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Specialty Cut Flowers

Specialty Cut Flowers
The Production of Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, and Woody Plants for Fresh and Dried Cut Flowers
by Allan M. Armitage and Judy M. Laushman

Timber Press, 2003

"What incomes have we not had from a flower, and how unfailing are the dividends of the seasons." ~ James Russell Lowell

At a time when farmers struggle to make a profit from crops of corn and potatoes and soybeans it rankles the mind to learn of folks who buy spotted knapweed and Johnson grass as ornamentals, and of gatherers and growers who make money off such weeds. The fresh and dried cut flower business is blossoming in American but its not coming up roses. 

Specialty Cut Flowers

Florists whose cut flower arrangements were predominantly roses, carnations or mums a dozen years ago are now experimenting with and creating a steady market for asters and bellflowers, coneflowers and dogwoods, lobelias and statice. Even stem cuttings of ornamental onions, sage and thistles are growing with value.

Imported stems probably caused this growth spurt. Up until the mid-1970s almost all the cut flowers sold in the U.S. were domestically grown. Then lower-priced imports undercut the home-grown product.

Colorado's bright sunshine and cool nights are perfect for growing carnations and most cuts of the flower sold by U.S. florists used to come from its growers. But the same climatic conditions exist in Bogotá, Colombia, and growers in the South American country have much lower labor costs. 

Their low-cost carnations drove most U.S. carnation growers out of the market. Holland's highly specialized and automated greenhouses had the same effect on U.S. growers of roses and mums.

"The dominance of the overseas grower has had an interesting effect on the cut flower market in America," report Allan Armitage and Judy Laushman in the second edition of this authoritative book. "The marketing of flowers has changed. The traditional route of grower to wholesaler to retailer continues to be the highway for large numbers of cut stems; however, smaller and equally efficient avenues have emerged. The small grower has made a huge comeback, supporting farmers' markets in many small towns and large cities."

Armitage and Laushman attribute the growth of specialty cuts to the grower's need to offer something new and the consumer's willingness to give it a try. "Who would have thought that vegetables like okra, artichoke, ornamental kale and eggplant would be considered useful crops for cut stems?" they ask. "But growers are producing them, and they are being sold."

First published in 1993, Specialty Cut Flowers has been substantially upgraded and expanded to include in-depth profiles of more than 100 plant varieties, from Achillea to Zinnia. Each profile covers propogation, environmental factors, field performance, greenhouse performance, stage of harvest, postharvest care, pests and diseases, cultivars, additional species, and a list of references.

The most interesting addition to the book, however, are candid comments from cut flower growers around the country about their experiences with the plants. In the profile of cosmos, for instance, Ralph Thurston of Bindweed Farm in Blackfoot, Idaho reports: "One problem with cosmos is that if you wait until it looks good to cut, its vase life is already half shot. If you cut it in the bud, it will open, but customers don't know that."

Ray Gray of Sunset Flowers of New Zealand in Oregon City, Oregon, advises that "on poppies and dahlias -- dip in hot water for a few seconds when you get back to the packing shed, then into cool hydration solution (50% Hydraflor 100) and hold in cooler."

Joan Thorndike of Le Mera Gardens in Ashland, Oregon, writes about Scabiosa caucasica: "'Fama' I call my queen. She is tireless! Once she starts blooming she just gets completely into the task at hand and will not quit, even after frost has hit the field and we are all tired of looking at her, picking her, and trying to find a companion flower for her!

"The flower comes in variations of lavender; the stem is strong, though not always straight (which provides just the right amount of character), and seems to thrive on being cut. We can't sell it for all that much money, but the demand is steady throughout the whole picking season."

Such personal comments and insights are important not only to this book, but to the specialty cut flower industry in the U.S., which is increasingly populated by small-scale growers serving local markets with plants that have not been extensively studied or cultivated. Roses they grow not, yet the smell of their success is still sweet.
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Grower Comments

     "I grow my lissies in the field in full sun, and get about a 20" plant with Echo. I sell at the farmers' market, and that stem length is fine with my customers. I cut out the first bloom with as little as a 4" stem and sell them. They look great bunched in pint jars and make a pretty bouquet." Julie Marlette, Blue Heron Gardens, Fall Creek, Wis.

"When raised beds are covered with white-on-black plastic, increased natural light reflectivity helps increase plant vigor, stem diameter, and stem length." Dave Lines, Dave Lines' Cut Flowers, La Plata, Md.

     "We grow the lisianthus [in] hoops all summer [with] a shade cloth on the hoop. We use about 70% shade. Our overwintered crop of lisianthus is in its second week of blooming [28 June], and the smallest stems per plant are 40", the taller ones are 48"; there are 7-10 stems per plant, all saleable [at] $18 to $20 for a 10-stem bunch." Mimo Davis, Wild Thang Farms, Ashland, Mo.

"Lisianthus are a bit susceptible to root rots. Pull a few plants and take a good look at the roots. A healthy root system [has] lots of fine, white root hairs. It is definitely worthwhile to have a disease analysis done." Laurie Constable, Avalon Flowers, Santa Barbarm Calif.

     "I use both Rootshield and Clearys 3336. I mix [them together] and water in every lisianthus plug when we plant in the field. The plugs have also been lightly drenched in the watering process while the plugs are growing-on. I always plant lissies in a new bed -- I have about 2 more years before every annual bed will have had lisianthus -- and I know that drenching is a must." Bob Wollam, Wollam Gardens, Jeffersonton, Va.

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