Why We’re Choosing to NOT Grow Hardy Annuals This Year…

Helping you celebrate the magic of every season!

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One of the most important lessons in business that I have learned over the years is that it is alright to say no to things that no longer serve you… 

…which for us here at Two Sisters Flower Farm, that means that we’re letting go of growing hardy annuals this year.

Now allow me to explain because I feel like you’re going to want to get ahead of me and infer that hardy annuals are a group of flowers not worth growing- that is NOT what I’m saying at all. 

From a flower business perspective, I think hardy annuals CAN be a great, low-cost way to extend your growing season and help you capture more sales earlier than you traditionally would with just warm-season, tender annuals alone. 

Now that being said, in this blog post, I plan to share with you the specific factors that led me to make this decision. And for those of you that are interested in adding hardy annuals to your seasonal line-up, I also want to use my experience and share tips that helped me be most successful when hardy annuals were something we focused on. 

So if that sounds like something you’re interested in, let’s get right to it.

When I first started growing cut flowers I had absolutely no clue what the difference was between warm-season tender annuals and cold-tolerant hardy annuals. All I knew when I got started was that I loved growing flowers and I wanted to grow as many flowers as possible so that I could build a business around it.

Now for those of you that are starting with what feels like very limited resources, I can relate to that on so many levels. I did not have access to any sort of protected grow space like a heated greenhouse or even an unheated tunnel. And so naturally, when I learned that there was an entire group of flowers that could survive my cold Zone 5b winters without any sort of protection out in my flower field, I was sold. 

Growing cold season, hardy annuals, it went against my natural instincts. It really took me a couple seasons to catch onto this idea that I could have flowers blooming in the cooler shoulder seasons if I just followed a different planting schedule.

Now if you have no clue what I’m talking about when I refer to hardy annuals, you’re going to want to watch this video here to get acquainted with the topic- or better yet, just buy the book Cool Flowers by Lisa Mason Zieglar– it’s a book that I think every flower farmer should have on their bookshelf!

By focusing on planting hardy annuals what I was really trying to achieve was this continual flush of blooms that I heard so many other, more experienced flower farmers talk about.

In theory, this idea of having a steady supply of blooms from early spring to early fall, it sounded really great. 

But what I found was that the more proficient I became with growing hardy annuals, the more difficult it was to put this idea into practice.

Now, this is just me, sharing my experience as a small flower grower that does the bulk of the labor within my flower garden all by myself. And realize too that during this time that I’m sharing with you, this was during a part of my journey where I was working a more “normal” job in addition to my flower farming side hustle. 

There just wasn’t enough of me to go around. You see, my hardy annuals started blooming in late May/ early June around the same time that I was doing the work to get my warm-season garden started outside. And for me, I found it difficult to divide my time effectively so that I could harvest + sell my cool season hardy annuals while also making sure that I got my warm-season flowers in the ground so that I could enjoy an abundant summer season as well.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was always dropping the ball somewhere.

What’s more, as we began to increase the number of tulips we were growing during the late winter and early spring months- we went from growing a few hundred tulips to a few thousand- it really became clear to me that focused attention on a few key crops throughout the year could be a more effective means of growing my business rather than trying to spread my time and attention to as many flower types as possible. 

I think it’s so tempting to want to grow every kind of flower that you can- and who knows, maybe that is a business model that I will grow into as I gain more experience and improve my skills, but I also think there is power in simplifying. For me, adding more to my calendar and trying to juggle all that went with that led me to feel overwhelmed. When I removed that pressure to always have something in bloom and allowed myself to go deeper rather than wider, ultimately I felt more efficient with the effort I was putting into building my flower farming business. 

Saying no to hardy annuals was very much for me one of those situations where it allowed me to say yes to something else – which in this case was a bit of balance.

Now, maybe it’s just me thinking this, because I tend to consume a higher than average amount of flower farming content, but a trend I’m noticing with a lot of growers on social media (and I’m referring to no one in particular, I’m not singling out anyone) is this push for profitability- which is great but I find that it’s leading us to have conversation of how can I make more money?- there’s this pressure of more, more, more and taken to the extreme, I think we can easily forget that business isn’t just about being profitable- there’s a degree to where it has to be sustainable too, otherwise we’ll all just burn out and quit. 

In the beginning of building a business, I very much chased this idea of making money because quite frankly it was exciting and that was my whole goal- to make enough where I could go full-time with this passion of mine.

Pushing myself to produce more off of my small quarter acre plot made sense and served me well in my early years. 

But as more years have passed, I’ve realized that money is not my ultimate goal and that I went into business for myself so that I could build a business that could give me the freedom and flexibility I desired.

I think we have the tendency to ask ourselves if certain things make sense for us based on how much money they make us but we often forget that doing something that fits with our lifestyle, even if it makes us slightly less in the grand scheme of things can be incredibly powerful.

Now was my decision to focus more on tulips in the spring and give up hardy annuals an indication that tulips are better than hardy annuals? No, that’s not what I want you to infer from this at all.

