Top 10 Cool Season Flowers for Small Farms (FSFS176)

 

Introduction

This continues our series on flower production. It follows the last episode of 10 warm-season flowers to get started with, which gives you a total of 20 flowers to get you started with. 

 

What are the differences between warm and cool-season flowers and why are there those two categories? (3:30)

Cool-season flowers are more technical and challenging to grow vs. warm-season flowers. Cool-season flowers have to be started in a cool environment, that’s one challenge. They can be grown during two seasons – started during the fall to overwinter for early spring production and again they can be transplanted in the spring for later production. Learning to get the timing right with those plantings is the second challenge. 

Lisa Ziegler in her book Cool Season Flowers details how frost tolerant each flower is, depending on the growing zone. To get the best performance from a cool-season flower you want to overwinter them, that will give you the most robust plant. They are much longer to mature, and they need cool temperatures especially when they are younger.

 

Can you plant these flowers in unheated protected culture during the winter for production? (7:50)

Unfortunately, there is no easily available research that we’ve found in a book to detail producing flowers this way, such as there is in Elliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook for vegetables. Daylight hours are a critical factor that affects bloom times, so it would need to be researched. You can certainly get flowers earlier in the Spring by over-wintering them in protection, but how early is dependent highly on your growing zone. 

 

It is important to consider protection for your flowers in the field by covering them with some level of frost protection, like a floating row cover, if they are not truly frost-tolerant to your zone. You can move 1-2 growing zones North, or keep less tolerant flowers alive, by passive protection. Using low tunnels will not only protect them but also accelerate their growth in the spring, just remember to vent them on warm days.

 

Can you get a competitive advantage by getting these flowers to market sooner? (11:30)

Absolutely – the closer you can get to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day the better. You can get to market about a month early just by having some basic success with cool-season flowers, not to mention all the variety of options you can add on. Where we are in S.MD you can get bulbs, corms, and blooming branches as early as February and March, and with over-wintered annuals during April and May. 

#1 Calendula (17:30)

It’s one of the easier flowers to grow, it’ll self sow, and has quick days to maturity. There are some new varieties being released now with creamy colors available. They are easy to germinate and transplant as well. They are a bit shorter for design work, which can be challenging but are still lovely overall. Price per stem is on the lower end.

 

Are there any plants on here that need special cultural practices like cold stratification? (20:00)

Just the sweet peas. A lot of growers will soak them overnight and take multiple steps to ensure germination, but we’ve found all of that not to be necessary. They do grow quickly as transplants though and can get quite leggy, so make sure they go out on time. 

 

#2 Feverfew (22:30)

One of our favorites. Grows well and is quite frost hardy. It is practically our strongest grower. It is a wonderful filler that goes in a lot of designs and each stem goes a long way. Three stems in a bouquet. It definitely needs trellising.

 

Is there a ratio in your production plan that you want to allocate to fillers like the feverfew? (24:40)

You should definitely allocate part of your crop plan to fillers. It’s important to plan by flower category. Your smaller blooms like this can be on the lower end, and as the flowers size up you want to grow more of them. You can get away with 10-20% on spikes and fillers. It is important to ask; where are you trying to sell your product? And also consider; how do you want to design your bouquets?

 

When do you want to be timing the plantings for these flowers? (27:45)

For all of these flowers, you want to be doing a fall and spring planting. It is critical to get the timing down. You want to count back from your first frost 4-8 week to get your planting date, and then count back the number of weeks in trays to find your seeding date. It is important to note that larger plants are not more resilient, and may even die early. You want to hit the sweet spot where the plants are 6-8” around the time when they are going through their first frost. It will be trial and error in your area. It’s advisable to try multiple plantings and record your results each year to find the best timing.

 

#3 Lisianthus (37:50)

It is a coveted flower. It has tall stems, is a resilient grower and highly productive. You want to dedicate tunnel space to lisianthus. The difficulty in growing them, however, is they are difficult to germinate from seed. You can order them online from companies like Grow-’n-Sell as long as you order them early enough in the fall. They do grow slowly. They need twelve weeks to reach maturity from transplant. We squeeze them to 5 rows across on a 30” bed. 

 

How about color selection for Lisianthus? There are so many of them. Should you mix them? (42:00)

Going for double-bloomed and ruffled varieties are going to be your best sellers. You only need one color within a type – peach and apricot are so similar you only need one. Bicolor and picotee are popular right now. 

We do mix colors on some flowers, but for the most part, we don’t want to have to sort them so we grow single colors to a bed. It’s tempting to grow mixes since there are so many colors, but it really depends on your market steams. Consider that if you are selling just to a farmer’s market and making your own bouquets that you can mix colors as you choose, but if you are selling to florists you want to have single colors.

 

#4 Snapdragons (47:30)

Are multipurpose spike flowers that are extremely popular. You can squeeze them in a bed at tight spacing, from 4-6”. There is a wide color array. We enjoy the Rocket, Madame Butterfly and Potomac series. A resilient over-wintering plant. They sell well as a single cut flower for roughly $1 a stem. Their stems can be as long as 2’. A great starter cool-season flower.

