The average bulb grower in Holland sells almost $200,000 worth of bulbs every year, most to cut flower growers who use the bulbs for growing flowers, then toss them out and buy new ones the next year. The Dutch bulb growers have found flower bulbs are one of the most profitable plants.
Flower bulbs are one of the best crops for the specialty flower grower who is growing for profit. Besides being easy to grow, most bulbs multiply rapidly with proper care. “Bulb” is a general term used to describe both true bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips, and other underground food storehouses called corms (crocus), rhizomes (iris) and tubers.
For the commercial grower, bulbs that are forced to flower out of season are especially profitable. Forcing simulates natural conditions to cause bulbs to bloom months before the normal cycle. The secret of forcing is to plant early enough to allow the bulb time to develop a sturdy root system. Popular flowers for forcing include: Daffodils for Christmas, Tulips for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, Hyacinth for Valentine’s Day, and Dutch crocus for January.
CANNA. These popular large perennials, with their lush tropical foliage and gladiolus-like flowers make borders and planting beds come alive with their vivid colors. Cannas also bloom all through the summer until the first frost. Cannas prefer a fertile, well-drain loam. If your soil is poor, it can be improved by adding compost, dry cow manure and bone meal. Plant about 2 inches deep in a sunny location with a spacing of 12 to 24 inches between plants. Harvest after the first frost, when the leaves die back. The Canna spreads by underground runners called rhizomes. Lift and divide the rhizomes, discarding old growth. Store over the winter in peat moss or sand.
CROCUS. The crocus is the best known springtime flowering bulb. Hardy in almost all areas, most boom in early spring, but some species will bloom in the fall. The hybrids, also called Dutch crocus, are the most vigorous and popular for forcing into early bloom in pots. The non-hybrids bloom earlier and have unusual coloration. Crocus prefer sun or light shade, and a light porous soil. Set the corms 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart. The crocus tend to multiply almost as fast as rabbits, but a commercial grower can accelerate the process even more by root division or by inducing lateral buds. Any good book on plant propagation can show you the specific method. My favorite propagation book is: Secrets of Plant Propagation by Lewis Hill.
DAFFODILS. This hardy perennial originated in Europe and has become one of the most popular bulbs, partly because of their virtual immunity to diseases and pests. Even gophers hate daffodil bulbs! Daffodils are excellent for naturalizing, with vigorous growth, long life and an abundance of flowers. All daffodils are members of the genus Narcissus, and are usually grouped into 12 divisions according to their shape. Daffodils are easy to grow. They prefer a well drained soil and full sun or a semi shade. Bulbs should be planted early in the fall, space about 8 inches apart, and 4 to 6 inches deep. They should be most in areas with severe winters. Bulbs naturally divide in half each year, so to help the process along, you simply remove one half and plant it elsewhere.
GLADIOLUS. A popular cut flower, glads have an extremely wide color range and bloom from spring to fall, depending on the time of planting. The newer varieties of garden gladiolus have spikes and will stand upright without staking. Glads prefer a rich sandy soil, full sun and frequent watering. Glads develop up to 50 “cormels”, which are miniature corms produced between the new corm and the disintegrating old corm. Collect the cormels when the corm is lifted from the ground before winter. Store them below 40° in a dry frost free area with good circulation. Soak any cormels that have become dry in tap water for a day or two before planting. Cormels will normally take two years to mature. Planting the first bulbs in early spring and then every week will provide blooms through out the summer. Plant the corms about four times deeper than their height.
IRIS. a large and diverse group of about 200 species, varying in form, color, growing requirements and methods of propagation. The best known groups are the crested, the beardless, and the bearded, all three spreading by rhizomes-underground runners. One variety, the roof Iris, was traditionally planted in the thatched roofs of Japanese homes. Iris must have a rich, well-drained soil, as it will not tolerate wet feet. Planting depth is critical. The rhizomes should be barely covered with soil. Rhizomes should be planted between July and October, and space about 12 to 18 inches apart. The best time to divide rhizomes is just after flowering.
LILIES. One of the most varied garden plants, the lilies are sometimes called “the glories of the garden.” Their large clusters of brightly colored regal flowers bloom from July through September with a lovely fragrance. About 60 years ago, breeders developed many new hybrids which were healthier, hardier and easier to grow. as a result it is now possible to grow healthy bulbs in large commercial quantities with a minimum of problems. Lilies are generally easy to grow. They prefer a deep well-drained soil with ample moisture throughout the year. Planting in filtered sunlight brings out the colors and makes the blossoms last longer. Plant the bulbs 4 to 8 inches deep, and 12 inches apart.
HYACINTH. This lovely flower originated in the Mediterranean area, and is known for its lovely perfume. The Hyacinth is popular for forcing in the winter months. It must have a well drained soil or the bulb will rot out. In northern climates, bulbs should be planted in September or October. In milder climates, plant in October through December. Set the bulbs as deep as their diameter, and 6 to 12 inches apart.
TULIP. The tulip was once a holy flower in Turkey and Iran, where it originated. The name comes from the Turkish word for turban. A few centuries later, during the great Dutch tulip mania, bulb prices spiraled up and up until a single bulb was worth its weight in gold! Fortunately for us, prices are more realistic now, and everyone can enjoy the Tulip rainbow of colors. Tulips always do best in a rich loam that is perfectly drained. They prefer full sun, but will settle for less. Planting new bulbs 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart will ensure both an ample supply of new bullets and excellent flowering quality for selling cut flowers. Shallow planting leads to undersized bulbs and flowers the next year. To produce large bulbs for sale in quantities, you should lift, divide, and store your bulbs each June. Use a garden fork and TLC to avoid injuring the bulbs.
MARKETING FLOWER BULBS. Most small scale growers have found that quality bulbs at a fair price sell out quickly. Try small newspaper ads and postcard ads on local bulletin boards. Be sure to mention your address and prices. You can sell your cut flowers to local florists and individuals. Your local Saturday market is another great sales outlet.
- Grade your bulbs by size, and package in clear plastic ventilated bags, as pre-packaged bulbs will sell faster. Label each bag with price, color and variety.
- Sell 12 large were 18 medium for the same price.
- Have an instruction sheet for each customer on how to grow great flowers. A satisfied customer will come back next year… And the next.
- Offer packages of bulbs that grow and bloom in sequence all spring and summer.
- Give your customers an extra bulb with each dozen. Nothing pleases a customer more than getting something for nothing!
- Sell forced- bulb plants early in the spring through local florists, grocery stores and garden centers.
- Sell your smaller bulbs by the pound to local gardeners who enjoy growing their own bulbs.
- If you decide to specialize in unique varieties, consider mail-order. Try a small classified ad in a national or regional gardening magazine.
To learn more about the business of flower growing, read: Growing Flowers For Profit, available at http://profitableplants.com