It’s ironic, flower marketer Bill Prescott says: “Many people think of Valentine’s Day as the biggest flower holiday, when really it’s Mother’s Day.”
With Mother’s Day coming Sunday, California flower growers and shippers are hopping.
“Right now, we’re kind of in the heat of battle,” said Prescott, a marketing and communications specialist at Arcata-based Sun Valley Floral Farms, which grows flowers in Arcata and Oxnard. “There’s probably a dozen or so (trucks) leaving a day.”
A similar story is playing out at Mellano & Co. in Oceanside.
“We have to do a lot of shifting and adjusting,” said Mike Mellano, vice president of production. “The overall holiday, I would say, is probably three to five times the size of a normal day or a normal week.”
The biggest challenge, Mellano said, is getting everything harvested.
“It’s not like you can just bring in anybody off the street and have the skill level to efficiently and effectively do the job that needs to be done,” he said.
Unlike Valentine’s Day, when roses predominate, Mother’s Day is a floral variety show.
But roses do factor in, said Sherry Sanbo of Golden State Floral in West Sacramento, especially for those observing the Mexican Mother’s Day on May 12.
“There’s a lot of roses, but we do mainly bouquets, which are mixed bouquets that have carnations, pompoms, baby’s breath, greenery,” Sanbo said. “Bright colors are really in, rather than the pastel colors.”
Growers tend to specialize, Mellano said.
“Ranunculus are a big, big crop for us,” he said. “Our challenge always is, as the weather warms up, the ranunculus crop goes off. It doesn’t time really well for Mother’s Day. We sell very significant quantities. We’d love to be able to do more, but it just doesn’t work that way.”
Mellano said the farm also grows “behind-the-scenes items” that most customers might not readily recognize in a bouquet.
“We grow a lot of fillers, a lot of foliages,” he said. “We grow things like myrtle and solidago, and gypsophila — a whole host of things.”
Each flower is unique in terms of shelf life, Mellano said. Some must hit the supply chain within two to four days of harvest, assuming they’re put in the cold chain straightaway.
“Flowers are a lot like strawberries,” he said. “You have to get them out of the field and into a cooler at 33 degrees as quickly as possible, to maintain the optimum condition for the consumer.”
Sun Valley Floral Farms focuses on tulips, iris and lilies. Prescott said the company’s flower fields in Ventura County are “interwoven” with fields of produce.
“We actually move our crops around,” he said. “It’s more healthy for the flowers if we move them, don’t grow them in the same spot every year. One year, the crop will be strawberries; the next year, it’s iris.”
Such rotation helps keep the soil fresh, Prescott said.
California leads the U.S. in flower production — 78 percent of the domestic crop comes from the Golden State, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and in 2015 this crop had a wholesale value of $294 million.
Still, domestic flowers represent a small fraction of the market. Mellano estimated 20 percent of flowers sold in the United States are American-grown. The California Cut Flower Commission, which represents the state’s flower growers, takes part in the California Grown program to promote the Golden State’s agricultural bounty. (The California Farm Bureau Federation is also a partner in this program.)
“Sourcing domestic flowers, California-grown or American-grown flowers, is really important as consumers are becoming aware,” Prescott said. “They have their farmers market box where they know exactly who grew their lettuce, and who vinted their wine or brewed their beer. They have grass-fed beef from the local ranch, right? But then, on the center of their tables, so often they’re placing roses that have traveled 5,000 miles from Ecuador.”
At Golden State Floral, Sanbo estimated about 40 percent of the inventory at the wholesale business comes from California.
“Out of California, we buy gerberas, and we buy filler and greenery, mainly,” she said.
Sanbo added that imported flowers have been in shorter supply this spring because of adverse weather in Central and South America.
“This year, it’s a whole different ballgame, because the weather has been so bad in Ecuador and Colombia for the last two or three months,” she said. “Product is very difficult to get.”