Specialty cut flower production is an opportunity to add valuable commodities for Wyoming growers, serve local economies, and diversify Wyoming’s economic base with horticultural crops.
Flower production can also provide biological benefits by providing nutrition and shelter for crop pollinators and beneficial insects.
This project’s purpose was to produce information for Wyoming growers and demonstrate if growing fresh cut flowers is feasible. The resurgence of locally grown goods has been a boost to the Wyoming horticulture industry. The spread and popularity of farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and food cooperatives are indicative of this trend.
According to the Wyoming Business Council, farmers markets contributed more than $2.2 million to the state’s economy in 2012 and at least 46 markets operated around the state in 2013. Approximately 20 CSAs serve communities and primarily provide members with vegetables but have a variety of add-on items, such as cut flowers.
The U.S. cut flower industry relies heavily on imports from countries near the equator due to lower energy and labor costs. The U.S. is not one of the major exporters but is one of the largest producers and major buyers of cut flowers. With a shift toward specialty cut flowers, local markets can gain a diverse and high-value product that can compete with imported goods.
The shift toward specialty
How specialty cut flowers are defined has evolved. Originally defined as flowers that are not roses, carnations, or chrysanthemums, specialty now describes flowers that are not regularly available or are only on the market for a short time.
Specialty cut flowers can serve local markets and provide a diversity of material. Specialty cut flowers have a short post-harvest life and do not ship well. The markets for cut flowers include wholesale, direct to florist, you-pick operations, farmers markets and stands, and subscription bases for CSAs, restaurants, etc.
There has only been one study in Wyoming for fresh cut sunflower production (please see bit.ly/wyosunflowers). Region-specific information on cut flower production is important due to unique environmental conditions in Wyoming: short-season, high-altitude environments, many plants require protection from potential frosts, high winds, and large day-to-night temperature swings. Greenhouse and high tunnel production has potential to provide season extension and quality protection in the harsh Wyoming climate and throughout the greater Rocky Mountain region.
High tunnels are used for season extension, increasing yield, and improving quality of crops such as cut flowers. A high tunnel is a simple framed structure usually covered with clear polyethylene. High tunnels do not have active heating or cooling but instead use passive ventilation, commonly by manual roll-up sides. High tunnel production has become increasingly popular for large and small-scale growers to diversify production.
Greenhouse production is another popular method for producing cut flowers where sequential plantings can supply them year-round. Greenhouses can provide greater environmental control of heating, ventilation, and humidity that can give predictability to crop schedules year-round. For small-scale greenhouse operations, cut flowers can be a profitable way of generating additional income from existing greenhouse space.
The protection from inclement weather in both high tunnels and greenhouses can increase cut flower stem lengths and reduce chances of disfigurement and disease.
We grew five specialty cut flower species in two different growing environments: greenhouse and high tunnel. Flowers were grown year-round in the greenhouse and late spring through fall in the high tunnels.
The cultivars included Calendula ‘Princess Golden’, Helichrysum ‘Double Mix’, Celosia ‘Celway Mix’, Matthiola ‘Lucinda Mix’, Daucus ‘Dara’.
The species were selected for a range of flower types from a variety of families. We harvested flowers about every other day in the mornings throughout the growing season and recorded stem lengths and days to harvest for all stems. Cut flowers are generally deemed marketable with a stem length of at least just under a foot, a desirable length for floral arrangements.
Four plots were grown in high tunnels, two plots per tunnel, and one plot was grown in the greenhouse. All plants were grown in #1 containers with 30 plants in each plot. Greenhouse and high tunnel experiments were conducted at the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station’s Laramie Research and Extension Center greenhouse complex. This work was made possible by a specialty crop grant from the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.
Impacts and considerations
At the time of the first summer season (2018), the cut flowers were sold to the University of Wyoming’s ACRES student farm, where they were incorporated into CSA shares and also sold at the Laramie Downtown Farmers Market. The second season (2019) flowers were sold to a local Laramie business, Killian Florist, where they were sold in arrangements and used in events like weddings and UW Ag Appreciation Weekend.
Generally, greenhouse conditions provided a longer duration of harvest and an earlier first harvest date with a few exceptions, most likely due to greater climate control and less exposure to environmental conditions such as wind, temperature swings, and rain.
During the 2018 season, 2,621 flowers were cut with 74 percent deemed marketable across all flower species.
The 2019 season had a later start due to weather conditions with 2,111 total cut flowers and 63 percent deemed marketable across all flower species.
Calendula, Celosia, and Daucus flowers had the highest amount of stems per plants across both summer seasons.
Daucus had the highest amount of cut stems with 900 in the 2018 summer season with 80 percent of the stems deemed marketable.
Calendula had 793 stems, with slightly over 85 percent marketable. In 2019, Calendula had the highest number of cuts with 758 and 55 percent deemed marketable.
Daucus had 575 cuts, with 91 percent deemed marketable. Most flower species had a sufficient yield based on stems per plants except for Matthiola, which only produced one stem per plant.
Matthiola would still have the potential to be utilized in a successional planting schedule.
We assessed beneficial pollinator visitation inside the high tunnels, and found flies (mainly syrphid flower flies), bumblebees, lepidopterans (butterflies and moths), and wasps were the most frequent flower visitors and comprised 70 percent of all insect visitation. We collected this data using timed observations every two weeks throughout the growing season to identify insects visiting open flowers. In each plot, direct observations were made for 11 minutes, spending one minute per five potted plants. Insects were generally identified to order or family, with bees being categorized as bumble bees, honey bees, or other native bees.
Daucus was the most popular for fly visitation. Calendula saw the most bumblebees and lepidopterans. Wasps most frequently visited Celosia. Insects provide beneficial services to the ecosystem such as pollination and biological control.
Our research suggests fresh cut flowers can be grown in Wyoming’s climate under high tunnel and greenhouse production, can possibly provide necessary resources to support insect communities, and have potential as a valuable commodity for the state’s growers.
[Samantha Nobes is a Master’s Student; Randa Jabbour is an Associate Professor; and Karen Panter is an Extension Horticulture Specialist. All work in the University of Wyoming's Department of Plant Sciences]