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Klaver suggests ideas on handling flowering bulbs

By CAROL KINSLEY
Staff Writer

LINTHICUM, Md. (April 11, 2017) — Ko Klaver, native of the Netherlands, briefly shared his credentials with participants at Chesapeake Green before offering suggestions on how to select, grow and market flowering bulbs.
He knows whereof he speaks. Klaver grew up on a flower bulb production farm and attended a horticultural college in the Netherlands. In 1988, his second year in college, he came to the United States on a six-month FFA student work exchange program.
Soon after that, he became head grower for Pettengill Farms in Salisbury, Mass., where he stayed for two years, growing cut flowers from annuals, perennials and bulbs in fields and high tunnels.
In 1990, he became sales representative for Plants International, which merged into Van Bloem Gardens. He sold flower bulb and perennials to nurseries and garden centers and helped develop the Van Bloem Gardens retail line for these products.
His territory was the Mid-Atlantic. His boss sent him to Washington, D.C., with the advice, “Before you hit the beltway, find a place to live.”
He found a place in Beltsville, where he has lived for 25 years. He and his wife are raising their four boys there.
“Behnke Nurseries was my first sale,” he said.
Since 2001, Klaver has been traveling around the country, consulting and providing horticultural products and services to cut flower growers and potted plant growers through his business, Botanical Trading Company.
He noted that herbaceous peonies are hot. “People are tired of roses,” he said. In Holland, they’re producing 145 million stems per year.
The farm-direct retail market is really growing, Klaver noted. Garden centers are competing with box stores; local florist shops must compete with grocery store sales.
“Where is the consumer in all this?” he asked. “Anything to do with consumers must be destination-driven. The question is how to get product into their hands.”
Mostly the products being offered are forced production, so the flowers bloom earlier than in nature.
Klaver outlined what consumers are looking for:
• More new and interesting products such as the ‘Lily-Looks’ pot-lilies (also known as the Asiatic Tiny & Oriental Sunny Series), a genetic short variety. Some 12 million to 16 million of these bulbs are sold in the United States in a year, more than one-third of worldwide sales.
• Ready-to-go material. When tulips are blooming in the landscape, people start looking for bulbs to plant in their gardens. “We have to teach people to plant bulbs in the fall,” he said. “We plant them in fall for the consumers who forgot to plant them.” The tricky thing is to calculate planting time to get blooms when you want them.
• Quality floral products. Along with eradication of drugs in South America, U.S. flower farmers were forgotten. “We are working to change that with American-grown product,” Klaver said.
• More sustainably grown products. Demand for no neonics usage has reduced cost of chemicals by one-third, he noted.
• Support of the local economy.
• Easy instructions.
Klaver noted QR codes which can be scanned on smart phones for instant information are getting tremendous amounts of hits. Seventy percent of world usage is in the United States.
Double Orientals, such as Belonica, Fabiola, Lilytopia, were released in 2009. They have no pollen, which is good, because pollen reduced flower life. They are so popular that Klaver is sold out for 2017 and is already booking for 2018. “It’s a game changer,” he said.
Independent garden centers and supermarkets will sell finished plants at $14 to $17 for three bulbs in a pot for Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. “After they bloom, consumers can plant the pot in the garden.”
Klaver continued, “What’s big now is planting under sod. A machine lifts up the sod, plants the bulbs and replaces the sod. You can see big streaks of daffodils in Washington.
The machine is so expensive that it is rented out, Klaver said. You hook it up to your tractor with a three-point hitch.
In Holland, they don’t worry about planting bulbs pointed side up.
Bulbs can be planted in lawns because they are finished blooming before mowing season. “The first two mowings, mow high,” Klaver advised.
Multi-layer planting, with bulbs and pansies in combination, are also popular.
Despite his emphasis on lilies, Klaver said East Coast humidity makes lily production difficult here. Lilies also need afternoon shade. “Most lilies are grown on the West Coast,” he added
Klaver prefers growing lilies in crates. Crates are more easily cleaned with steam once a year. He suggests closing up an empty greenhouse in the summer to let it bake. “No more methyl bromide,” he said.
He recommended, as planting media for most flower bulbs, a mixture of one-third leaf compost, one-third coarse peat and one-third sand. You want well-drained media that buffers micro elements.
Use a granular fertilizer, one to one and a half pounds per 1,000 square feet, not a slow release type.