 

#5 Sweet Peas (50:30)

There’s a great book that details growing sweet peas by Gorgie Newbery called The Flower Farmer’s Year. They are quite fragrant. It is important to know about the series. The Spencer series is the most popular for cut flower production. The other series are old world, which are popular for their fragrance, but not as much of a bouquet filler.

The seeds tend to be expensive, so for right now we are using them only in bouquet work and buying mixes. They also don’t do well in our soils which are alkaline so we are waiting to invest in seeds perhaps in later years when we can correct for that pH. They have to be vertically trellised. 

 

#6 Rudbeckia (57:15)

Also known as Black-eyed-Susan. This is another resilient flower, like feverfew. It grows upright with strong stems and large disks. It is a warm color flower. We focus on darker, more moody colors within this series to use in our bouquet work. There are some bright yellows you could focus on to bring a pop of color to your stand, much like sunflowers.

 

What time of year are you cropping out these cool-season flowers? (1:02:00)

In July for most of them. It is important to know that when you are cropping them out that you need to have a successions of warm-season flowers to follow them up with. Typically they all finish around the same time so there can be a gap in production.

 

#7 Foxglove (1:04:00)

It’s a somewhat trickier flower to produce. It’s a biennial. There are some that flower in the first year and you need to select from them like the Camelot series. It’s a stunning spike flower. You can grow them well in a high tunnel. It doesn’t ship well so you can sell it locally well, people will prefer it since you’ll have a much higher quality. It can be tough to get them established since they take a prolonged period to get them germinated well. If you aren’t growing them under temperature-controlled conditions, such as indoors, they are likely to overheat in a grow tunnel.

 

#8 Scabiosa (1:10:15)

This flower is easy to grow and is highly productive. The seed is large and germinates well and the days to maturity are some of the quickest of any flower. It still grows well in some warmer temperatures. From a design stand-point, it has somewhat thin stems and can be difficult to work with. It can be grown as a dried pod. They are popular in design work since you can get unique colors. You can have them in the garden for about 4 weeks per planting.

 

# 9 Bupleurum (1:13:10)

A cold-hardy greenery. With long stems and a classic deep green to yellow-green coloring, it can be included in an abundance of arrangements. A fair equivalent to eucalyptus. It’s advisable to grow large beds of your greenery like this so you never run out for design work, or for sale to other designers, as greenery is often hard to come by from local farms. 

 

A number of sources recommend direct seed bupleurum, but we have not had much success doing that, perhaps because of the timing of our seeding along with cool temperatures. You do want to plant it densely, so if you are considering transplanting it the paperpot transplanter would be far more efficient. Lastly, considering the hints of yellow in the small flowers, this is more popular greenery for market bouquets than for wedding work.

 

#10 Daucus (1:18:00)

A type of (chocolate) Queen Anne’s lace that is part of the carrot family. It’s quite cold hardy. It’s wonderful for wedding work and one planting will present a variety of colors, including some of the classic white Ammi or traditional Queen Anne’s lace. It’s exceptionally tall, growing over 6’ and needs to be trellised, but the stems are long and sturdy. For post-harvest handling, it needs extra care in that it wilts quickly from cut time. It should be harvested early in the morning and the stems should be singed with a butane torch or boiling water just after cutting.

 

It adds texture or air to bouquets. We use it for its whimsical qualities, often standing up higher than other flowers in a bouquet. If you prefer more traditional or tight arrangements, it can be tucked down so that the umbrella-like underside of the flower is even with the crown of the arrangement which will give it a textural quality next to your other big blooms.

 

When did these cool-season transplants go in for you this spring? (1:25:00)

Though we put them out in April it’s likely they would’ve done well even 6 weeks before our last frost, or as early as mid-March here in S.MD. Consider that solar or daylight hours are critical for growth, so there won’t be large gains made by placing them out when there are minimal daylight hours and the sun is still high in the winter sky. Two weeks of growth during March may only be the equivalent of one week of growth in April.

 

You will be starting transplants for the Fall growing season soon, correct? (1:26:00)

Yes. It can be tricky keeping track of these transplant windows since a lot of time is dedicated to producing cool-season flower transplants and the fall planting is started often during July and August. They take longer to germinate and grow to size than warm weather plants, meaning 6-12 weeks vs. 3-4 weeks for warm-season flowers. Also, consider many of these cool-season flowers that can need light to germinate, so sowing them on top of the soil or with a dusting of vermiculite instead of covering them may be necessary. 

 

Conclusion

If you are interested in following along with Loblolly Farm’s growing season and seeing more of their design work you can visit them on the web on Instagram @LoblollyFarm or their website. You can learn more about all things Paperpot and shop other small farm tools at https://www.paperpot.co/, or drop a line to Diego on Instagram @DiegoFooter.

 

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