Dear Mrs. DeVault:
I ran across your column
on the internet a few weeks ago. It was exactly
what I was looking for. The one I read was titled
“Becoming a Flower Lady.” Well, I
have been working at becoming the flower lady
for several years now in my hometown! I love to
garden, and have been looking for a way to turn
my favorite pastime into a small business. My
husband actually offered me half of his vegetable
garden in order to plant zinnias!
So I have begun (I’m
scared of failing, but excited, too). I would
like to start at our local farmers’ market.
Could you please tell me a little about pricing
bouquets? I have read anywhere between five and
eight dollars depending on size but I have only
found this information on one website.
You’ve just asked the question of the
century! Pricing is difficult,
and a lot depends upon your location and the location
of your farmers’ market. Check
prices in your local flower shops and supermarkets,
and see what other growers in area farmers’
markets are getting. Check
wholesale price lists (on other websites
and eventually on this one, we hope) for a general
idea, but realize that is a low price.
Never undercut competition,
or sell yourself short. From what I’ve
seen, $7 to $10 is average for a nice-size bouquet.
That’s what I charge. Many growers (me
included) also make mini-bouquets
for $3 or $4, or simpler bouquets with just zinnia
and cinnamon basil for $5 or $6. Bouquets with
more unusual flowers, such as lisianthus, can
Remember to include sales
tax when you do your figuring. And
don’t cut prices at the end of the
market! If you have a few bouquets left at the
end of market, enjoy them yourself, give them
to a friend or nursing home. If you discount at
the end of the day, cheap people will wait for
the cheap stuff. And your hard work will be worth
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.
- and selling!
for breakfast? Melanie brings her flowers
inside after harvesting to keep them cool and fresh.
Posted MAY 23, 2003: Most of
my perennials have grown a foot, even in the seemingly sun-less
sky of early May in Pennsylvania. The greenhouse is brimming
with seedlings stretching for my attention, and a place in
the garden. Early annuals are perking up. Others are under
row cover (that is fighting the wind, sometimes unsuccessfully.
Sound familiar?) -- and questions are coming my way already
about selling bouquets, selling at Farmers’ Markets,
pricing and what flower goes with what. Everyone, it seems,
is thinking summer. All right!
Think ahead, because how you maintain, cut and care for your
specialty cut flowers IS EVERYTHING. Have you seen vendors
trying to make a quick buck by adding buckets of flowers to
their vegetable stand -- flowers they quickly cut and throw
in a bucket with leaves on the stem to the bottom, some with
powdery mildew? (Cringe here). Half of the flowers are well
past their prime. (Cringe again). They’ll last for the
unsuspecting customer about three and a half minutes, and
the customer will think all flower growers are hucksters.
Proper post-harvest handling of flowers is crucial. There
are some great reference books (Lynn Byczynski’s “The
Flower Farmer” and Frank and Pamela Arnosky’s
“We’re Gonna Be Rich!” are two of my favorites)
with basic post-harvest information. The standard varieties
deserve a spot in the brain. But with so many song lyrics
clogging that same brain, who has time to remember specifics
on every variety when you can easily look up the information???
Selected Seeds catalog and Germania
have harvest information. Also,
The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers’
quarterly magazine offers the latest research that includes
flower longevity info.
is pretty technical stuff that obviously helps the big grower.
You can glean some tips, particularly if you use floral preservative.
But don’t let the fancy wording and chemical treatments
and temperature restrictions scare you.
Since we at Pheasant Hill Farm are certified organic, we
follow through with organic standards for flowers, too. That
means no preservative, according to our certification director
at NOFA-NJ. Many experts say you can’t be a cut flower
grower without preservative. When I told one such expert grower
I did just fine with water, she commented, “You must
have good water!” (Hard, or alkaline water doesn’t
move up the flower stem easily, so if you have a problem in
your area with wilting flowers in tap water, a preservative
may be necessary.) We have well water which we get tested
every year. Many of our certified organic friends also grow
flowers using plain tap water -- in different states -- and
have no problem.
class : Standard sunflower varieties are
best cut when petals just begin to lift from the
Our customers at the farmers’ markets we’ve sold
at nearly always tell us, “Most of my flowers from last
week are still nice, but I have to have some more...”
If you choose long-lasting varieties, and tell your customers
to keep their vase as clean as their coffee cup, changing
the water every or every other day, the flowers last very
well. Our customers are happy to have their bouquets last
a week. They say they pull out the statice and strawflowers
and such and keep them in smaller vases for two or three weeks.
