Whether you’re just getting into the cut flower market or are looking to make more profit as a cut flower grower, sunflowers are one of the most profitable genera. They’re well know, well recognized, and well-loved by customers. We’ve put together a comprehensive sunflower sales guide to make the most of your selling season.
Local Farmers’ Markets are an ideal consumer outlet for selling cuts as single stems, pre-bunched, or as custom-designed market bouquets. Many growers also find success with roadside stands or “You-Cut” options. Another avenue is a cut flower subscription (CSA), that supports the locally grown movement and florists seeking locally grown cuts during the key growing season.
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Beginner Growing Tips
If you’re a beginner cut flower grower, start small and select a few easy-to-grow varieties. Keeping it simple is a practical approach that allows you to gain experience with your crops and your market. We recommend starting with popular cut flowers that can be sown directly into the field, like Amaranthus, Sunflowers, and Zinnias, eliminating the need to start plants indoors.
Choosing Sunflower Varieties
Looks and size are certainly one important factor when choosing sunflower varieties, but growers should also look at pollen-free vs pollenated and single-stem vs branching options.
Pollen-Free vs with Pollen
Modern sunflowers are bred to be male sterile, or pollen-free, to help foster extended vase life and a nice clean appearance of flower heads that wholesalers and florists have come to demand. Growers looking for a lower cost point find success with the sunflowers with pollen.
Single Stem vs Branching
Single stem varieties are best for high-density plantings and are programmable for consistently beautiful flowers on tall stems. Succession planting will be needed for continuous harvest throughout the season. Branching varieties produce multiple shorter stems over the season, ideal for mixed bouquets and roadside sales.
Choosing Varieties Based on Season
With more diversity in the “look” of sunflowers, maximize your sunflower sales by selecting varieties based on the sales season. Spring sales focus on pastel or light shaded petals combined with light colored disks, the Pro Cut White Lite and Sunrich Lime for example. As you move into summer, the warm brown disks with brightly colored yellow or gold petals take over the marketplace, such as the Sunrich Orange or Vincent Choice. For fall, choose flowers in warm shades of burgundy, maroon, or bi-colors, all with very dark brown centers, like the Helios Flamer or Pro Cut Bicolor.
How to Plant and Care For Sunflowers
Before the Season: Prepare the Land
Choose a spot with plenty of sun, at least 6-8 hours a day and well-drained soil; sunflowers will thrive in areas with long, hot summers. A few weeks before you plan on planting your seeds, prepare your bed by loosening the soil about 2 feet down and 3 feet across. Sunflowers aren’t too finnicky, but they do have long tap roots that need to stretch out.
Sunflowers tend to thrive in slightly alkaline soil with a pH of 6 to 7.5, but will do fine in a pH outside that range. They are, however, heavy feeders, so the soil should be rich with nutrients from either compost or manure.
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Sowing: Direct vs Transplant
Seed can be sown directly in the field or pre-started indoors and transplanted 2-4 weeks, although we would recommend sowing them directly into the field. Plant sunflowers after the danger of frost has passed.
The soil should maintain a temperature of 70° or higher and the air should be 55° or higher. Sow seeds ¼ - ½ inch deep and they should germinate in 4-8 days.
If you have trouble with birds picking at your sunflower seeds, use bird netting to protect your crop.
Single stem varieties are best for high-density plantings to produce tall stems, while the branching types produce multiple shorter stems over the season.
Single Stem Varieties
- Spacing: 4-9 inches
- Pinching: NOT RECCOMENDED
- Adjust spacing between plants to control bloom size and stem diameter to fit your market.
- Spacing: 4-6 inches produces small 3”-6” flowers common in the floral trade.
- Spacing: 7-9 inches produces large 7”-10” flowers ideal for bunching.
- Spacing: 12-24 inches
- Pinching: At 12-15 inches
- Wide spacing on branching varieties allows for greater length in secondary branches. For consistent and longer stems, pinch at 12-15 inches.
Many growers are looking at seeds per acre. However, with cut flower sunflowers, we generally do not plant in that scale. Use this fantastic calculator from Omni Calculator to figure out the plants you need per the space you want to plant. For growers looking to plant branching types who just want a large block of color use our ‘Seeds Per Acre Chart’.
Continual harvest can be achieved by succession planting your favorite varieties every 7-10 days. For a second option, choose varieties with different maturity dates and plant at the same time to minimize your plantings to every 20-25 days (See variety suggestions below).
- Premier: 45 – 55 days
- Sunrich Summer: 50 – 60 days
- Sunrich: 60 – 70 days
How to Care for Sunflowers
Once the plant is established, water deeply, yet infrequently, to encourage deep root growth. We recommend watering once a week with several gallons of water.
Sunflowers also should not be overfed; overfertilization can cause the stems to break and be too thick.
Taller species of sunflowers (5’ and above) may need support. Bamboo stakes work well for any single-stemmed plant that needs support for a short period of time.
Sunflowers are generally pest and disease free, although they can fall victim to downy and powdery mildew. Choose varieties like Pro Cut Gold Lite DMR and Sunrich Orange DMR that are disease resistant.
How to Harvest Sunflowers
Once the petals have just begun to open, it’s time to harvest. Harvesting flowers mid-day can lead to flower wilting, so plan on cutting your stems in the early morning. As long as you’re gentle with the flowers and keep them in water, they should last up to a week at room temperature, although keeping them in a cool area will ensure they last longer.
Recommendations for Best Vase Life
Once your flowers have grown and are ready for harvesting, you’ll want them to last as long as possible for your customers. Here are our best recommendations to increase the vase life of your sunflowers.
- Cut when the petals, or ray flowers just begin to open, before they have opened off the disc completely
- Cut into plain water after stripping leaves Transfer to a holding solution – extends life of blooms up to 4 days
- Due to negative impact on vase life of sunflowers, we recommend not using hydrators or flower food
- Check water regularly. Sunflowers are heavy drinkers and can empty a bucket overnight
- Disinfect buckets between usage, dirty buckets will shorten vase life
- Change water daily. Sunflowers have what many growers call a dirty stem, as water quickly turns cloudy with potential for bacterial issues
How to Price Sunflowers
Each marketplace is slightly different based on location, and the type of market, and the grower should also take into account the labor and materials needed for production. Stem length, and quality can also change pricing, growers who harvest at the proper time, store in a cooler, and treat the product well, generally can charge more as the product will last longer. Surveys given to flower farmers across the country show pollen-free sunflower wholesale pricing between $1-$3 and retail for $2-$5.
Have Other Tips?
Have more sunflower sales tips we should include? Drop us a comment!