With the success of Floret Farms, knowledge of “flower farming” is becoming mainstream. With visions of beautiful flowers, this also has many people wondering how easy it is to jump in and become a flower farmer – myself one of them. Though I had planned to just grow flowers for myself as a trial year before selling, when the flowers started blooming, I found out just how prolific they were. This caused me to wonder if I could follow in Floret’s footsteps (on a VERY small scale), and I jumped in without hesitation. After one year completed, I wanted to provide my top lessons learned in my first year of flower farming.
Variety Matters: Some flowers have been bred to be “bedding flowers” and some have been bred to be “cut flowers”. The difference is all in the overall height. Typically, the flowers sold in big box shops are bedding flowers because most people are purchasing flowers for their garden, and shorter flowers are easier to maintain. That means that if you want something else, you need to not only grow it yourself from seed, but you also need to pay special attention to the height of the flower at maturity. While I didn’t make any mistakes in this area, this was the primary reason I ended up growing all my flowers from seed instead of buying them from my local retailer.
Building a Bouquet: Creating bouquets out of flowers I loved was my primary driver for growing cut flowers. But how do you go about choosing what flowers to grow? I started out with Pinterest, took note of all the flowers I liked, and looked where to purchase the seeds. Once ready to purchase, I found that there were a LOT of varieties and colors to choose from. Picking what to purchase is a balance of color, space, and variety. I felt like I did a pretty good job of picking a variety of flowers, and also learned a few flower basics after growing them, most of them covered below.
Flower Basics: Some flowers are “cut and come again”, some don’t like really high temperatures (and therefore don’t last all summer), and after a while, many cut and come again flowers stop producing as many flowers. This led me to read up on “succession planting”. While I had thought I had the basics down before growing, I felt like the more I learned, the more I had to learn. I was at least comforted by the fact that I didn’t kill some of the plants that didn’t work out – they just stopped producing for various reasons.
Colors: If you are starting on a smaller scale, as you should in year 1, when planning your planted area, what looked like a large space quickly seems small when considering for variety and color. I had decided that I would stick to corals, pinks and purples since that was the color scheme I liked best and that was about all I had room for. Not only did I quickly find that I quickly tired of that (and I am sure others did as well), the colors no longer worked come September when everyone was ready for fall. In year 2, I planned to succession plant to address this, replacing summer colors with fall colors.
Dahlia Are a Lot of Work: Like many, I have been mesmerized by dahlia. However, they can be a lot of work. Native to Mexico and Central America, they thrive in heat and sun. Because of this, they are “winter hardy” in zones 8-11, which is primarily the very southern part of the US, and California. When a plant is winter hardy, you can leave it in the ground and it will grow back the following year, which also classifies it as a perennial. If it isn’t winter hardy in your area, you need to dig them up and store them. My top fail in year one? Even though I did extensive research on how to store dahlia, there are so many methods. The methods themselves each work best in a particular climate, and the method I chose didn’t work in my climate. All of my dahlia tubers were either too dry or rotted. If you have looked at the prices of dahlia ($10-$15 per tuber), you would see this is a major fail. While I didn’t purchase too many my first year, I was devastated nonetheless that none of them made it.
Watering timer: It seems like a no-brainer now, but I hadn’t set my drip system up on a timer when I started. Setting up a drip system on a timer made it so that I didn’t need to go out and hand-water or turn on the drip system. Also, in the heat of the summer, watering in the early morning is ideal – there is less evaporation, and tender plants get enough water before the heat arrives.
Stabilize plants: I had read all sorts of tips that said that you need to stabilize your plants. I had planned to, but a few things stood in my way. First, it is expensive to purchase the supplies and I wasn’t sure it was that necessary. Second, it takes time to plan and set up and I didn’t make the time. Third, I grossly underestimated how quickly the plants would grow so tall. I kept putting it off and had to scramble to stabilize them before they fell over (or rescue them when they did). Also, I didn’t anticipate that if you wait, they are a lot harder to manage. How did I end up stabilizing my plants? I put 4’ garden stakes along the sides of each row of flowers, 2-3’ apart. I then put 6” netting horizontally over the plants. The ideal way to do it is to set all of this up before the plants start growing, and then they grow easily through the netting. If you set it up later, you may end up like me, stuffing the branches through the netting.
Each plant has different instructions: Once I picked out my wish list of plants and started looking at the seed packets, I quickly felt like I was in over my head. Each plant has different lead times to seed the plants, grows at a different height and diameter, and is planted at a specific time. I started a spreadsheet to track all the items on the packet but is was overwhelming. But, once I wrote everything down, I also knew I could re-use the information from year to year. It also was interesting and helpful to actually see the plants grow and understand what all of those pieces of information meant.
Some plants grow better in spring or summer: I had no idea that some plants grew better in the spring versus the summer. Looking back, it seems like a no-brainer given that specific plants show up to purchase in the spring than are available during the summer, but I never really thought about it. I had thought that I failed at growing some plants, but was later relieved to find out that those plants didn’t like the hot summers and rather did better in cooler temps.
There is a lot to learn: While I was glad I jumped right in – you have to start somewhere – with each insight uncovered, I found how much complexity there is in growing flowers and how much I didn’t know. Not to say that it is impossible to grow flowers without knowing all the things, but there are definitely a lot of tips and tricks and other things to know to be successful and efficient, while maximizing growing space.
All in all, I thought I had a successful first year, but also ended up the year feeling like I knew less than when I started. I resolved to take the winter to learn all I could and learn I did! Look for a follow up post or two on learning resources!