Perennials for your farm
Updated: Jan 11
Now is the time to order perennials (or start them by seed) and get them established before winter arrives. If I had unlimited space, perennials would be filling it all. They are an amazing choice for cut flower farmers due to their low labor, maintenance and cost [after the initial investment].
Perennials need a few simple things to thrive. Just like any plant, you can't throw them in the ground and hope they survive. That's an irresponsible and costly way to farm. Since perennials are an initial upfront investment, diligent care in establishing them is wise.
Many perennials need a spot that is well-draining. Don't plant them where water pools and stands or flows through in a heavy rain.
Take care with spacing. Perennials will grow larger every year and planting them too close in the beginning will lead to overcrowding and disease later on.
Perennials need adequate water to get established. Once established after the first or second year, many of them become drought tolerant. Keep in mind that producing quality cut flowers will require more watering than a simple landscape planting.
Weeding. To prevent pests and disease, weeding is necessary, especially in the first few years before the plants grow big enough to crowd out the weeds. A few passes in the spring with a Flex Tine-wedder like this one from Johnny's Select Seeds and your weeding labor should be minimum. It's helpful to keep the perimeter mowed or covered in landscape fabric.
When growing for cuts, a support system for some perennials is necessary to help keep the stems tall and straight.
Pruning is important for some perennials, especially woody bushes. Eucalyptus should be coppiced every February so that it produces new shoots ready to be cut by July.
Perennials are so worth the space and the initial attention. They aren't a magic bullet, however, nothing in farming ever is. But what they require is simple and straightforward. I know a farmer who planted hundreds of roses at the wrong time of year and then didn't bother to water them. Naturally, they died. What a sad waste of time, labor, and money from a simple lack of diligent watering. You can easily protect your investment with some thoughtful tasks and then sit back and watch a crop reliably bloom year after year without having the labor of replanting it or pulling it out every year for a new plant.
Here's some great ideas for perennial cut flower crops in our North Texas climate. Some are herbaceous perennials and some are woody bushes.
For more in-depth information on growing perennials, the book Herbaceous Perennial Plants by Armitage is invaluable. Not included in this post but equally valuable are bulbs that return year after year. Here in North Texas, we usually get enough cold spell for these bulbs to flower without replanting, but not always. They include gladiolus, drumstick alliums, daffodils, leujocium, and muscari. Like all plants, for quality cut flowers and foliage, watering is a component which can't be left to chance. If it's a dry winter, you'll need to water these bulbs in spring for a nice harvest.
Perhaps one day, I'll have acres of land at my disposal and will plant rows of perennials to my hearts content. For now, they're sprinkled through my urban flower farm and I appreciate how little attention they require and how many useful flowers and stems they provide. It's definitely a smarter way to farm. :)