Nothing can compare to ranunculus and anemones for spring sales, especially if you are in the wedding business! These Mediterranean natives prefer a temperate climate, one that stays cool but doesn’t get terribly hot or cold. Yeah, me too. But, alas, that’s not our climate here in the Mid-Atlantic where the winters are bitter and the summers sweltering.
Anemones and ranunculus like a very long, cool establishment period to develop a robust root system and lots of foliage to support an explosion of blooms in the few months of cool spring weather around here. After several seasons of growing these beauties in zone 6b and 7, in my opinion, only those planted in the ground in the autumn and protected through the winter really produce enough high-quality blooms to make them a profitable crop.
A hoophouse is the ideal structure to have when growing anemones and ranunculus. But even if you don’t have one, you can still produce a lovely crop of these flowers in our region with some carefully engineered low tunnels (or “caterpillars”) out in the field. The low tunnel concept was originally popularized by Eliot Coleman for winter veggies, but low tunnels work just as well for flowers. It took a couple (frustrating) years to figure out how to build these to withstand fierce wind and heavy snow. We finally have the formula down and our low tunnels can take just about anything.
We build these inexpensive structures with half-inch metal electrical conduit from Lowe’s, a hoop bender, greenhouse plastic, tomato twine, and Agribon fabric. Hopefully you can attend the ASCFG National Conference this October where we’ll be demonstrating building a low tunnel and planting corms.
A great rule of thumb for any crop is to think about ordering for next year when the current season’s crop is finishing up. Therefore, anemones and ranunculus corms should be ordered in early summer. My favorite supplier is Gloeckner (www.fredgloeckner.com).
For ranunculus, I’m especially fond of the La Belle series for our climate. We’ve also been trialing the Amandine series in smaller quantities over the past two seasons. This series has been bred to withstand a bit more heat before going into dormancy in May or June. However, it seems this breeding has made it harder for Amandine to grow as well through the cold of the winter months so the plants are weaker than the La Belles overall. Therefore there’s been no increase in production as a whole by having a longer harvest window. Amandine does seem to be coming up with some unique colors, though, so we’ll keep trying them.
For anemones, we’ve had great success with the Galilee series. This series has the ever-popular white face with the black eye, and is sometimes called the panda anemone. The plants are super productive, amazingly tough, and the stem length is outstanding at 18 inches plus. We’ve also grown the Jerusalem series in the past but have since switched to Galilee entirely as the plants are just so tough and productive.
Planting of both anemones and ranunculus ideally takes place in the Mid-Atlantic in the first half of October but can happen as late as November for abundant spring blooms. We soak and pre-sprout the corms per the directions sent by Gloeckner with the order.
As you all know, this year we had one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record. The temperatures routinely dipped to the single digits and the wind chills were often well below zero. There were many days too when the sky was cloudy, greatly limiting the available light and solar gain inside the structures. I was fearful that the ranunculus and anemones wouldn’t survive these harsh frigid conditions (and that the low tunnels would collapse under the weight of the snow, but they didn’t). I’m here to say, these babies are TOUGH! In fact, I’m expecting a bumper crop this spring.
These crops love to soak up water and nutrients. Anemones in particular love a deep drink. At our farm, watering and fertilizing with a cocktail of fish emulsion, kelp, and compost tea ideally happens once a week when the plants are actively growing. However, when the temperatures are running below 25 at night, it’s better to wait for milder weather.
Weed management is a crucial key to a highly productive crop. If it’s warm enough in the tunnels and hoophouse for the ranunculus and anemones to grow, it’s warm enough for the weeds. Weeding in the hoophouse is not that hard, but weeding the low tunnels is tricky since you have to kneel in the snow or mud. We’d struggled to keep up with the weeds until we started using a new product called FloraFlow (www.floraflow.com), which is black plastic with pre-punched small holes that are perfectly spaced and sized for growing ranunculus and anemones. This weed barrier has been superb at suppressing weeds and no doubt key to our best crop to date in the low tunnels. The black plastic also helps keep the soil warmer through the severe cold of winter. As the weather heats up in the spring, it’s a good idea to cover the black plastic with straw to keep the soil cooler and the plants blooming longer.
For growers who have not tried either of these crops yet, I would highly recommend starting out with just anemones. They are able to withstand cold better than ranunculus, and they have a longer bloom window than ranunculus, making it easier to get a profitable number of stems while you fine-tune the mechanisms for keeping them happy in our Mid-Atlantic region. Once you’ve tried your hand at anemones and feel confident, add ranunculus.
Here’s to a successful 2014 growing season, even if it had a late start!