Quite honestly, we WANT them to buy a fresh bouquet every
week at the farmers’ market. (Selling to florists or
wholesale is a different ballgame). So we don’t need
to add hydrating solution or floral preservative to possibly
add two or three days of shelf life.
Rules of the road for . . .
flower beds -- Keep your flower beds weeded
from the beginning and then, with a quick hoe, they won’t
be overrun by weeds. Give them enough water, especially at
critical, early stages. Drip irrigation is much better for
many varieties, especially zinnias, which attract powdery
mildew like a magnet. Fabric netting should be checked to
make sure it’s keeping stems erect.
-- As a general rule, cut just when blooms begin to open.
Germania’s catalog has good specific harvest information,
but you quickly learn what works. (Harvest information for
the specific varieties we’ve been highlighting are listed
-- Strip any foliage that will be under water in a vase. Remove
the bottom leaves from the flower stem quickly, in one fast
sweeping motion. I’ve had helpers who try to pull off
one leaf at a time, and it’s just not practical -- or
cost effective. Practice. Don’t hold the stem too tightly,
just grasp firmly and pull down on the stem gently but quickly
with the other hand. Lynn Byczynski recommends cutting the
fingers off a pair of rubber household gloves and covering
the fingers that get all the friction. I keep meaning to try
that, but I have to admit I have a hard time using gloves
(which is why my index finger and thumb are a mess from May
-- Cut flowers in the morning or evening, not in the heat
of the day. Cut, strip the foliage from lower part of stem,
and get the flower into a CLEAN bucket of room temperature
water. Woody stemmed plants, like Buddleia and plants that
ooze sap, like Asclepias, should be cut and placed in hot
water. I just let the plants sit in the hot tap water until
it comes to room temperature, and place in our cooler. Most
importantly, when a bucket or two are filled in the field,
move them to a shady spot out of the sunlight.
Water is the name of the game. If it has been raining and
soil has splashed up on the stem and leaves and the water
bucket from the field is filled with dirty water, put the
flowers in clean water when you move them to the shade. Dirty
water increases bacteria which will make the flowers wilt.
Keeping ‘em cool!
-- Even cutting flowers in mid morning, you need to get the
field heat out! Setting the flowers in a shaded shed or porch,
or basement, will usually keep them fine for a short amount
of time. An air conditioned house is even better. As your
business grows, a refrigerator that can cool to 34°F (best
temp for most flowers) or a cooler can enable you to store
flowers a little longer. (Be aware that some flowers, like
zinnias, do not like to be cooled.) If I cut flowers in the
morning, they all get set in the garage or shed for an hour
or so. I put sunflowers and some others in our vegetable cooler.
All the books will tell you not to do that because of ethylene
sensitivity. I haven’t had a problem. But several varieties
of flowers, including Achillea, Antirrhinum (snapdragon),
Campanula, Celosia, Gypsophila and a few others are very ethylene-sensitive.
We take our flowers to market in the back of my station wagon
or my husband’s pickup, with a cover. They won’t
transport well in the back of an open pickup. The wind will
do them in. We made the mistake of buying a used van for our
veggie operation years ago. The extra cost for insurance and
a zillion repairs did not prove wise for us, as small growers.
Continuing our favorites, here are our harvesting
instructions for some top picks:
Standard varieties are best cut
when petals just begin to lift from the centers.
Not only do they last a long time this way, the
bugs won’t eat the petals. Double varieties
should be cut when several layers begin to lift
from the centers. Sunflowers last one to two weeks
and do well in preservative.
Harvest when flowers are fully
opened. If you like floral preservative, use it.
They do not like to be put in the cooler! We keep
zinnias, and bouquets with zinnias in them, in
the air conditioning. They should last a week.
BLUE HORIZON AGERATUM,
Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum)
Harvest when flowers are just opening to fully
open . Vase life, 7-10 days. Dries nicely.
Cut when most of the individual flowers on a stem
are opening and showing color. (Perennial statice
should be cut when at least 75 percent of flowers
on a stem are open.) These are great in bouquets,
because customers will tell you “some of
the flowers are STILL looking good, and it’s
been 3 weeks!” They love it, and it makes
you look good. Dries well.
plumosa feathery types and Celosia cristata
Harvest when flowers are 90 to 100 percent developed
-- but before the little florets at the base look
old and straw-like. Crested celosia will start
to bend and bleach out if left too long. I let
a nice stand of Flamingo Feather go too long one
year, and lost the whole patch. Lasts up to 3
weeks and likes preservative.
Harvest from the time stems begin to flower and
half blooms on that spike are open, to fully flowered