Are you a wannabe flower farmer who has long dreamt of making a profit from your cut flower garden? Have you often thought about building a flower farming business from the dirt up, but you’re not quite sure where to start? It’s not as difficult as you’d think to start making money from your garden.
Before I started my own cut flower business, I had experience in both gardening and sales, but I’d never actively tried selling cut flowers. In 2020, I wrote a book called Cut Flowers Made Simple. This was intended as a guide for anyone who wanted to grow a flourishing cut flower garden in their own backyard. It wasn’t until one of my readers started making money from her garden after reading the ebook that I thought, Hey, I could do that, too!
When I first realized I wanted to try making money selling plants, I turned to other cut flower farmers for inspiration. They all made it look like it was so easy for them. Everything would sell on Instagram flash sales right away, and it seemed like they all had access to some secret recipe for success.
I’ll be honest. It wasn’t as easy as it looked when I started out.
While I was able to book a couple of weddings fairly easily, I really struggled with my pop-up sales at the beginning of the season. Some weeks I made no sales, and sometimes customers would say they were buying a bouquet and backed out at the last minute.
I didn’t have a cooler either, so I could only keep flowers for a day or two before I didn’t feel comfortable selling them anymore. So when a sale became a no-show, it was extremely crushing. When you have a small backyard garden and every stem counts, it feels like such a waste for a flower to hit the compost.
That year, we also had the hottest temperatures on record for the longest amount of days ever, and it only rained 3 days the entire summer. I was constantly supplementing my backyard garden with other growers’ flowers. If I had started the business in 2020, I could have easily sold 3-10 bouquets a week every week during the summer with only flowers that I had grown. In 2021, with the extreme temperatures, I was lucky to scrape together 3 with only my flowers. And except for June and September, that was not possible.
While it was rough going at times, I still managed to sell $6000 worth of flowers. (If you watch the videos, it will be a lower number, but I increased my sales since I made those videos with a Christmas wreath and planter sale.)
If you want to learn more about my journey to becoming a flower farmer, I documented all the ups and downs in my Backyard Business series on YouTube.
While it was tough being a first-year flower farmer, I am still glad I took the plunge and started selling my flowers. If you’re thinking about selling flowers too, here’s what I wish I knew before I started making money growing flowers…
1. SOW COMMUNITY BEFORE YOU SOW SEEDS
If you wait until your flowers are blooming to find customers, it’s too late. Gauging interest, building community, and learning from prospective customers is an extremely important part of the process.
I started my Instagram and Facebook accounts in the winter and shared everything I was growing every couple of days. It was slow going at first, but consistency paid off and I was able to grow my IG community and make sales from it by the time my flowers were ready to sell. That said, I did have to advertise other places sometimes, but it was great to have at least some customers excited about my flowers.
Also, remember that community doesn’t only mean customers. Community can mean other flower farmers, too, who might be able to help you out if you have crop failure (and I had a lot of crop failure my first year as a flower farmer).
In fact, when I look back at pictures of my bouquets from 2021, a lot of them have flowers from the flower farmer that lives closest to me. I’m so glad that I didn’t treat her or other flower farmers as competition. In such a terrible growing year, I wouldn’t have had a business without the other growers in my area.
2. EVERYONE HAS “NO-SALE WEEKS”
In the age of social media when you can see everyone’s highlight reel, it’s easy to think that everybody is selling every flower they grow every week.
Or if they are, there was certainly a time when they didn’t.
The truth is, everyone has some weeks when their flowers don’t sell.
I remember this one particular bouquet that I made was worth about $65-$75. I didn’t feel confident to charge that much for the bouquet, so I started at $45. (Mistake, I know!) I thought if I offered a deal it would be snapped up right away.
Hours passed. I decided to delete the post and try $35.
Hours passed. No interest.
I deleted the post and tried $25. Still, nobody was interested.
I was crushed.
Finally, I just deleted the post for good and gave the bouquet as a gift to a friend. I learned a couple of important lessons that day, the first one being that offering a deal doesn’t always mean your flowers will sell.