It’s hard to make a blanket statement because decisions like “what is the best flower crop to grow?“- these sort of decisions don’t happen in a vacuum- they are very much dependent on everyone’s unique circumstances- you know, the environmental conditions that we grow in, the unique strengths we have as growers, and the preferences of our customers. There’s so many variables that go into deciding what’s best for me or what’s best for you!

I honestly think hardy annuals- if they make sense for you- can be a great group of flowers to focus on and can help you to capture sales early in the season. And if you have an inkling that they may be right for you, I want to share some tips I’ve learned to help you be most successful with this group of flowers. 

Finding Success with Hardy Annuals as a Sales Channel for Your Flower Farm:

Don’t Stress Over Growing Lots of Variety:

So in my early years of growing hardy annuals, I approached our early spring season much the same way that I approached our warm summer season- and I thought mixed bouquets would be the ticket to having flowers that my customers would want to buy- the only problem was that since I’m located in a more northern climate- if you don’t know I live in West Michigan- I struggled in having enough variety in what I could grow so that I could create these beautiful mixes of flowers that I was envisioning.

You see, I prefer to fall-plant my hardy annuals and over winter them, I feel like I get better quality flowers that way (rather than planting hardy annuals in my very early spring season) and truthfully, that limits what I’m able to grow. There’s only so many flowers that are hardy down to my zone 5b climate. 

I think it was during my third season of growing hardy annuals that I threw variety out the window and simply planted the hardy annuals that were easy to grow in my area. 

I had an entire row of yarrow, feverfew, two rows of campanula, black eyed susans- and when I went to sell those flowers rather than try to create some sort of mix, I instead packaged everything in straight bunches- and much to my surprise, it was a huge hit.

The campanula in particular was very popular because a lot of my regular customers had never seen a flower with that unique  shape before. They were equally impressed with how long it lasted in the vase. I mean, if you’ve never grown campanula yourself- then know, that despite having delicate bell-shaped petals, campanula is extremely durable in the vase, lasting anywhere between 10 and 14 days. 

The lesson I took away from this was that spring flowers are generally in high enough demand that customers don’t mind straight bunches. If you live somewhere like me that experiences long, cold winters- well, when spring rolls around I think people are just relieved to see any pop of color that they’re not picky as to the specific flowers that make up that color.

Nowadays, I stress less about having that perfect mix of flowers and instead choose flowers that I know can stand all on their own if need be.

Grow What Grows Well for Your Area:

I think this is true for any crop but this rule is especially important with early spring crops that are less forgiving. Personally, I don’t have the patience in early spring to be nurturing crops that are a little more delicate and so I plant things that are reliably low maintenance for me.

Now it’s been a couple of years of trial, and error to really hone in on what grows well for my region, but once I realized what worked for me, I focused in on those plants, I haven’t really deviated too far from that. 

Not surprisingly, a lot of things that work well for us- like I previously mentioned- yarrow, rubeckia, feverfew- in reality, they perform well because in our region they’re actually a short-lived perennial. 

I’ve always grown them strictly as an annual because the property I use for growing my cut flowers, it’s not land that I own- it’s a rented piece of ground. And so I was never really focused on planting more permanent beds. I do see myself using this same piece of land to grow my flowers for the foreseeable future and so moving forward I’m going to see if I can’t get some of these flower varieties to perennialize for me. I’m curious to see how they’ll produce after multiple years- and ultimately I’m excited at the prospect of not having to replant this portion of my cutting garden year after year.

So all of this to say, if you’re planning to grow hardy annuals- make it easy on yourself and choose flower varieties that thrive well under your specific growing conditions. If your area heats up fast in the spring then maybe that means you forgo planting flowers like stock or sweet peas that aren’t tolerant of high temperatures

Grow In Quantities that Are Realistic For You:

The last tip that I want to leave you with is be honest with yourself of what’s realistic for you. While I would love to have the largest flower garden possible to cut from each and every season, the more experience I gain, the more I’m aware of my limitations as a grower. And while it’s healthy at times to push those boundaries, I do think it’s equally as healthy to know when enough is enough.

My spring garden with all my hardy annuals has always been much smaller than my warm season garden. And a lot of the reasons for that has to do with what I mentioned earlier in this post- there’s a lot going on in the early parts of spring; and in order to spread my time across all the tasks that I have to complete- sowing seeds and preparing beds- my spring garden just has to be smaller. 

If you have more help or if warm season flowers aren’t a focus of yours then maybe you go all out for spring flowers- and I think that’s great! There’s so many variations to what a flower farm actually is and so finding what works is more so just gaining an understanding of what makes sense for you. 

Conclusion

Now it’s your turn! I’d also love to hear about your experience growing hardy annuals- share your thoughts in the comments below. I can’t wait to read what you have to say…

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Hey there, I'm Britney!

A dairy farmer turned flower farmer growing + selling specialty cut flowers in West Michigan! I think flowers are the best way to savor the magic that comes with every season- that’s why at Two Sisters Flower Farm we grow everything from daffodils in the spring to pumpkins + dahlias in the fall!

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