Growing woody ornamentals is one of the best ways to turn your backyard or small acreage into a solid income growing these perennial plants. Woody ornamentals are trees and shrubs whose branches are cut and sold every year to be used for floral arrangements and crafts.
1. Why grow woody ornamentals?
Unlike annual crops like grains and vegetables, woodies are perennial, and can be harvested over and over again. Because woodies are perennial plants, they require very little maintenance after planting. Also, woodies are specialty crops, which tend to bring higher prices in the marketplace. When the right succession of woody species is planted, stems can be harvested in every season, for a more dependable year-round income.
2. Will woody ornamentals grow in my area?
There are over 100 commercially grown woodies, each suited it’s own range of growing conditions and climates. Woodies are grown as far north as Zone 4, and as far south as Zone 10. To find your zone, just enter your zip code in the search box at: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov . If you live in a temperate climate – Zone 5 to 9 – you’ll have far more species to choose from.
3. What are the best plant species to grow?
Out of the hundred or so species grown commercially, about twenty enjoy a strong, steady demand from florists and other buyers and are easy to grow. They include species like witch hazel, harvested in spring, hydrangea, filbert and smoke tree, harvested in summer, boxwood and beauty berry in the fall and flowering quince, willow and holly in the winter.
Some growers produce woodies as a part-time hobby in their back yard, others grow woodies as raw material for their crafts, such as basketry, while others are full-time commercial growers. The profit potential is good, however much land or time one has to plant. A recent University of Kentucky study found growing willow stems could produce an income of $56,000 per acre.
5. How are woodies propagated?
To ensure plants are consistent in color, bloom time or hardiness, most commercial growers propagate woody ornamentals from cuttings taken from their own stock. This guarantees the new plants will be exact clones of the parent plant. New growers can purchase their plants from wholesale growers, then take cuttings from these “mother” plants.
6. What type of soil is best for woody ornamentals?
Most woodies do best in a well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, and a neutral soil pH of 7. If your soil is lacking in organic matter, mulching with free wood chips from local tree-trimmers or power companies is a good way to build it up over time.
Soil pH can be tested with a basic inexpensive tester found at most garden centers. If it tests alkaline (over 7), you can add sulfur to lower the pH. Adding lime will raise the pH of acidic (under 7) soils. A few woodies, such as dogwood and willows can grow in wet or poorly-drained areas.
7. When are woodies harvested?
Popular woodies are grown for a variety of uses and harvested in all seasons. Flowering stems, such as viburnum, lilac and redbud, are harvested and sold from spring through fall. Foliage stems from species like smoke tree or boxwood are harvested in late fall and early winter. Boxwood stems are also dried for year-round sales.
Fruiting stems, such as holly berries, the orange fruit of bittersweet, or rose hips are harvested and sold during the fall-winter holiday season. Plain stems are very popular in the late fall and winter after leaf drop. Both dogwood and willow produce a rainbow of colored stems that appeal to floral designers and crafters.
That’s one of the reasons growers love woodies, as they can be preserved for later sales. Popular species for drying include boxwood, bittersweet, eucalyptus, filbert and hydrangea. Florists in particular use dried hydrangea in arrangements year-round.
9. Where can woodies be sold?
Most woody cut stems are sold to florists, crafters and at farmer’s or saturday markets. Those who prefer talking to plants over talking to customers often pre-sell their harvest to wholesale florists.
10. What value-added products can be made from woody ornamentals?
Many growers use their woody harvest to make value-added products, such as willow baskets and furniture, wreaths and garlands, dried flowers, foliage and stems, walking sticks, even gourmet food products like rose hip jam or currant jelly.
As you can see, woodies offer three advantages for new growers. The harvest season is year-round, bringing an steady income stream, the perennial plants used for stems are very low maintenance once they are established and those with a full-time job can still enjoy working with these beautiful plants that can produce an income for decades to come. To learn more about woodies, read Growing Woody Ornamentals For Profit.