Shoulder season – the months between peak seasons – can be a time for growers to lay low and reset. But that often means a time with low to no new income. One way to take advantage of shoulder season, without creating too much more work, is to focus on woody ornamentals.

Presenting “Maximizing the Shoulder Seasons with Woody Ornamentals” at Cultivate’22 were Alec Charais, chief marketing and product development officer, and Shane Brockshus, COO, both of Bailey Nurseries, a fifth-generation, family-owned company.

Some examples of woody ornamentals would be lilac, spirea, salvia, potenilla, red twig dogwood, forsythia and hydrangea. Depending on the species, these plants can also provide a year-round harvest income, as different species are ready to harvest during all four seasons.

“There are a lot more options for us today to pick and choose what we want to grow,” Charais said. “If you’re not in the woody game, it’s 100% okay. It’s just an opportunity – if you have a plan.” He added that one reason for adding them to your growing plans is to keep consumers interested and engaged with your business.

Brockshus spoke about production considerations. Growers will need to begin with the end in mind. “Because we are talking shoulder seasons, you’d be selling and shipping out just before Mother’s Day,” he said. “What’s your goal? What is your target finish time? But first, what does ‘finished’ mean? Is it established roots? Is it blooms?” He suggested having that conversation with your buyers before you dive in.

Even with a plan, growers will also need to focus on consistency. Offering woody ornamentals for just one year isn’t enough. You want to be able to repeat your success year after year.

Brockshus noted that selling bare root plants allows growers to offer more variety for increasingly variable spring planting windows. “I like the flexibility of not having a specific week to plant and being able to spread out that labor,” he said. “Labor is the driver as much as finish time.”

Growers also need to figure out their nursery’s advantages and disadvantages for a woody ornamental enterprise. Do you have enough storage, adequate heat, etc.?

If you’re thinking about opening up to ornamentals, the presenters listed some key considerations to take into account. First and foremost, have a plan. Be realistic in your goals. Start simple and trial a couple varieties – not a couple dozen – and gain consistency with them. Invest in the right liners to keep the plants safe and healthy. Know your input costs. And don’t be afraid to value your time and inputs.

“It all starts with strong genetics,” Charais said. “You want less inputs and less time. And it’s okay to only do one variety if you do really well with that one variety.”

He added that ultimately, “more flowers means more dollars.”

by Courtney Llewellyn