Though I know this might be an unpopular opinion as a farmer florist, I have something to admit…
I am not a fan of tulips for first-year flower farmers! If you’re planting a small patch? Maybe. But if you’re taking a risk on 1000 or so bulbs? Not a chance.
In this blog post, I’ll let you know the reasons I wouldn’t recommend Tulips to new flower farmers and give you five more cut flowers that are best to avoid growing in your first cut flower garden!
If you prefer to watch rather than read, I go into more detail about Tulips in the video below:
6 REASONS I DON’T RECOMMEND TULIPS TO FIRST-YEAR FLOWER FARMERS
1. EXPENSIVE BULBS
When you’re trialling out Tulips, you’re probably buying from a retailer, which is way more expensive than buying from a wholesaler. The reason people don’t always buy from a wholesaler when they’re first starting out is that wholesalers often have a minimum purchase. If you’re brand new, you probably won’t want to put $500 into Tulip bulbs when you don’t have the customer base and there is so much room for failure!
It’s never guaranteed that you are going to make a profit off of your Tulips. For example, this year I spent a conservative amount on Tulip bulbs for the size of my customer base (around $300). Out of that amount of bulbs, I’ll be lucky if I get 10 sellable bouquets! Even if I charge $30 per bouquet, I’ll only be breaking even because of how many Tulips I’ve lost this year. For all the bulbs I bought, I should have been able to get at least 50 bouquets and have made a significant profit! Sigh.
2. STEM LENGTH
In order to get decent stem length, you need to make sure your Tulips have consistent water (more on this below) and some amount of shade. Whether that be shade from a house or from shade cloth, any shade will generally help you get the length you need. Some of the more desired varieties have shorter stem lengths to begin with, though, so if you mess this up, you could end up with completely unusable, unsellable Tulips.
P.S. In my Backyard Business course we talk about ways to work around this and make lemonade out of lemons. Check out more details here!
Tulips need a lot of water, and the Saskatchewan prairies can be extremely dry. Drought is a real thing. In Zone 3, we are not always guaranteed a lot of rain in the spring. So, if you are a Zone 3 cut flower gardener like me, you’re likely going to have to water your Tulips relentlessly. Watch out though, because if they get drowned out you can lose them to rot!
4. TEMPERATURE REQUIREMENTS
Tulips will not bloom if you don’t have freezing temps in your climate, so in somewhere like Texas, you need to buy pre-chilled tulips. On the flip side, in somewhere like Zone 3 with our -40 temperature, you can lose all of your Tulips if you plant them too high because they will get too cold! Tulips can survive in these freezing temperatures only if you plant them low enough in the ground.
One of the reasons I lost a lot of my Tulips this year is because I planted them in raised beds. I know some flower farmers who farm in raised beds and it seems that the reason they’re successful is that their raised beds are closer to the ground. I tried putting leaves over my raised bed Tulips and covering them with frost fabric, but when I dug in the ground they were dead. Even though this was my own mistake, it didn’t help my case for not liking tulips.
5. TULIPS ARE ANNUALS (WHEN YOU’RE A FLOWER FARMER)
When you’re a flower farmer, Tulips are no longer considered perennials. So, after spending all that money on Tulip bulbs, if they don’t grow properly or get to the stem length you prefer for bouquets, unfortunately, you can’t save them.
Why can’t you just plant your Tulips as perennials so that they’ll come back every year? For some varieties, you can, but for the specific goals of flower farming (getting the best bloom and stem length possible), you’ll have to throw those bulbs in the compost and start fresh every single year.
6. Storing tulips is not foolproof
To properly store Tulips you need to pull the Tulip up out of the dirt with the bulb attached and keep them in a container or bucket in a cooler (without water). This year, I put my Tulips in a fridge instead of a cooler, so that might have been part of why I lost so many. After 3 weeks my beautiful bucket of Tulips was completely wilted and unusable. I’ve learned my lesson and would not recommend leaving Tulips in a cooler for more than a week and a half if you’re storing them for future use.
If you want to see what happened to the Tulips I put in my fridge, check out the video below:
Why do we do it? Frankly, Tulips are some of the first flowers to bloom. So, when people are really desperate for those local flowers, Tulips are an excellent choice! If you have a successful Tulip harvest, they can be a huge moneymaker for your business. Plus, having something for customers to buy from you early in the season can guarantee business later in the season, which is a huge bonus.
5 MORE FLOWERS I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND TO FIRST-YEAR FLOWER FARMERS
Just because the flowers below are on this list does not mean that I won’t plant them. I will definitely plant them because there will always be that one person who wants one of these in their bouquet. That being said, these flowers have given me pain over the years and are ones I would not recommend highly to beginner flower farmers.
Of course, you should feel free to grow what you want in your cutting garden. I’m not going to stop you! All I ask is that you plant with caution and understand the labour (and possible heartache) you’re signing up for ahead of time!
1. Bachelor’s Buttons
Harvesting them is a pain in the rear. Period.
2. Bells of Ireland
I do like Bells of Ireland, but what I don’t like is the poor germination I got this year. Only 2 out of my 200 seeds germinated. Because I won’t have any of my own, I’m going to see if there are trays this year. I’m not sure what went wrong!
I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Calendula. None of my customers ever get excited about Calendula. They don’t seem to be anyone’s favourite flower, and yet, I grow them because they’re up early when not a lot of other flowers are.
I love Cosmos, but here I’m referring specifically to the Sonata series. The greenery just isn’t as nice and the flowers seem to fade sooner. In my opinion, they’re not worth a first-year flower farmer’s time.
Lisianthus are usually worth it in the end, but there is so much room for failure and they take so long to germinate! You’re already in it by Christmas! Next year, I’m planning to get plugs. Honestly, I might even just end up cutting them altogether if they don’t sell.
So there you have it! My unpopular opinion about Tulips and my reasons for not recommending them (and five other flowers) to first-year flower farmers. Do you have any flowers you’ve had difficulty with that you’d add to this list? Find me on Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube to follow more of my farmer florist journey and join in the cut flower conversation! You can also sign up for bouquet-making events and book me as your florist over at my sister-site Shifting Blooms!
LOOKING TO START A CUT FLOWER BUSINESS?
Have you been researching all over the internet and in free Facebook groups about starting a cut flower business and are feeling more confused than ever? Don’t believe you can make a profit from a cut flower garden on modest terms? Check out this video for how I went from wannabe flower farmer to resilient backyard business owner!
And, if you’re still feeling frustrated, if you’re worried about spending too much money and not making your money back, or if you just want to learn more about profitable small-scale flower farming, you can enroll in Backyard Business, my program for aspiring flower farmers. Some of my students were already making money (enough to pay the cost of the course!!) in the middle of winter by getting creative and trying new things. I hope to see you there!
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