Don’t be tempted to lower your prices in order to gain customers. At best it won’t work, and at worst, you’ll end up with a bunch of deal-seekers who don’t want to buy your flowers for what they’re worth.
Having a $0 sales week doesn’t mean you’re a bad flower farmer. It doesn’t mean you should quit. It means you should try new things.
Don’t let one or two weeks out of the year get you down. Keep track of what’s going right and what’s going wrong, and learn from the mishaps.
On that note, here’s another important lesson I learned during those no-sale weeks…
3. WHAT YOU THINK THE CUSTOMER WANTS & WHAT THE CUSTOMER ACTUALLY WANTS CAN BE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS
I love the colour yellow. It’s my son’s favourite colour, it makes me happy, and so I tend to plant lots of yellow flowers and make yellow-based arrangements.
Unfortunately, my customers did not love yellow.
Week after week, those yellow-coloured bouquets did. not. sell.
Same with purple. I had tons of purple flowers, but no one seemed to be in the mood for purple until September.
You can’t always anticipate the customer’s wants and needs. Listen. Learn. Pay attention to what’s popular. This goes back to the whole “building community” thing I mentioned earlier.
It’s important to stay attentive, receptive, and responsive. Keep an eye on if there are any hero plants (big focal flowers like peonies, roses, tulips) that are popular, and take lots and lots of notes.
When I didn’t know anything about my customers, I planned out my garden to have a little bit of everything so that I could see what was popular. Now that I have a better idea of what sells and what doesn’t, I’m planning my flower colours and how many of certain flowers I have in each season based on what was popular.
For me, that means a greater emphasis on what’s trending in wedding colours and fall pumpkin centrepiece sales. For you, that might mean yellow flowers (which didn’t sell for me) but do fantastic with your customers.
4. SEED STARTING IS INTENSE
When you’re a flower farmer, seed starting starts early and goes late with many successions. For example, I’m in Zone 3 and the last frost date is May 21st, so seed starting starts at Christmas with eucalyptus and can go into the end of June with fall successions of sunflowers.
Look for deals on grow lights (check out my post: The Best Grow Lights for Seedlings (from Budget to Bougie) for more on this) and keep really detailed records on what you start when and what blooms when.
There’s so much seed starting, that you might get to the point where you’ll need to rotate your trays to have a night shift and a day shift. Sounds crazy, but it’s true!
Then, just when you think the hard part is over, you’ll need to harden everything off. This is the point where most inexperienced gardeners will kill most of their seedlings. So go slow, take 2-3 weeks to acclimatize your plants, and your garden will thank you.
Need help keeping track of it all? I designed the Flower Farmer Garden Planner for this exact purpose because my regular garden planner wasn’t cutting it. If you feel like you need something a little extra, this planner has enough room for all of the seed starting successions.
5. YOU CAN’T GROW WHAT YOU CAN’T WATER
In my first year of flower farming, one of my gardens was far from where I lived. There was a drought, everything was dry all the time, and I had to drive back and forth all summer long. It was very rough.
A flower that doesn’t have adequate water won’t grow the proper stem length. Trust me, I had more than my share of short flowers that weren’t sellable. While there are some ways of making the best of short-stemmed flowers, it’s not a good position to be in.
Even if you can’t afford an irrigation system, you must keep asking yourself: “How am I realistically going to water all these flowers?”
One way to do this on a budget is to collect rainwater in barrels. Make sure to check if this is legal where you live. I live in Saskatchewan, Canada, where it is legal, but in some places in the United States, it isn’t.
And if you do have room in the budget for some infrastructure? Make irrigation, or a well, or some means of watering your plants top priority.
I really wish someone had told me these things when I was a wannabe flower farmer, and I hope some of the items on this list resonate with you, as well.
If you’re feeling frustrated, if you’re worried about spending too much money and not making your money back, or if you just want to learn more about profitable small-scale flower farming, you can enroll in Backyard Business, my program for flower farmers. Some of my students are already making money (enough to pay the cost of the course!!) in the middle of winter by getting creative and trying new things. I hope to see you there!