October 21, 2003: Like most flower growers
after a busy summer, Paul Shumaker is quick to quip that he’s
ready for the first frost. It’s been a tough year in
the Northeast, with way too much rain and relentless weed
pressure. But he’s not quite finished: After all, September
is usually this flower grower’s busiest month, thanks
to lilies and a slew of pampered annuals and perennials. This
year may not be up to par, but Fall is still good.
On his Never Should Have Started Farm (we’re glad he
did) outside Bangor, PA, Paul maintains a schedule that leaves
room for a couple hours of reading and a nap each week --
sometimes at the same time, he concedes. But his flowers bring
gasps of appreciation from customers at farmers’ markets
in Philadelphia and Emmaus, along with private customers closer
comes at a price: Shumaker tells new growers
not to be afraid to charge for their product just
make they have the quality and economy to back it
up. Paul's lilies have a vase life of 1 to 3 weeks.
A highlight of Paul’s offerings are his lilies -- the
fragrant Asiatic and Oriental lilies, along with Asi-Florum
and L.A. hybrids. Asi-Florums are a cross between Longiflorum
Lilies and Asiatic Lilies. L.A. hybrids are similar to Asi-Florum
Lilies, although the size of the flowers is smaller, and there
are more flowers per stem. The long-lasting head-turners take
some customer education, but once people give Paul’s
lilies a try, they will come back. The vase life is extraordinary,
1 to 3 weeks, with a little care (and sugar added to the vase).
Oriental lilies usually have large flowers which are fragrant,
and often used for weddings.
Paul grows the lilies in crates -- he did 160 crates this
year -- set neatly on landscape fabric in a shady corner of
his 2-acre property. He rents another two acres nearby where
he grows annuals. Paul does nearly all of the work himself,
with his wife Elizabeth only helping at market.
Choosing your tools
He plants lilies four times a year, April, May, June and
the first of August, mixing varieties with each planting to
extend the offerings. They’re classed by weeks, he explains,
so some varieties will take 9 weeks and some 14 to bloom.
“Also, the later to freeze, the faster to flower,”
he adds. “For example, with Suncrest, if I plant this
variety in April it probably has been frozen since December,
and will take 12 to 13 weeks to bloom. But if I plant it in
July, it will take 9 to 10 weeks to flower since it’s
been frozen longer.” He plants Asiatic and Orientals
only in April, and no later than May 15 because they need
it cool, using the other mixes and hybrids in other months.
Bulb suppliers will ship bulbs at requested planting times.
Many lily growers order from suppliers close to their farm.
(Many suppliers have minimum orders, so be sure to ask!) Crates
and potting mix can also be purchased from most local bulb
suppliers. Ask an Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers,
member near you for a recommendation. Paul buys his bulbs
from Ednie Flower Bulb Inc. (www.ednieflowerbulb.com,
or phone 1-800-24-EDNIE). Also check out Zabo Plant at www.zaboplant.nl,
for more information. Gloeckner (www.fredgloeckner.com)
also has many supplies.
||"Produce a good product and charge
for it! Ninety-eight percent of growing flowers is sanitation.
If you’re not willing to wash buckets, don’t
go into the business."
Make no mistake, growing lilies isn’t a once-and-done
easy job. Bulbs can be expensive, too, so you want to make
sure you have a market for them before you go crate and bulb
Paul makes his own lily potting mix, keeping his formula
chart above the potting bench in his barn -- a formula which
the Delaware Valley College horticulture grad has refined
via experience. He uses BioComp, composted peanut shells (from
Penn State Seed Supply, www.pennstateseed.com)
mixed with 1/3 peat. “You can just use an organic mix
without perlite, but most importantly, you have to remember
that lilies are sensitive to fluoride, which comes in phosphate
fertilizer, so you can’t use a mix with perlite in it,”
he explains. “And lilies need a lot of calcium.”
Paul’s mix also includes, per crate, 2 tablespoons of
gypsum, 2 tablespoons of soft rock phosphate, 1/2 cup of 5-4-5
organic fertilizer and 1 teaspoon of iron oxide. He mixes
it all together on a table. “That’s where the
labor is,” he says.
How to grow impeccable lilies
match: Shumaker has found the most success
letting 15 bulbs breathe in the 1 x 2' crates. Fellow
lilly man Dowling likes to squeeze in 20. Both agree
25 is too many.
