Growing Dahlias for Cut Flower Production via Autopots and Aquaponics

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2021: $14,518.00
Projected End Date: 06/30/2022
Grant Recipient: Grateful Gardeners
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Dr. Tom Precht
Grateful Gardeners

Information Products


  • Agronomic: other


  • Production Systems: aquaponics

    Proposal summary:

    The US cut flower farming industry has shrunk at an unprecedented level for the last 20 years due to the influx of cheap imports from South America. The "dirty" secret of the floral world is that it is incredibly pollutive and destructive to the environment, emitting massive amounts of carbon for every stem cut and shipped. Flower farming has not caught up to food farming in terms of the pressure and focus to shift practices to organic, sustainable methods. We're running out of time to alter the climate change catastrophe that is looming, and agricultural practices could impart a massive impact if improved. Aquaponics is an exciting new technology to grow plants in the most sustainable and greenest way possible. Utilizing fish as fertilizer, growing in aquaponics leads to a 95% reduction in water usage, as much as a 2 fold growth rate increase, drastically reduced pesticide usage, elimination of weeds, savings on labor, and the possibility of growing year-round in a greenhouse. While vegetables have been well studied in aquaponics, almost nothing has been published about flowers grown in aquaponics. Overall, the goal of this research is to both dramatically increase the sustainability of US floriculture, decrease the environmental impact of growing flowers, and drastically improve the competitiveness of US-grown cut flowers in the multi-billion-dollar floral market. As it stands, this market is dominated by cheap imports and American grown flowers desperately need an unfair advantage. Aquaponics could be that advantage.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to validate that aquaponics coupled with Autopots is a viable growing method for dahlia cut flower production. Furthermore, the project will characterize this method and document the benefits of using aquaponics for dahlia production. The project objectives are as follows:

    1. Establish that dahlias can be grown to flower from both tubers and cuttings in Autopots coupled to an aquaponics system
    2. Characterize and document aspects of dahlia production in the Autopot/aquaponics system, compared to field-grown, specifically:
      1. Growth rate from tuber and cutting, to mature plant
      2. Water usage during the project
      3. Nutrient levels, water temps and pH throughout the project
      4. Stem counts
      5. Plant health
      6. Pesticide usage
      7. Bloom quality and size
      8. Duration of flowering time
    3. Adjust nutrient levels, water flow, and growing media to improve dahlia plant performance

    These objectives, once met, will be useful to other flower farmers because it will demonstrate that a sustainable, organic method can produce equivalent, if not superior dahlias to field grown. Dahlias have never been grown in aquaponics, which are more sustainable approaches than field grown. Aquaponics specifically has the potential to increase growth rates 2 fold! This benefit, among others, would encourage and motivate flower farmers to move towards more sustainable methods.

    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.