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Flower power: Florists and flower farmers hopeful during pandemic

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Karthauser & Sons grows over 2 acres of hardy mums for summer and fall.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has curbed consumer spending and kept people at home instead of in stores, some people in the floral industry say they're staying afloat because flowers bring people together.

Evergreen Florist of Appleton just moved into their new location on Mason Street and even got a socially-distant visit from Appleton Mayor Jake Woodford a few days after their grand opening. While the pandemic's economic effects caused Evergreen to open a few months later than intended, they've gotten good business so far because of their outdoor space.

"I think people are realizing the power of flowers and plants to bring people together and lighten moods," said Spencer Seim, who works for Evergreen. "We could all definitely use a moment to stop and smell the flowers in the midst of this pandemic."

Seim said the store is only open by appointment right now for funerals and weddings, but they've already had successful pop-up shops in their outdoor garden, including the one that kicked off their grand opening. The store also does delivery and curbside pickup and orders can be placed online or over the phone. 

Evergreen buys and resells wholesale flowers and plants, but Seim said they're also looking into selling homegrown plants too. He said that while many flowers in the US are imported, he wants to help shorten the supply chain and keep things local, all while reducing their carbon footprint. Seim added that his store is working to reduce single-use plastics too – for instance, instead of using plastic skewers for putting cards in flower arrangements, they now use wooden skewers that are biodegradable.

"We're very much a neighborhood florist," Seim said. "For us, (the season) has been going pretty good. I would say from our perspective as retailers, all of our regular farms have actually been able to get pretty good product and it's been up to our quality."

Seim said sunflowers are popular summer picks right now, especially less-common varieties like white, crimson and bi-color sunflowers. He also said you can't go wrong with roses and daisies because they never go out of style and look good in most floral arrangements. He said despite weathering the pandemic, the flower industry did really well on Mother's Day this year and continues to stay afloat in Wisconsin.

Sunflowers are growing in the Karthauser greenhouse, which is 180,000 square feet.

Evergreen buys some of their product from Karthauser & Sons of Germantown, which offers potted plants, herbs and some cut flowers. Owner Brian Karthauser said the weather has been good for his plants this year, grown in a 180,000 square-foot greenhouse. He also grows hardy mums on just over 2 acres outside.

"The weather's been pretty good for hardy mums – if you have cool evenings, that can trigger them into blooming, but this year ... we had warmer evenings," Karthauser said. "We had a hot stretch there, yeah, but you always get that in the summertime."

Karthauser said this year's Easter holidays were devastating because they are usually a significant event for flower sales, but with church services canceled and many staying inside, a lack of sales left Karthauser with a lot of excess product. But he said sales picked back up around Mother's Day a month later. Overall, he said his potted plant sales have been going well because people are taking up gardening during quarantine.

"Around Mother's Day, plants were the new toilet paper," Karthauser said. "People were stuck at home, they turned to gardening. You're not going anywhere – you're not going out to dinner, you're not spending money on vacations. You spend money on your yard and you do yard work."

Flower farmers are disappearing from the US, Karthauser said. He claimed that most flowers in the US are imported from South America. Naples Daily News reported in 2018 that Miami is the 'Ellis Island of flowers' where more than 80% of imported flowers are funneled. Karthauser said many flower farmers in the US just can't compete with cheaper competitors in other countries because of the regulations placed on them by the Environmental Protection Agency and others. Many insecticides have been banned here, which makes it difficult to find cost-effective alternatives, he said.

Karthauser said the company was started by his dad, grandfather and uncle back in 1957 and has been passed down through the generations to him and his wife. His company also stays sustainable by recycling water, using a retention pond to collect rainwater and using the nature-friendly insecticide RootShield Plus. Karthauser said flower farming is rewarding to him because he gets to watch a flower throughout its entire growth stage – his favorite flower to grow is an Easter lily.

"People just don't realize the work that goes into flowers. When you're thinking Fourth of July, I'm thinking Christmas, because we're planting our poinsettias," Karthauser said. "People don't look at it as industry. We grow things by the thousands, but people only buy them one at a time."