Florist’s bouquets often look exotic and extraordinary. So it may be surprising to learn that top class stems are already being grown commercially in Northern Ireland. A wide range of protected and outdoor flower/foliage crops are produced here including Alstromeria, Calla lilies, oriental lilies, Stock and Sweet William. Leaf and berry subjects such as Eucalyptus, Hypericum and Rhododendron are also professionally grown for cutting. But why is there such potential with local flowers and foliage? There are a number of competitive advantages:
Extended vase life
Grown to buyers’ requirements
No ‘air miles’ to reach the market
Low carbon footprint
In fact, a number of Northern Ireland growers received high praise for their produce at the Royal Horticultural Society Tatton Park Flower show in July ‘08. The theme of the Society of Floristry competition was ‘Best of British’ with material grown by British businesses. Five Northern Ireland growers provided a range of flowers and foliage for use in arrangements. Elaine Chapman of DARD’s Supply Chain Branch told me of the judges’ reactions: “Comments were so favourable, with the chief judge saying our flowers were wonderful, in pristine condition and much admired by everyone. This illustrates how growers can exploit the local angle in the provision of quality flowers and foliage. But it’s vital that anyone considering this as a business venture should identify the market opportunities first.”
For protected flower crops (using glasshouses or polytunnels) the temperate local climate provides excellent conditions for steady growth and uniform flower development. David Davidson, Cut Flower Development Adviser, explains which crops are most suited for the conditions and facilities available: “Fungal diseases such as Botrytis and Downy Mildew can be particularly problematic in a season such as we had this year. Growers must give careful thought to natural ventilation and good air circulation.” Growers can also discuss the most appropriate crop protection programmes with David, to anticipate and avoid such problems. He provides guidance on schedules, costings and crop culture for the various protected and field flowers grown.
Anyone interested in production of cut flowers is welcome to contact David 028 3751 5605 or me for further information.
This season has seen a number of orchards showing minor nutritional imbalances, particularly for the trace nutrients magnesium, potassium and manganese, which aren’t part of most sown fertilisers. This is where foliar nutrition has been of great value. They have supported the crop through periods of stress particularly on account of prolonged wet weather in August.
For almost all orchards, there will be issues of depleted potassium (K) in soils, following our exceptional rainfall levels and another plentiful year for Bramley. Potassium is one of the most heavily required nutrients for apples and can be leached out in wet weather, so your K index is likely to be very low. Potassium is also critical for bud and blossom quality for next year.
If it is more than three years since your last soil test, I would recommend that you test this winter as it will establish the current pH value and levels of major nutrients available to your trees. The pH of the soil inevitably decreases where lime is not applied annually and when successive, large crops are produced (2006 – 2008). This fall in pH will reduce the availability of major and minor (trace) nutrients. Soil pH must be corrected according to the results of the analysis to optimise soil fertility and orchard productivity. Poor soil fertility not only reduces yield potential and fruit quality, but can lead to increased problems with respect to general tree health.
Guidelines on correct soil-sampling technique, soil analysis and interpretation of results are available. Samples are best taken during the winter and early spring, ahead of the new growing season.