Think the Season is Over? Think Again

A garden full of cool-season hardy annuals ready to burst into bloom in early May.
A garden full of cool-season hardy annuals ready to burst into bloom in early May.

Did you know that early fall can be the toughest and most costly season for cut-flower growers? Once exhaustion and overwhelming feelings manifest themselves into “just let the season end…”, we are literally set up to make the costliest mistake of the year. 

What is this costly mistake? Either skipping or coming late to fall preparation and planting of cool-season hardy annuals. I know this happens a lot because my inbox is stacked every winter with emails from growers asking for solutions on how to overcome this error.

Which flowers am I talking about and are they really worth growing? The list includes bells of Ireland, sweet peas, snapdragons, poppies, larkspur, and others. This family of plants includes some of the most in-demand flowers that also bloom during the highest-demand season: spring. 

No cut-flower grower should be without them. Cool-season hardy annuals became some of the earliest and most significant cash crops on my flower farm.

Lisa Ziegler, The Gardener’s Workshop

These plants don’t just survive cool to cold weather; they thrive in it. They are easy to grow when planted on their optimal timeline — which is either in fall or very early spring. When and which flowers to plant depends on your location and each plants’ winter hardiness zones. If a plant is winter-hardy in a given zone, it should be fall-planted. If it is not winter-hardy in a given zone, plant it in very early spring. 

Lisa Ziegler and orlaya and poppies
From left: Lisa Ziegler holds an armload of just-harvested Orlaya, which produces beautiful, long stems when planted at its optimal time; right: Iceland Poppy Champagne Bubbles seedlings are ready to go through winter and be the first bloomers in spring.

I wrote the book, Cool Flowers about how to grow this family of flowers.

It includes 30 featured flowers, winter hardiness zone information, fall and very early spring planting times, and more.

Since the book was published in 2014, I have created several companion resources:

A tip that has helped me to focus on and succeed with Cool Flowers: while I am not a detailed planner, I do have a good idea in January where my cool flower collection will be planted the following fall and very early the next spring. This simple planning step guides me all summer, through a season of succession plantings, keeping cool flowers on the forefront of my mind.

snapdragons and lisianthus
Cool Blooms, from left: Snapdragon Madame Butterfly Rose, planted in the fall that produces abundance, taller stem lengths, and has excellent disease resistance; right: Lisianthus is a cool-season hardy annual and benefits from cool-season planting.

As you dive in to learn more about growing cool-season hardy annuals, don’t forget to make time for them. The only true failure with this family of plants is not planting them because you are tired and weary after a long season.

Commercial cut-flower growing, like all businesses, is by nature all-consuming. To succeed and grow our businesses we must seek knowledge and learn how to manage and focus on the significant pieces that require our time and attention — because they benefit the business.

Iceland Poppy Champagne Bubbles blooms in early April from the field.
Iceland Poppy Champagne Bubbles blooms in early April from the field.

I’ve learned from my students that oftentimes their workdays are consumed by tasks and chores that really don’t benefit their business’s bottom line at all. They are filled with tasks they felt had to be done based on business inexperience or having a gardening perspective rather than a commercial cut-flower grower’s perspective. This is a leading cause of feeling overwhelmed and a common reason many quit this business.

To fully embrace starting, building, or expanding a cut-flower operation, we must balance the growing portion that tends to consume us, with the managing and business parts that are essential pieces. It is so easy to feel like the flowers are the most important, but in fact, they are just one piece. Without managing your business, there would be no flower farming business. 

I found that the key to success for my business was streamlining my growing operation and to focus on what benefited it most: the bottom line. Making time to plant and tend this significant crop group, cool-season hardy annuals, sits at the top of that list.

If you’d like to learn more about flower farming as a business, check out my online course Flower Farming School Online: The Basics, Annual Crops, Marketing, and More! This course is my roadmap to becoming a successful flower farmer or how to hit the reset button on an existing flower farming business. Get on my wait list for annual enrollment October 1-5, 2021.

Hope our paths cross!

Lisa Ziegler

Founder of The Gardener’s Workshop and Flower Farming School Online and the publisher of Farmer-Florist School Online and Florist School Online. Award-winning Author of Vegetables Love Flowers and Cool Flowers. Watch Lisa’s Story, visit the Field & Garden Podcast and view the Blog. Connect with Lisa on Facebook and Instagram. It all began in 1998 because Lisa wanted to work in her garden as her career. At first, she sold her cut flowers to local florists and Colonial Williamsburg. The business soon grew to include florist throughout the Hampton Roads region, supermarkets, farmers markets, a members-only on-farm market, and a bouquet drop-off subscription service. Lisa’s farm, known as The Gardener’s Workshop is still a small market flower farm (100% outdoor field grown), and an online garden shop. The online store sells the same seeds, tools, supplies, and seed starting equipment that Lisa uses as well as signed copies of her books. Lisa’s simple, instructive, and delightful gardening messages are reaching far beyond any expectation she ever had.

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Slow Flowers Journal is brought to you by SlowFlowers.com. Slow Flowers is an award-winning online directory created to help consumers find florists, studio designers, wedding and event planners, supermarket flower departments and flower farmers that supply American grown flowers. Founded in 2014, the site has grown to 700 members across the U.S.

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For more information, please contact Debra Prinzing
at 206-769-8211 or 844-SLOWFLO (844-756-9356); debra(at)slowflowers.com.