Production of cut flowers is currently experiencing a revival across the country. In Oklahoma interest in this alternative enterprise is increasing as evidenced by the hundreds of individuals attending Extension sponsored workshops.
Reasons for growing cut flowers are as diverse as the people who grow them. Market gardeners find cut flowers to be an excellent complement to their crop mix. Parents needing to stay home with small children or who have high school or college age kids requiring summer work find cut flowers to be a good choice. Retirees needing to supplement their income find the cut flower business attractive.
The vast majority of cut flowers are field grown. Like so many other types of horticulture crops, cut flowers are susceptible to our chaotic weather.
The past couple of years we have been promoting hoop house culture as one possible solution to our weather woes. This spring, we conducted our first hoop house cut flower trial at the Noble Research Institute Headquarters Farm Horticulture Center.
The hoop house chosen for the study measures 20 ft. by 68 ft. and is equipped with four raised beds measuring 40 in. by 60 ft. Bed preparation included fertilizer incorporation and drip hose installation followed by application of black plastic mulch. Treatments consisted of 12 varieties of various kinds of cut flowers (see Table 1) each receiving an equal amount of bed space 20 ft. per variety.
On March 24, 11 of the varieties were transplanted and one (sunflower) was direct seeded into the beds. All plants were set in rows spaced 8 in. apart, four rows per bed. In the row, plants were spaced 12 in. apart. Plants were staggered between rows to maximize use of space.
A total of 145 man-hours were required for such tasks as bed preparation, planting, installing crop support structure, spraying and harvesting. Over half the time (82 hours) was required for harvest. The first harvest occurred April 8, and continued through June 26. Table 1 summarizes flower harvest by date (month).
Based on yield data and quality evaluation, eleven of the twelve varieties show potential as commercially viable hoop house crops. Carthamus proved to be a complete flop due to lack of stem production.
Initially, two sunflower varieties were included in the sunflower treatment. One of the varieties, Velvet Tapestry, was removed early because of excessive height. The other variety, Valentine, remained manageable although it was tall. Based on our experience with sunflower, priority should be given to dwarf varieties for hoop house culture.
Snapdragon, although at times beautiful, never realized its full potential as a result of the abnormally high temperatures during May and June. In a "normal" spring, snapdragon could be a big success. Another trial is in the works to determine the ultimate worth of snapdragon as a hoop house crop.
Prices paid to growers for hoop house quality cut flowers as quoted by a local florist during June ranged from a low of $.05 per stem for cosmos to a high of $.75 per stem for sunflower. Table 2 shows potential sales of selected cut flowers grown in one of our 20 ft. by 68 ft. hoop houses.
Of all the hoop house crops evaluated, none can come close to matching cut flowers in terms of profit potential. If preliminary results are any indication, hoop house cut flower production is an idea whose time has come.