Flower power for roadside markets

By Lynn Byczynski

Driving through Delaware farm country on our way to the beach, I saw several roadside markets with large flower gardens along the road. They turned my head, which is exactly what was intended. And what better way to draw attention to a farm stand? A large patch of flowers can have the same visual impact as a wagonload of petunias in spring or a pile of pumpkins in autumn.

The key to using flowers is to plant a lot of them. The patch needs to be big enough to present a solid block of color to passing motorists. The flowers should be profuse, cut-and-come-again varieties that will bloom all summer long. The perfect flowers for the job are zinnias. Tall, dahlia-flowered zinnias, the type used for cut flowers, will bloom for months if kept dead-headed. Seed can be purchased in separate colors to create vivid patches of color. If the flowers aren’t harvested regularly, they will branch lavishly to present even more color. What’s more, zinnias are one of the cheapest, easiest and most reliable flowers available.

Zinnias can be planted two or three rows per 4’ wide bed. The more beds, the better. They can be direct seeded, most quickly using an Earthway® seeder with the beet plate. For best branching, which leads to the most concentrated color, they should be thinned to 12" apart in the row.

The most visible color from a distance is yellow, so you might want to plant a patch of all yellow zinnias. Other bright yellow flowers that bloom over a long period include the branching sunflowers (don’t do the single stem varieties because you get only one bloom per plant); rudbeckias; and African marigolds. These are all good for cutting, so you can either make bouquets to sell at the stand, or let customers pick their own.

Another roadside attraction you can create with flowers is a butterfly garden. Many flowers, including zinnias, are attractive to butterflies. Another good flower for a butterfly garden - one that is highly visible from a distance - is Asclepias curassavica , the yellow and orange butterfly milkweeds. Monarch caterpillars feed only on milkweeds, so a good stand of milkweed plants will attract egg-laying females. Although the plants will be damaged by the caterpillars, they recuperate after the larvae pupate and put on a good show of blooms by late summer.

Using flowers to call attention to your business is a smart strategy on so many levels: it’s cheaper than banners or signs, it can give you another product to sell, and it’s good for the environment.

Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.

Articles by Lynn Byczynski

About the author:

Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the johnnyseeds.com website and other publications. Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas. Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers ; The Hoophouse Handbook ; Market Farming Success