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Taking a shine to locally grown sunflowers

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Every day, Royer’s makes dozens – if not hundreds – of flower deliveries to homes and businesses in seven counties. It’s likely that you’ll encounter one of our vehicles on any given day.

What’s less well known is that we’re also picking up flowers. In the summer, we make regular visits to Elm Family Flowers in Lititz, which supplies us with thousands of gorgeous, locally grown sunflowers.

In fact, we buy all of Elm’s sunflowers, which we sell by the loose stem and in a variety of arrangements that we make.

Native to the Americas, sunflowers were domesticated around 1000 B.C., according to Good Housekeeping. Not only are they beautiful, but they also produce seeds (1,000 to 2,000 per plant) and oil.

When they are budding, sunflowers literally turn toward the sun, a trait known as heliotropism. The French word for sunflowers is “tournesol,” or “turns with the sun.”

‘Super fresh’

Daniel Lapp of Elm Family Flowers said his father bought their Elm Road dairy farm in 1986. In 2007, the Lapps augmented the dairy farm by starting to grow flowers. Elm has supplied sunflowers to Royer’s for five or six years.

“Daniel and his family are a joy to work with,” said Tom Royer, Royer’s senior vice president and chief operating officer. “We are glad we can work with a local grower who gives us super fresh sunflowers.”

Today, the Lapp farm devotes one acre to sunflowers. To put that into perspective, farms planted 1.7 million acres of sunflowers across the United States in 2014.

Elm’s growing season begins in late March and continues until the final harvest in early fall. Lapp said the first seeds begin in a heated greenhouse in what are known as plug trays. After a couple weeks, they are transplanted into the ground but covered with fabric that allows sun and moisture to get through but protects against frost.

“It retains a little of the daytime heat during the night,” Lapp said.

The transplanted seeds require 80 to 90 days before they can be harvested. By comparison, seeds planted directly into the ground will require only 50 to 60 days.

The last sunflowers of the year will be planted by Aug. 10 to beat potentially harmful cold temperatures.

“I usually figure Oct. 10 or 15 is when we’re going to get a frost,” Lapp said.

No matter the temperature outside, of course, sunflowers project warmth wherever they are.

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