Decorative Woody Florals Learning Circle

Final Report for FNC04-498

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $9,454.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $9,902.00
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Michele & Wayne Skogrand: My husband and I farm 500 acres of traditional row crops of corn and soybeans mostly. We raised navy beans several years ago. In 2004, we planted a 2 acre vineyard. I’ve grown and sold dried flowers for many years. I never use chemicals in my garden but my husband uses traditional corn and soybean chemical weed control methods. I planted decorative woody florals in a low lying wet site along the Minnesota River Valley

Robin Moore: Robin raises and sells organic fresh cut flowers through a CSA program.

Paul Wymar & Amy Bacigalupo: Paul and Amy have a small diversified farm west of Montevideo. They are currently converting tillage acreage into hay and a small organic orchard.

Richard Handeen & Audrey Arner: Audrey and Richard have planted a large variety of trees and shrubs on their land for use as potential timber, ornament, medicinal and forage. Willow and dogwood cultivars were planted in areas of their farm that are usually damp and in which other woody species have not survived. They operated an organic beef operation utilizing extensive grazing systems.

John Schmidt: John lives close to the South Dakota border in an area that has a lot of CRP acreage. The drier conditions of S. D. have provided challenges for John.

Chad Kingstrom: Lives near Hutchinson MN and is the farthest east of all grant participants. He has planted a woodlot on the south side of Sacred Heart on land that used to be used for conventional corn and soybean rotation. He works as a field manager for a commercial landscaping company.

Michele & Wayne Skogrand: Our sustainable practices were quite limited before this grant. Struggling with weeds is the gardener’s curse so mulching and weed control was something we focused on quite a bit in this grant. My husband and I used fabric for our tree plantings and in our vineyard.

Robin Moore: Robin has used organic gardening practices since starting her fresh flower CSA in 2000?

Paul Wymar & Amy Bacigalupo: Paul and Amy have planted an organic orchard and have always used sustainable farming practices.

Richard Handeen & Audrey Arner: Audrey and Richard have gradually converted conventional corn and soybean areas into diversified timber, pasture and organic row crops over the last 30 years.

John Schmidt: John has a lot of CRP acreage and has converted his farm to sustainable farming practices since returning to the farm in 2001?

Chad Kingstrom: Chad converted tillable land into a woodlot which he started in 2005. He uses non-chemical weed controls, either weed whipping, cultivating, mowing or mulch.

The objective of our project was to identify decorative woody floral species hardy to Southwestern Minnesota and Southeastern South Dakota with market potential which would provide environmental benefits as alternative perennial crops, and generate income for farmers.

We wanted to try several successful species tested in Nebraska through a SARE grant there. The decorative woody florals that have been tested in Nebraska that we studied included:

• Scarlet Curly Willow
• Streamco Willow
• Flame Willow
• French Pussy Willow
• Curly Willow
• Yellowtwig Dogwood
• Bloodtwig Dogwood
• Bailey Dogwood
• Colorado Dogwood
• Cardinal Dogwood

We deviated from this list slightly. We tried Giant Japanese Pussy Willow instead of French Pussy Willow because the catkins are very large and should be appealing to the floral market. We felt the Bloodtwig, Bailey and Colorado Dogwoods would have the same color as the Cardinal so we stuck with the Cardinal, a known performer in this area.

We began with the species listed above which worked well for growers in Nebraska and made a few changes as I stated above. We obtained species from the Minnesota Arboretum, the University of Minnesota and ordered additional material from wholesale suppliers. The species grown at the Arboretum and UMN were obviously hardy in our area. We wanted to try some other species desirable for their beauty but questionably hardy to see if they could survive in the different sites. We all tried Black Pussy Willow but none survived. It is such a beautiful plant. If I lived in a warmer climate I would grow it. Forsythia is growing in most locations but no one has had it bloom yet. Robin Moore would like to try Flowering Almond.

Dean Current, from CINRAM provided technical assistance with the plantings, production research and marketing. He also supervised a University student who carried out a market study and a University student who carried out a mulch trial.

Sue White, Research Fellow at the University of Minnesota, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics assisted with meetings and sourcing product. She helped coordinate specific University assistance to the project identifying researchers who were able to address specific questions or problems.

Steve McNamara, University of Minnesota Horticultural Research Center, Minnesota Arboretum. Steve gave a demonstration on how to start soft wood cuttings and shared plant material from the arboretum to start in the Saint Paul campus misting greenhouse. I wonder if the Arboretum will ever let me back in with pruning shears.

Chad Giblin, University of Minnesota, St. Paul. Chad helped us start cuttings from the Arboretum at the St. Paul campus

We learned a great deal about starting hard and softwood cuttings. Several people in the group have had good success starting plants from cuttings. We plan to share plant material as needed to help one another establish plantings.