The plastic crates Paul uses are standard lily crates which
he purchases from Ednie. They cost about $1.50 each and are
1 foot by 2 foot by 8 inches deep.
Other crates or containers can be used but it’s important
that the bulbs have good drainage and that the lilies have
sufficient shade. A hoop house with roll up sides and 50 percent
shade cloth is ideal, he says.
Bulbs come frozen, and Paul explains, “You get them
with base roots and they grow stem roots. You don’t
handle them when frozen. Open the packs, let them defrost
a couple of days or put in the fridge. Then it’s necessary
to either keep them in a cooler at 45 degrees or inside in
a cool place for 2 to 3 weeks.”
Paul plants 15 bulbs to a crate. (At a recent ASCFG regional
meeting, Dave Dowling, who grows about 25,000 lilies -- at
his Farmhouse Flowers & Plants in Brookeville, MD -- see
-- plants 20/crate. He used to plant 25, but found they fare
better with increased air circulation.) Paul finds better
success with fewer bulbs per crate.
He puts a sheet of newspaper in the bottom of the crate and
2 inches of potting mix on top, sets the bulb in and puts
4 inches or so of soil on top -- “up to crate handle”
-- and waters the bulbs in lightly with RootShield, an organic
“When the plants start to break the soil, bring them
out on a cloudy day,” he says. “Keep them moist,
not wet.” To simplify his life, Paul has drip irrigation
hooked through the rows of crates. He fertilizes once a week
to 10 days, watering in fish emulsion.
A main disease concern for the lily grower is botrytis, or
gray mold, which can be seen on the leaves, Paul says. Botrytis
thrives in moist conditions, so allowing adequate air circulation
helps. “You can still sell the lilies without leaves,
but it’s best if you don’t get botrytis in the
first place,” he adds. He says a copper sulfite/lime
mix can help.
||"Quality is so important,”
he stresses. “Those who dabble and sell cheap flowers
that don’t last kill my business because my reputation
is only as good as the worst grower."
It depends upon the variety, but generally you cut the lily
when you see buds swelled with the bottom bud fully colored,
split tip. You can go by the feel, also, Paul says, when the
bud feels soft. Cut two-thirds of the stem, leaving a few
leaves with the bud.
He bunches in threes and sells the bunch for $6 plus tax.
Orientals bring more -- $3.50 to $4 a stem, he says. “If
you buy the crate and mix, it’ll cost $4.50. You can
reuse the crate. The bulb costs 40 cents to $1 a bulb. So
obviously the problem -- you’re limited to what people
will pay and the economy is terrible this year.”
Many lily growers just use the bulb once and dump the used
potting mix and bulbs. Paul replants in the field if he has
time. “I have 2,000 in the field now (you plant in fall)
and the problem is, how many can you use?” Paul explains.
They’ll come in at pretty much the same time. Also,
color popularity seems to vary from year to year. When he
started, Paul says orange were most popular, followed by pink
and yellow. Now it’s almost reversed. Reds, paprika,
is popular as is yellow … and orange is in the basement.”
Speaking from 18 years experience
The bulbs which can be ordered from numerous suppliers
any time of year usually take 9 to 15 weeks to bloom.
Shumaker plants 4 times a year.
Paul says he got interested in horticulture in high school,
and went on to Delaware Valley College. But it wasn’t
flowers that captured his attention: it was fruit. So he spent
eight or nine years managing orchards in New Jersey. “Then
I grew vegetables on my own, and dabbled in flowers. I also
managed a vineyard, and consulted. I got into flowers fulltime
He sells only one-variety bunches of flowers now. He used
to make bouquets, but found it too time consuming. He grows
everything from atriplex to zinnias, with lisianthus, dahlias,
euphorbia and hypericum highlights of his extensive offerings.
Paul’s advice to beginning flower growers: “Produce
a good product and charge for it! Ninety-eight percent of
growing flowers is sanitation. If you’re not willing
to wash buckets, don’t go into the business.
“Quality is so important,” he stresses. “Those
who dabble and sell cheap flowers that don’t last kill
my business because my reputation is only as good as the worst
For those who become regular customers, however, Paul’s
reputation is impeccable. Quality is always a priority. His
flowers last. It all comes together with hard work, delivered
with a smile.