Winter is a time to reflect on what we have done this past year through November. Some of our crops were big hits again and made real money for us. Despite the drought of 2013, it was much better than the summer of 2012. We had a wet spring (April and May), and planting  of annuals was delayed by 3-4 compared to a “normal” year. Our spring-flowering woodies like lilac, quince, cherry, and snowball.

Some key annual crops like sunflowers, ageratum, celosia, zinnias, grains and cotton were all in demand for us. Zinnias were right behind the sunflowers for yields. Wholesalers,  retailers, and farmers’ market customers were expecting them all season once they came on crop.

In 2013 the ASCFG went from one National Conference to four smaller meetings. This change was well received by the membership and attendance was high for each. Those who attended one or more meetings brought back tons of information. The one in Wooster, Ohio had the highest attendance, from small and new growers to larger and experienced growers. The arboretum tour I felt was very informative to myself. And others commented on how much they learned. For 2014, we are going back to a single National Conference and Trade Show, October 19-22, in Wilmington, Delaware. Mark your calendars now !

It’s that time of year when so many seed, plant, plug, and nursery catalogs are stuffing your mailboxes.  If you have not yet, you better start deciding which old favorites and new varieties you want to go with. Seeds versus plugs can be a tough call for new growers. Seeds are the cheapest, but some can be tricky in sowing , germinating and growing on. Lisianthus is one of those crops that’s best to go with plugs. A learning point for us this past year was on gomphrena; planted way too much or may not have had enough avenues to move it. This year we will cut back on varieties and planting dates for this one. Sunflowers, you can never plant too many. Once again this was a good moving crop for us. We plant three varieties; two go strictly to wholesalers, one goes to florists, and all three for the farmers’ market. We just try to keep sunflowers simple and it has worked for us. At the Wooster meeting I talked to a few growers who grow several varieties, which seems to work for their markets in their area. Think about doing different ones more for your customers?

If you new members aren’t growing woodies, this is the time to think about adding them to your offerings. Start with the basics like curly willow, dogwood, boxwood, winterberry, and lilac.  There are plenty of resources to guide you about what will work in your zone. Those mentioned above will not work everywhere. Wintertime is generally when I get caught up on my reading (you know those days that you’re SNOWED in). Two publications that I refer to many times throughout the year for answers are Woody Cut Stems for Growers and Florists , by Lane Greer and John M. Dole. My very first publication was Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr. Also contact the membership for questions and answers on the Bulletin Board, your county extension office, and other growers.

Decide what grade of plant you want to start with: plugs, one- or two-gallon containers, bare-root, rooted or unrooted cuttings. Some would be better choices than others, depending on your time frame, growing zone, and time of year to plant. Check out the membership as a source to acquire these plants. No, not a shameless  plug here, but we offer unrooted cuttings in winter to spring.

You should all keep records on your crops all season; those notes will come in handy later on down the road. Speaking from experience, those first few years not everything got written down. We are getting old and memories on certain years are sometimes difficult to recall . This time of year is a good time to lay out the year 2014 season, if you have not already done that.

Winter is a good time for us to hit the road or by phone and make new contacts. We will be doing some cold call visits as well as planned visits to potential new wholesalers, florists, and commercial accounts. We also will be going to trade shows, being vendors at shows, bridal shows, etc. How many of you sell on your web page? If not, this is the time to set up an ecommerce page. Last January to April we shipped woodies to 23 states. The internet is a great source to move product.

I would like to wish everyone a wonderful new year with warm wishes to all. Hope 2014 is a banner year for you. Happy people grow happy flowers! Or is it happy flowers grow happy people?

Kent Miles

Illinois Willows

Kent Miles Illinois Willows Contact at [email protected]