We’ve discovered that different species seem to thrive in different locations. Our growers range from the South Dakota border to Hutchinson, MN, from flood plain to prairie. Because conditions vary, some plots are thriving and some are struggling. Even though these species are willow and dogwoods and are able to tolerate wet conditions, this does not mean they can survive in the flood plain of the Minnesota River Valley and be under water until June. These are hybrids and are not as tough as their wild cousins.

Mild winters have made it difficult to assess the hardiness of these species thus far. Weed control and watering are important for these plants especially during the first year.

I sent out a survey to all participants asking them to rate the plant material by productivity, hardiness, marketability and profitability. We rated each from 1-10 with 10 being the best rating.
Survivability results vary depending on the grower and conditions of their site. Because results varied, I’ll give a brief statement on the success or failure of each site according to information I gathered from individual growers.

Michele Skogrand
My husband and I live along the Minnesota River Valley so we have land that sits in the flood plain. Because this area is often very wet in the spring, traditional row crops are flooded out in certain sections. I wanted to see if willow species would survive in this area since native willows seemed to tolerate wet conditions. I planted willow and dogwood species in a portion of the Minnesota River Valley below our house that is often flooded in the spring. I placed them in a drowned out portion in an old tree line to see if they would tolerate these very wet conditions. I was disappointed with their success. Many of the species died out. Only Streamco and Flame willow survived.

I planted Curly Willow in my garden and it’s doing fine there. I’m looking for a new site to place them or I may try larger established plants in the top row of the tree line in the flood plain. I would like to replace Scarlet Curly Willow, Yellowtwig Dogwood, and Giant Japanese Pussy Willow. We have a lot of Cardinal Dogwood in two tree lines that serve as a wind break. I’ll gather cutting and plant them in a location protected from deer.

Productivity, Hardiness, Marketability, Profitability
1. Scarlet Curly Willow, 2, 2, NA, NA
2. Streamco Willow, 10, 10, NA, NA
3. Flame Willow, 7, 7, NA, NA
4. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow, 2, 2, NA, NA
5. Curly Willow, 8, 8, NA, NA
6. Yellowtwig Dogwood, 2, 2, NA, NA
7. Cardinal Dogwood, 3, 3, NA, NA

John Schmidt
John Schmidt lives along the South Dakota border and struggles with drought conditions. He had luck with Streamco Willow, French Pussy Willow and Curly Willow rating Streamco as the most productive and hardy. He also participated in the mulch trials. They tried wood chips, rye straw and fabric. The chickens loved the chips and straw and dug in the mulch for bugs and worms. The fabric didn’t stay down and weeds grew up under the fabric.

Productivity, Hardiness, Marketability, Profitability
1. Scarlet Curly Willow
2. Streamco Willow, 8, 8, NA, NA
3. Flame Willow
4. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow, 6, 6, NA, NA
5. Curly Willow, 6, 6, NA, NA
6. Yellowtwig Dogwood
7. Cardinal Dogwood

Robin Moore
In Robin’s experience, florists like Scarlet Curly Willow for both color and form. They didn’t care for the Curly Willow as much because it lacks color. They also like the color of Cardinal Dogwood but would take Flame Willow in its place if she was sold out of Cardinal Dogwood. Robin feels Cardinal Dogwood is more vigorous and productive than Flame Willow so she prefers Cardinal Dogwood. She sold out of Giant Japanese Willow in the spring and rates it a 10 across the board.

In our trials we spaced the shrubs 3 feet apart but Robin prefers a 5-foot spacing. A 5-foot spacing encourages more small lateral shoots for 2 feet and under cuttings. If they’re planted close together they grow mostly large horizontal branches only. The Giant Japanese Pussy Willow doesn’t develop catkins toward the bottom when planted close together either.

A late frost this year was problematic for Robin. The shrubs don’t drop their leaves or develop good color until after a hard frost. Most florists want stems by the end of September or beginning of October and Robin was just able to meet the deadline but spent time removing the last leaves.

She either didn’t receive Yellowtwig Dogwood or it didn’t survive and she would like to order more for a contrast color.

Productivity, Hardiness, Marketability, Profitability
1. Scarlet Curly Willow, 8, 10, 10, 10
2. Streamco Willow, 8, 10, 5, 5
3. Flame Willow, 6, 8, 9, 9
4. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow, 10, 10, 10, 10
5. Curly Willow, 10, 10, 7, 7
6. Yellowtwig Dogwood, NA, NA, NA, NA
7. Cardinal Dogwood, 10, 10, 10, 10

Chad Kingstrom
Chad had very good success over all with his woodlot and it generally turned out better than he expected it would. He had good growth and good survivability. Florists liked the Scarlet Curly Willow for both color and form but Chad sold Curly Willow too. The Curly Willow had some chlorosis and some of it died or developed cankers. It might be a hot spot in his lot and not related to the hardiness of the plant. He sold out of Yellow Twig and Cardinal Dogwood. Florists liked the color contrast. The Giant Japanese Pussy Willow sold very well in the spring.

