Updated: Jan 11
Here on my micro flower farm in North Texas, space comes at a premium. Because I have two small children, time is equally precious. To top it all off, I pay my bills with this little farming venture, so I can't waste time or space or else I lose money also.
In the beginning, I was like most growers: I wanted to try everything! This isn't a bad way to start, you quickly learn what's fussy, what grows well, and what doesn't. Half a decade into this farming gig, I've narrowed down my crop list to flowers which have a high yield, low maintenance or high selling point.
My growing space includes a 16ft by 36 ft high tunnel and this greatly affects what I decide to grow. You'll need to know your own growing situation well, but if you're farming on a small scale, let me encourage you to focus on flower that have high yields per plant or season. Here's some of my early and late spring favorites along with crops that I don't normally grow:
Ranunculus are in the high maintenance category but their high yield and high selling point make up for it. Per space, they crank out a lot of blooms for at least 4-6 weeks each spring which makes them worth the effort AND the space.
Anemones are not quite as high maintenance and they crank out even more blooms than the ranunculus, this spring they had blooms from January to April. But their price point is a little lower than ranunculus and people don't quite clamor over them here like they do the ranunculus (not that I blame them!)
Snapdragons don't particularly crank out the blooms but because you can fit many plants into a very small space, you can get a lot of bang for your buck and use up very little real estate.
Bells of Ireland won't wow anyone but they're a lovely frame for those fluffy ranunculus and help round out spring a bouquet nicely. High maintenance to start from seed, I ordered plugs and grew them in the high tunnel. The $50 I spent on plugs was more than worth it. My bells were 3 ft high with 10 stems plus per plant. At 6 inch planting, I got almost a thousand cuts from a 20ft space. That's a pretty high yield at a time of year when green foliage is scarce.
Things I don't grow (usually) for early spring: 1) Sweet peas are high maintenance, the yield is only medium and I can't get a super high price point for them in my region; 2) Calendula is not high maintenance but there's not a big demand, the stems tend to be shorter and they don't crank out enough to be worth it.
Dianthus makes the list because it hits the low maintenance and the high yield/usability criteria. A small 20 ft planting in the open field weathered our crazy temperature swings and ice storms and cranked out thousands of blooms from January to April. That's right - thousands. As long as I farm, there will be dianthus.
Larkspur also makes the list because of the low maintenance (no cover needed for ice storms) and because of the dense planting space. At 3 inches per plant, a 20 ft section gives me, like the dianthus, thousands of stems. They tend to flush as once during a quick 4 week slot but there's so many of them, they are fluffy and super usable for spring bouquets.
Poppies are high maintenance and only middle-of-the-road producers. I've almost cut them from my grow list several times. But my customers have a voracious (borderline insane) addiction to them and I just can't ignore that. Growing a crop that I KNOW I can sell goes a long way in the equation of keeping them.
Bupleurum is the weirdest plant! :D But in late spring, one tiny neglected seed turns into a massively airy chartruese green plant that is so useable! Low maintenance, it doesn't yield a huge number of stems but the stems it does yield are huge. My favorite late season foliage.
Bachelor Buttons are not very impressive to look at, but they are low maintenance and high yield. So I literally need about 8 plants in a 2 ft section to give me hundreds of little stems that are useful as a bit of whimsy to spring bouquets. The sheer number of flowers means there's always room for a few plants here and there in my spring growing.
6. Statice is more of a summer producer but because it's a cool season flower (preferring to get it's start in the autumn or early spring when it's cool), I'll add it to the list. Statice cranks out blooms all summer long. GOBS of them. Tall, useful, low maintenance, it's one of those plants that I can allocate a 20 ft section too and count on thousand upon thousands of stems. Best of all, I can harvest them in the dead heat of summer so if I run out of time harvesting in the morning, they're still waiting for me whenever I can get to them. That's about as low maintenance as it gets.
7. Yarrow likes to fight with statice for the low maintenance award. It's a perennial that I neglect and ignore and late spring/early summer it gives me an amazing number of stems per plant. A mind blowing number of stems. It's a little lower on the list, however, because the harvesting is tricky and it needs to be netted or it'll topple over. If you don't have time in life to replant every season, yarrow is your friend. Just leave it year after year after year...
Things I (usually) don't grow (anymore)
Orlaya is very productive but it's fussy when it comes to harvesting and not as tall as my bupleurum so I've given space to the later instead.
Strawflower is loved by many but per space, it just doesn't yield as much. It also dies easily from cold and heat so the window for a good strawflower crop is small and not worth messing with.
Foxglove I love with all my heart! But in our warm climate, I get maybe 4 stems per plant a season before the heat takes it. At a 9 inch spacing, that's less than a hundred stems to larkspurs thousand stems. Since both are spiky late summer plants, I prefer to give the space over to larkspur.
Delphinium is much like foxglove. The plant needs a lot of space and it doesn't give me but a few stems each season in the open field. I'm going to try for the first time next season to give it high tunnel space. If I can get a robust yield, I'll keep it. If not, it'll get cut from serious production.
There's two crops I have yet to grow that I've heard are high yield and low maintenance: Agrostemma and Canterbury Bells. I'll be trailing both of those in spring 2023 and will give you updates next year.
If you're a small space flower farmer, I encourage you to count your stems! You'll get a great picture of the yields of each crop and can determine where your money is going and coming from in the field. You can always have a little garden for fun on the side but a serious cut flower operation needs a serious crop plan and workhorses are the key to a great growing season.
I will write another post with my summer favorites when it comes to those two important elements: saving space and saving time. Hint, sunflowers are not on my list. :)
Happy (small space) growing!!