K. M. Laughlin and B. B. Davis
The interest in cut dry flowers (or everlastings) has increased dramatically in the Inland Northwest during the past 5 years. The production of specialty flowers is a new venture for our region. Most commercial production in the Inland Northwest is in market or home gardens that sell to gift and craft shops.
The potential for profitable dry flower production is good if you emphasize crops that are adapted to our northern climate, pay attention to flower quality, and focus on niche marketing. The types of crops that can be grown efficiently will determine what you can offer the market, and market price and demand will determine what can be grown profitably. The aim of this publication is to introduce potential growers to the enterprise of producing and marketing specialty flowers.
While the potential for profit in dry flower production is certainly there, many challenges face the grower, particularly the new grower. These challenges may be grouped under three headings: markets, money, and labor.
Before any flower seeds are in the soil, you must first identify one or more markets for your planned crop and know something about that market. You should consider joining any existing local flower production or marketing cooperatives or organizing one yourself. Flower wholesalers and retailers require reliability; they need consistent quality and quantity. Established volume growers can stockpile large quantities, providing fierce competition and a formidable marketing challenge to smaller and newer businesses. A problem all domestic growers face is the competition from foreign floral imports.
Long-term budgeting is a frequently overlooked requirement for a new enterprise. Often, a grower will have the capital necessary to plant a crop, but not enough to see it into production or to survive a year or two of bad weather. Take the time to identify all costs and prepare a monthly cash flow. This will help determine if you have the capital needed to successfully establish the crop. It is better to start small and ensure survival than to gambleand loseon a larger project.
In planning a new enterprise, equipment requirements should be carefully considered. If the new crop can be integrated into existing farming efforts, the enterprise has a much better chance of being profitable than when equipment must be purchased solely to be used on a new crop. Remember equipment costs such as repairs, taxes, depreciation, interest either lost or paid, and insurance premiums.
Commercial dry flower production is very labor intensive. Your production systems must take into account your site location, soil composition, and sources of heat and light; you must provide frost and wind protection, drip or trickle irrigation, fertilizer, weed and pest control, disease management, and storage and drying facilities. For some everlasting crops, additional value-added labor and materials will be needed to provide a marketable product.
The successful grower of specialty flowers must be more than creative with flowers; he or she must be creative in financing, management, production, and marketing.
Management, production, and
marketing are obviously intertwined skills. For the purposes of this brief
introduction, the first two will be dealt with together.
grown dry flowers are biennials or perennials requiring full sun. They
will grow under most soil conditions with good air and water drainage
and a growing season of a minimum of 80 days. Annual, biennial, and perennial
flowers are usually harvested from June through September in the Pacific
Northwest and marketed shortly thereafter. Field crops of dry flowers
can be slow to establish and do not compete well with weeds. Don't expect
a commercial harvest the first season for biennial and perennial crops
that are field-established. It may take up to 3 years to reach establishment
and full production.
Several perennial dry flowers
that grow in the Inland Northwest are traditionally used by the floral
industry. These include baby's breath (Gyphsophilia paniculata),
a hardy perennial requiring full sun and preferring slightly alkaline
and well-drained soils; German statice (Limonium sinuatum),
a biennial or half-hardy annual plant requiring full sun, average
soil conditions, and good drainage; and caspia (Limonium bellidifolium),
a tender perennial or annual that will tolerate partial shade and
can be grown on poor, light soils as long as good drainage is provided.
Over 150 other annual, biennial, and perennial cut flowers and ornamental
grasses may be grown from seed for dry or specialty flower production.
plants can be purchased in quantity from national plant wholesalers. Many
of the dry flower crops are relatively easy to start from seed in a greenhouse
or home. Seeding should start in late January. Good air circulation is
needed. New plants, commercially purchased or owner grown, can be set
out in June or after the last killing frost. Be sure to "condition"
your plants before they are planted in the field.
where chemical residues from previous crops (cereal grains, sugarbeets,
etc.) will not impact your plantings. Also avoid potentially harmful pesticide
drift by selecting sites away from crops that may be sprayed.
The preparation of perennial
beds requires more work than for annual beds, since perennials will live
in one place for several years. The soil profile must be deeper to accommodate
long, large roots. The soil must also be richer to provide greater nourishment
year after year. Drainage must be good since heaving soil in the spring
and standing water on plant roots and crowns during the winter are both
sure ways to kill perennials. Also, plants can withstand greater extremes
in temperature if drainage is good.
with wide spaces (24" to 36") between the rows. Mulching or
planting annual flowers between the perennials is a good way to reduce
weed growth. But if you plant annuals, make sure not to crowd out the
perennials during their first season. First-time growers can expect to
lose 10 percent of their plants if they are doing a good job.
control the season before the crop is planted. Several cultural and chemical
options are available. First, avoid buying or renting land that is seriously
infested with noxious or hard-to-control weeds such as Canada thistle,
yellow nutsedge, goldenrod, and bindweed. If you cannot avoid such a site,
control weeds before planting by repeated applications of a systemic,
nonresidual herbicide, or discing or harrowing. If you choose to use herbicides,
read chemical labels to make sure they are registered for ornamental use
before buying or applying them.