Chad’s biggest problem, like Robin, was a late frost this year. It doesn’t get cold enough soon enough so he spent time removing leaves and florists wanted them early.

Mulch trials helped Chad. The wood chips made harvesting easier especially in the early spring when it’s muddy. He feels the mulch only lasts two years but after two years the shrubs start to shade the area below them reducing weeds. Chad plans to add much more mulch in the future to control weeds.

Productivity, Hardiness, Marketability, Profitability
1. Scarlet Curly Willow, 8, 10, 7, 7
2. Streamco Willow, 10, 10, 4, NA
3. Flame Willow, 9, 9, 7, 8
4. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow, 9, 8, 10, 9
5. Curly Willow, 10, 7, 9, 9
6. Yellowtwig Dogwood, 8, 10, 9, 9
7. Cardinal Dogwood, 9, 10, 10, 10

Richard Handeen & Audrey Arner
Audrey and Richard lost a lot of plants to drought in the first years. The dogwoods and curly willow stayed productive. Their Flame Willow is still alive but non-productive due to grass.

Productivity, Hardiness, Marketability, Profitability
1. Scarlet Curly Willow 8, NA, NA, NA
2. Streamco Willow, 3, NA, NA, NA
3. Flame Willow, 3, 8 NA, NA
4. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow, 1, NA, NA, NA
5. Curly Willow, 10, 10, 7, 7
6. Yellowtwig Dogwood, 7, 10, NA, NA
7. Cardinal Dogwood, 8, 10, NA, 7

Paul Wymar & Amy Bacigalupo
Paul and Amy didn’t send back their survey but Robin, who lives close by says they planted their cuttings in a windbreak with poplars for their organic orchard. Weed pressure keeps the plants small at this point and they haven’t done any marketing.

We identified our five favorites:
1. Scarlet Curls Willow
2. Giant Japanese Pussy Willow
3. Golden Curls or Tortuosa
4. Cardinal Dogwood
5. Yellow Twig Dogwood

These were our favorites mostly for their esthetics but also for hardiness and durability. Color and form make these varieties stand out. Cardinal and Yellow Twig Dogwood have good color contrast when put together. Golden Curls, Tortuosa and Scarlet Curls have a very popular twisted organic form highly desirable in the fresh floral market. Scarlet Curls has both color and form but its hardiness is questionable since it was not successful at two sites: John Schmidt in S. D. because of drought and harsh winter conditions, and Michele Skogrand because the area was flooded for a long time in the spring and it didn’t survive. Chad Kingstrom in Sacred Heart had the best luck. His sheltered, tilled woodlot location near Sacred Heart had the best survival rate of all.

Group projects are challenging to pull together. We were unsuccessful in coming up with a date that would work for everyone to make a trip to Nebraska to see the field trials there. Collecting information from group participants can be difficult as well.

More time would be helpful to evaluate marketing success. Some plantings are just now beginning to produce viable stems for sale. I would recommend the favorite five listed above but I wouldn’t bother with some of the species we tried. Some plant material is very hardy like Streamco Willow but only marginally desirable for the fresh flower market. Its color and form are much like wild willow species.

I don’t have much hard data except for the table filled out by participants above. Only two participants have actively marketed their product, Chad Kingstrom and Robin Moore.
See also Marketing Report and Mulch Trial Report as attachments.

Our field day on Saturday, March 24 was on the Land Stewardship Project web site and distributed through press releases to area newspapers. See link @

It was incorporated into Farm Beginnings Field Days and offered to Farm Beginnings students. A notice was sent via email to past Farm Beginnings graduates and to a regional grape growers group. As people expressed their interest in the project throughout the past 3 years, they were added to a growing email list. Nine people attended the field day at Chad Kingstrom’s woodlot at Sacred Heart, Minnesota. We took a tour of the woodlot and then went to Chad’s parents house a short distance away and I gave a demonstration on how to start hardwood cuttings. At the field day, I passed out Danya Crowe’s market report and a handout describing how to start hardwood cuttings. Everyone at the field day was asked to sign up for email notices on decorative woody floral learning circle. An article about the Field Day appeared in the Land Stewardship Project Letter in Spring, 2007.

I would like more contact with SARE coordinators to ask questions and give advice on grant project.

Project Objectives:

To identify decorative woody floral species, as alternative perennial crops, which would provide riparian area protection and generate income for farmers.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.