4, 2004: A number of growers who attended the Pennsylvania
Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference
in early February -- 1,400 from 31 states and three countries!
-- asked questions after a flower presentation by myself and
Linda Essert-Kuchar, or e-mailed. You NewFarm.org readers
have also been e-mailing a lot lately. Must be spring fever.
Others may have the same questions, so here are a few of the
Zinnia dilemma -- still, already
We’ve mentioned this before, but several people have
written recently to say they’ve had a terrible time
with zinnias and want to do better this year. Others approached
at PASA. “Zinnias are supposed to be easy,” they
say. “And mine just don’t last! What am I doing
wrong???” One grower has had a problem with stems that
bend over or break. Others have not been able to sustain vase
life beyond a couple days. So what goes?
I wracked my brain on this one, because I haven’t had
a problem with zinnias. (But hey, I can’t grow Gypsophila
-- Baby’s Breath -- so nobody’s perfect.)
Possible Zinnia Solutions
1. Make sure you cut zinnias
early in the day or in the evening and get them in water
in the field, and then to shade as soon as possible.
2. When picking and stripping
the leaves, make sure you (or your picker) don’t hold
the stem too tightly. It takes a gentle touch, and grabbing
too tightly will crush the stem and cause it to bend over
later, if not sooner.
3. Remember that zinnias
don’t like it hot once they’re cut . If you
cut them and leave them in the sun they will surely fizzle.
They also don’t like it cold. I keep them in air conditioning,
or in the cooler when mixed bouquets are made the night
before a market. But our cooler is not cold -- 45 degrees,
and that’s about the coldest they’ll stand.
4. Lynn Byczynski, author
of The Flower Farmer and editor of Growing for Market (www.growingformarket.com)
offered another thought: “People also may be picking
too early or too late. You have to see pollen to get the
best vase life. People really need to be observant with
zinnias,” she said. “Watch those first ones
to see the stages they go through every day to learn when
they are open enough but not too open. It happens quickly.”
5. Lynn also feels that
floral preservative is important for zinnias, which will
give them six or seven days vase life. But beware: if you
are selling your flowers as *certified organic*, you can’t
use preservative, according to our certifier. If you aren’t
selling certified organic flowers, experiment to see what
works best for you. We have good well water, so I haven’t
had a problem with just using plain water.
Remember, preservative can be tricky, however. A report
on research on post-harvest handling which included zinnias
was included in The Association of Specialty Cut Flower
Growers quarterly magazine last year. The research by Frankie
Fanelli, John Dole, Beth Harden, Bill Fonteno and Sylvia
Blankenship from North Carolina State University showed
that use of a hydrator and holding solution were actually
detrimental on Zinnia elegans ‘Sun Cherry’,
‘Sun Gold’ and Benary’s ‘Giant Lime’’.
Use of a holding solution only was also detrimental to the
‘Sun Cherry’ and ‘Sun Gold’, with
no effect on the ‘Giant Lime’. The hydrator
only was found to have no significant effect on all three.
The ‘Giant Lime’ did best with water only (the
study cautioned that deionized water was used. If you have
poor quality tap water with a high pH and soluble salt level,
vase life will not be as long). Again -- see what works
best for you!
To Market, To Market -- With Problem Vendors
It’s the age-old question. A flower grower asked after
the PASA talk, “What do I do about the vegetable grower
at market who brings in terrible bouquets? I work so hard
at doing it right, and they hurt us.”
Fellow flower grower at my local farmers’ market, Paul
Shumaker, put it well. “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.” A customer
buys that cheap bouquet, with leaves down to the bottom of
a dirty bucket of water with varieties that will last a day
or maybe two, and thinks nobody’s flowers will last
past next week’s market. Ouch!
Possible Bad Grower
1. Educate your customer.
Put up a nice sign telling your customers how you treat
your flowers. Let them know you know what you are doing
and that YOUR flowers will LAST. We display a sign that
says we are members of The Association of Specialty Cut
Flower Growers, that we baby our flowers from seed to proper
post-harvest care. Varieties are selected for longevity,
2. Keep educating your customer.
If someone points to a beautiful flower, strike up a conversation
and tell them, “That’s a lisianthus. Aren’t
they pretty? They’re difficult to start and pretty
fussy, but they last a long time. They look a lot like a
rose, don’t they?”
3. And keep educating your
customer. As you ring up your sale, tell the customer to
change the water and pick off any spent blooms to keep the
bouquet nice and happy all week. Offer packets of preservative,
for those who don’t have time to change the water
at least every other day, or give them a card telling them
they can make their own homegrown
preservative: One teaspoon of vinegar, one tablespoon of
sugar and one aspirin tablet to 24 ounces of water. (Almost
always, regular customers will perk up and tell new customers
that your flowers will last. Quality does matter!!)
4. Show your customers.
We save a bouquet from week to week, taking real good care
of it. Then we display *last week’s bouquet* at the
stand, to show customers that with proper care, their bouquet
will last well for them.
5. And keep showing your
customers. When the first rush of the morning is over, we
take some buckets of flowers and start arranging at the
stand. People are charmed, because, realize it or not, not
everyone can arrange flowers. Often, they want flowers from
one of those extra buckets in their arrangement. This also
keeps people at your stand longer, and people are drawn
to other people. What’s the fuss? They must be good,
because there are a lot of people buying from them!
6. Think of a way to get
customers to come to you every week. Pamela and Frank Arnosky
broached this very problem in a summer column of Growing
for Market. (They had good competition from flower-growing
vegetable growers.) These awesome large Texas growers did
a buyers card, offering a gourmet “Dinner in the Flower
Fields” for customers who spent a certain amount over
the season. It worked like a charm, as did their fall dinner.
A new grower asks, “What is the proper time to cut
sunflowers? I’ve had a problem with holes in the petals.
And should I use preservative?”
1. Conventional wisdom
says sunflowers can be cut as soon as the petals begin unfurling.
Many growers go with 45 degrees as a good measure. We cut
sunflowers every day, or at least every other day, as they
are beginning to unfurl and keep them in the cooler for
market days (in plain water).
Leaving the flower in the field to open fully means chances
are pretty good some hungry cucumber beetle or other insect
will find them most attractive. Customers get fussy about
chewed sunflower petals and upper leaves. We find by doing
cutting in stages, we have nice, fully open flowers with
no insect damage ready for bouquets or to sell individually,
and we can also include a less open flower or two that will
then open later for the customer. (VALUE-ADDED
TIP: We strip most leaves, leaving a couple at
the top if they are nice. Customers seem to like some leaves,
because the long-distance cousins don’t have them.
The leaves don’t travel well, which is to the local
2. As with zinnias, if you
are prone to use preservatives, experiment to see what works
best for you. Most research I’ve seen finds that most
types of sunflowers do well in plain water. The research
mentioned above found “no effect” -- meaning
the treatment was neither beneficial nor detrimental --
for use of a hydrator only or use of a holding solution
only for Helianthus ‘Lemon Eclair’ and ‘Stella
Gold’. Use of both was found to have no effect for
‘Lemon Eclair’ and to be detrimental for ‘Stella
Gold.’ Water for both was okay. In their book “We’re
Gonna Be Rich!” the Arnosky’s said they pick
into water with a hydrator in their intense Texas heat,
and transfer into a floral preservative solution.