwood (branches are harvested
in December); pussy willow, (stems are harvested in early
March and forced indoors or in a greenhouse for sale, or dried
for later use); and ‘Pee Gee’ hydrangea (great
fresh, but dried flowers are fantastic for late-season wreath
Dowling’s recommendations for greenhouse crops include
freesias (bulb crops grown in ground beds or crates); Tulips
(grown in ground beds or crates); Dutch Irises (grown in grounds
beds or crates); Paperwhites (grown in pots or crates and
sold as cut flower or potted plants); and Bleeding Heart (grown
in pots for cutting for Valentine’s Day sales).
Dowling’s cool-weather growing tips
grows lilies (Asiatic, Scented Oriental, and L.A. or Asi-Florum
hybrids) with 20 bulbs per crate, scheduling according to
the length of time it takes a particular variety to bloom,
using Pro-Mix BX and liquid fertilizer. Crates are kept
cool until sprouting. Extra lighting is needed during winter
months, and plants need to have good air circulation. He
likes Orientals ‘Deshima’ and ‘Siberia’
for Christmas; L.A./Asi-Florum ‘Royal Sunset’
of the best varieties for winter forcing, he says, is ‘Sunbright
Supreme’, which can be planted 30 per crate or 4 inches
apart in ground beds. (My flower partner and I found these
great sizes for bouquets. We even trialed them in small
pots on my seeding greenhouse tables, and the small flowers
got rave reviews. They did need some support, so we put
Hortonova trellis material over one of the benches. It’s
all about experimenting to see what works best for you!)
be grown in any warm, bright area, even under grow lights.
Water well when planting, says Dowling, and keep on the
dry side until growth appears. Harvest flower stalks when
the large bud has opened but before individual flowers do.
Bulbs can be saved and regrown the following year. South
African amaryllis are available in September and November;
Dutch amaryllis in late October for flowering in late December,
January and February.
ranunculus—good in ground bed, pots
or crates in a cool greenhouse. Nights in the 50s and days
in the 60s are ideal. Plant ½- inch deep, with legs
of ranunculus pointing down, and anemones with point down,
like a carrot, Dowling says. If you aren’t sure which
end is up (we’ve been there) plant it sideways. Keep
damp, but not too wet until they’ve sprouted, then
water as usual (but don’t overwater or they’ll
rot). Harvest anemones when the flower is open fully; ranunculus
when several blooms on a stem are open. Crop time is 8 to
12 weeks, depending on when they are planted. They are available
for planting September through December.
More tips from the experts
Lynn Byczynski, author of The
Flower Farmer and editor of the Growing For Market
newsletter, recommends the following for winter production
in a minimally heated house: anemone, delphinium, Dutch iris,
freesia, lupine, ranunculus, snapdragons, stock and sweet
peas. In her heated greenhouse, she says, lilies and sunflowers
do well for November sales. For overwintering in an unheated
house, she recommends delphinium, dianthus and larkspur. Her
Hoophouse Handbook: Growing Produce and Flowers in Hoophouses
and High Tunnels, available for $15 through www.growingformarket.com,
gives all the specifics, and her editorials in the newsletter
also give details on what works and what doesn’t on
her farm in Lawrence, Kan.
Flower grower Paul Shumaker keeps his season on Never Should
Have Started Farm (we’ve been there, too) near Bangor,
Pa., going with dried flowers into Thanksgiving, followed
closely by natural Christmas wreaths. The value-added products
kept the bottom line happier in this difficult fresh-flower
year. Paul likes the extra income, but “it can get pretty
cold working with frozen greenery in December,” he admits.
What works best for wreaths? “Fir: concolor and Douglas
fir, Frazier fir, white pine, all have good needle retention,”
Shumaker says. “It’s better to stay away from
spruces, unless it’s for outdoor wreaths.” Shumaker
incorporates sprigs of various other greenery, such as arborvitae
and boxwood, for contrast and decorates tastefully with twigs,
chili pepper, dried oranges, winter berry, teasel, rose hips
or “whatever floats your boat,” he quips. Dried
flowers such as hydrangea are treated with a sealer (available
from a floral supplier) before being incorporated into wreaths.
Shumaker uses an old-style wreath making machine and crimp
frames from Kelco (www.kelcomaine.com).
“I used to hand-wire, but this makes it go faster,”
he says. He made about 50 large wreaths this season and says
with the machine he could easily do 1,000. Mitchell Wreath
has clamp motifs for an assortment of themes and styles ranging
from swags and rings to candy canes, bells and stars.