Demand for cut flowers is increasing; here's how to grow your own - East Idaho News
In the Garden

Demand for cut flowers is increasing; here’s how to grow your own

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With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we tend to look to the floral industry to help us show our loved ones that we do, in fact, love them.

Consumers in the U.S. are expected to spend a total of $2.3 billion on flowers during Valentine’s Day; this makes up about 30 percent of total flower sales for the year. The floral industry is a big business, and you can be a part of it. An increasing number of gardeners are producing cut flowers.

What are cut flowers?

Cut flowers are blooms or buds separated from their bearing plant that may be sold as single stems, bunches, or pre-made bouquets. Worldwide, demand for cut flowers is increasing, and the U.S. market is expected to follow suit. Cut flowers can be divided into two categories: traditional and specialty cut flowers. Traditional cut flowers include roses, carnations, and chrysanthemums.

These three types of flowers dominate the market, but specialty cut flowers may provide a more sustainable solution for growers. Specialty cut flowers are any flower except the traditional flowers. Specialty-cut flowers allow gardeners to grow what works best for them in their situation.

Where do I start?

If you already have a garden, you probably have the equipment to raise cut flowers. Site selection is essential; most cut flowers prefer well-drained soil. Soils can be developed through the application of compost, cover cropping, or other soil-building practices. Raised beds are becoming a standard growing practice for raising cut flowers. They warm earlier in the spring, which can boost production.

Cut flowers
Raised beds are becoming a standard growing practice for raising cut flowers. | Edie Goodrich, Goodrich Gardens

Most new growers plant everything by hand in small plots. Some cut flowers can be direct-seeded, while others should be transplanted.

Do your research on specific growing requirements for each cut flower species you plan to grow to ensure they have the proper spacing. Generally, cut flowers are grown close together to encourage growth of longer stems.

Effective irrigation is necessary for cut flower production. Most growers use drip irrigation either under plastic or laid on top of the ground to maximize water efficiency, keep water off the leaves and flowers and provide fertilizer or chemical application.

Protecting cut flowers from damaging winds is essential in Idaho. The use of windbreaks can help avoid damage. Windbreaks can be live plants or fencing materials. The further from the windbreak, the less effective the protection will be. Another practice is stem support. Several wide mesh products are available and act as a grid for the flowers to grow through, giving the stem support as it grows.

Cut flowers
Woven netting provides support for flowering stems. | Edie Goodrich, Goodrich Gardens

With our shorter growing season, high tunnels and greenhouses are excellent investments for cut flower producers. A high tunnel provides an additional four to six weeks of growing season before the outdoor season and another four to six weeks after. The use of small heaters can further extend the season by an additional two weeks. High tunnels have much less climate control than a greenhouse but can be ventilated to ensure constant temperatures.

Insects, disease and weeds are all concerns for growing any plants; cut flowers are no exception. A good integrated pest management system that brings in cultural, mechanical, biological and chemical control for common pests will need to be followed.

Harvest and Post Harvest Handling

Flowers are best harvested in the morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. After cutting the flowers, put them in a bucket of water. Warm temperatures cause heat stress and will cause flowers to droop, reducing their quality.

It is best to rapidly cool harvested flowers and keep them out of the sunlight. Many flowers benefit from the use of floral preservatives. Knowing the plant’s characteristics will help you produce high-quality cut flowers and aid you in your decision-making process.

Many floral shops will buy quality flowers locally, so they may have specific flowers they want grown. A good relationship with local florists will go a long way towards determining what you grow.