Drip or trickle
irrigation systems are preferred to overhead watering systems. Overhead
irrigation is less expensive, but can cause damage to flowers.
test the intended sites for nutrient levels before planting. Many sites
in the Inland Northwest have poor soils, and the addition of commercial
fertilizer or natural soil amendments will be necessary to produce a flower
Winter survival for perennials
can be a problem. Straw may be used in the fall as a mulch for protection
against the cold.
Some diseases can survive for years in the soil as resting spores or on dead plant debris. Sanitation and good cultural practices are extremely important at new crop sites for this reason. Be sure to put transplants into well-drained soil, avoid excessive nitrogen application, and allow free air movement to prevent disease problems. Cold, dark soils harbor disease in the spring. Growers often spray cut flower fields with a fungicide 2 weeks before harvest to reduce mildew. Select two or more cultivars of each cut flower crop the first season to determine disease susceptibility at each site.
Dry flower growers in Minnesota report problems with Anthracnose disease on established plantings. In addition, seed rot, seedling dampening-off, and root rot caused by Pythium spp., Rhizoctonia spp., and Fusarium spp. resulted in reduced quality and yield of field-grown perennials.
Insect problems reported by growers include thrips and cutworms. A complete integrated pest management program should be developed during the first growing season.
Make 1-pound bunches and cut the stems as long as possible. Use rubber bands around the bottom stems only. Be careful not to crush the bunches, and store them in a dark, airy place. Make certain there is good air circulation around the bunches, since they must dry well to prevent mildew.
Dry flowers need to be dried in the dark to maintain quality. Ideally, the drying area should have a temperature between 60° and 80°F and humidity of less than 60 percent. You can use two layers of black plastic to block out light and use a dehumidifier in greenhouses, barns, or similar out-buildings.
This section is short because the information you need for marketing your flower crop must be specific to your crop and area. Particularly if you are attempting to grow and sell a new crop, you should get information from many sources. Search libraries, talk to people who have grown the crop, and consult the extension agent in your county. Research will pay dividends in minimizing risks and uncovering alternative crops and methods of production.
The Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers can provide ongoing production, marketing, and other support for growers. Write to Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers, 155 Elm Street, Oberlin, Ohio 44074, or call (216) 774-2887.
Markets for baby's breath, German statice, and caspia are well established. These dried flowers are used extensively in the floral industry for fillers and wreaths. They are frequently dried, softened, bleached, and/or dyed before sale. Your planning efforts should consider the possibility of doing these value-added functions before a sale.
Buyers frequently require samples. Be sure to reserve several 1-pound samples to use in establishing new markets should your primary market not be available.
The price structure of dry flowers tends to be erratic. Supplies tend to fluctuate and prices respond accordingly. Plan marketing and financial strategies to survive a low-price market. A critical water situation in California during the '80s led dry flower wholesalers to find new supplies in the Inland Northwest. Specialty flower markets will be affected annually by growing conditions in California and other international growing regions.
Okay, you still have visions of baby's breath in your head? We urge you to start production with no more than a 3,000-square-foot area. If larger plantings are established, invest no more than you can afford to lose. Specialty flowers have been raised for years in California and more recently in Minnesota. These areas have higher growing season "heat units," different rainfall, and different summer humidity patterns than northern Idaho, western Montana, and northeastern Washington.
Specialty flowers are a new crop for most regional agricultural enterprises. Careful consideration needs to be given to the challenges, management, production practices, and marketing of specialty flowers under Inland Northwest growing conditions before a crop is planted. Raising a specialty crop such as dried flowers requires an uncommon dedication. You are gardening on a grand scale and must be prepared to make your project a labor of love.
Dried Flowers, prepared by Carol Kopolow, Reference Branch, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Maryland 20705.
Commercial Field Production of Cut and Dry Flowers. Proceedings of 1988 National Symposium, University of Minnesota, Extension Special Programs, 405 Coffey Hall, Eckes Ave., St. Paul, Minnesota 55108. ($20.00).
CIS 942 Pricing Nontraditional Products and Services ($0.50)
EXT 741 Marketing Products Directly to Consumers ($1.00)
EXT 743 Specialty Farming in Idaho: Is It for Me? ($1.00)
EXT 744 Specialty Farming in Idaho: Selecting a Site ($1.00)
To order copies of these or other University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences publications, contact the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System office in your county or write to Agricultural Publications, University of Idaho, P.O. Box 442240, Moscow, ID 83844-2240 phone: 208/885-7982 fax: 208/885-4648 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The authors - Kevin M. Laughlin, Extension agricultural agent, Ada County, Boise, and Bruce B. Davis, former research associate, University of Idaho Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Moscow.
Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in agriculture and home economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Charlotte Eberlein, Interim Director of Cooperative Extension System, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844. We offer educational programs, activities, and materials without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, or disability, in accordance with state and federal laws.
© 1993 University of Idaho.