Trialing Native, Herbaceous Perennials as Cut Flowers and Foliage for Sale to the Wholesale Floral Industry

Progress report for FNC21-1261

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $9,000.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Seeley Farm
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Seeley Farm was founded in 2011 by myself, Alex Cacciari, and my husband Mark Nowak. We are a two-person operation with some seasonal help. We grow a diverse mix of certified organic vegetables, cut flowers, nursery plants and raise broilers. We market our products through our local farmers’ market, an on-farm stand, and regional wholesale accounts. Our farm has 12 tillable acres.

Summary:

My project will trial 20 native, herbacious perennial plants in the field for their value as cut flowers and foliage. Trial plants will be assessed on their productivity as well as their marketability when sold wholesale direct to florists and distributors. The project will culminate in a mini-marketing campaign to promote the plants that performed well and educate growers and florists about their value and seasonality.

Florists have many options when it comes to sourcing stems; the industry is dominated by product that is shipped internationally. Michigan’s cut flower season is short, and our crop selection limited. Growers are always looking for new varieties to catch the attention of fickle buyers. 

Florists already know that locally-grown product has the advantage of being fresher than stems that are dry-shipped. This project will cultivate another reputation that locally-grown flowers are more unique than other wholesale flowers. Florists value new and unique stems that are also sturdy and reliable to integrate into their designs. Native perennial cut flower crops can offer just those kinds of unique stems. 

 

Project Objectives:
  1. To produce a list of nativeplants that have value in the wholesale floral industry. The list as well and our production methods will be shared with other flower growers via 2 Field Days, a workshop and conference presentation.
  2. To promote these plants within the floral industry via a mini-marketing campaign. We will share marketing materials with our regional florists and distributors via an industry event held at the end of the project timeline. The materials and event will aim to educate florists about these native crops and other perennial crops, how to use them, and what their seasonal availability is.

Research

Materials and methods:

Trial plants: 

 

Euphorbia corrolata

Filipendula rubra

Asclepias tuberosa

Solidago “Fireworks”

physostegia virginiana

monarda punctata

Eryngium yuccifolium

Asclepias “Ice Ballet”

Eupatorium “Gateway”

Penstemon “Blackbeard”

Asclepias “Cinderella”

Iris versicolor

Lupinus cultivar

Rudbeckia fulgida 

Gentiana cultivar

Apocynum androsaemifolium

Polygonatum odoratum 

Scirpus pendulus

Monarda punctata

Chasmanthium latifolium

Pycnanthemum muticum

Bed prep in spring ‘21.  All plants were planted into landscape fabric with burned holes. For rhizomatous plants, plastic will be burned/cut wider as plant growth expands over time. Plugs were purchased in early may 2021 from nurseries and planted to various locations on the farm, depending on plant needs. Due to late ordering (orders placed February 2021, right after SARE grant decision) many species were unavailable as plugs for May planting. Planting occurred May-September 2021. One species, polygonatum was not available in '21 and will be planted out April 2022.

Stems will be harvested weekly and marketed through Michigan Flower Growers Cooperative (MFGC). Stems will be evaluated according to the following 5-part metric:

  1. Stem count per plant. 
  2. Average stem length. 
  3. Vase life in days.
  4. Stem value in the marketplace. Determined by weekly sales records. This is an imperfect measure, as many of these plants will be unfamiliar to florists and they will not order them. As a secondary measure I will gift sample bunches of each plant to 4 florists and survey them.
  5. Length of harvest season in weeks

The marketing campaign consists of: 

1) Professional photography of the plants and stems in arrangements.

2) Graphic design to use the photography on the MFGC website, and design two print materials: postcards for each successful plant from trial, and a 16” x 20” print calendar with photos 

3) MFGC Native Flowers Promotion Event.

The print calendar is essential to the campaign. The biggest barrier to florists purchasing perennial varieties is their season is short and the buyer isn’t aware of when it’s available. A simple calendar of availability florists can hang on their studio wall will be a powerful promotional tool for these new crops. 

Please refer to this Google Drive folder "Field/Production" photos for pictures of the bed establishment and progress for 2021

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/18__sg6OW8iFwkWOzSoTxwO3eaGCTndY6?usp=sharing

Research results and discussion:

As anticipated, no yields achieveed for 2021. Due to the lateness of my plug orders (February 2021), plants arrived between May and Sep '21, based on availability. Nonethless, most every species planted has taken and rooted well and should overwinter well and be poised to take off and produce harvests in 2022. The exceptions were the eryngium and asclepias tuberosa. As a back-up plan, I've purchased seed for several of the varieties to grow out my own replacement plugs this spring for any plants that did not survive winter.

Some species produced precocious flowering in their first year. These included lupinus, scirpus, solidago, chasmanthium, pycnanthemum, gentian, and eupatorium. The flowers produced were cut to send plants' energy to the roots (and for my own enjoyment in a vase). This kind of short first-year growth from perennial plugs is to be expected. They were a welcome teaser of what's to come in 2022.

Please refer to this Google Drive folder "product photos" for pictures of harvested stems in 2021

 

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/18Ujk1AaaJwRdNvpCcBuJCjk4DGgy3Pvl?usp=sharing

 

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

5 Farmers
Education/outreach description:

I held a Field Tour and orientation on 10/31/21 for 2 hours. 5 members of the MI Flower Growers Coop were in attendance. I shared with them the narrative of the SARE grant, as well as methods for production, marketing plans, and a list of sources for native plugs and seeds. We walked the trial plot and discussed the landscape fabric technique for weed suppression and observed the young plugs. There was not much to see since the plants were mostly dormant, but we had a good conversation around siting the plants for their preferred soil conditions, i.e. wet/lowland and dry/upland. I had little to share in the way of findings since I won't see any harvest really until 2022. I anticipate the 2022 field days to be more formal.

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.