Care & Handling

Banish Bad Habits and Bogus Beliefs Once and for All!

Life offers bits of advice and information at every turn. Some of it’s sage; some of it’s ludicrous. That’s why it’s handy to develop a good filter, especially given the reams of questionable information on the Internet. A rational way to do this would be to accept research-proven reports over anecdotal commentary. But, alas, all too often it’s the goofy personal observations that beguile us — not fact-based material.

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Flower care and handling information is rife with anecdotal myths. It seems the more outlandish the cocktail or handling method, the more dearly folks embrace it. It wouldn’t be so bad if only the general public believed these old wives’ tales. But it is truly dismaying when floral “professionals” tout a splash of vodka as “the best” solution for tulips, or when they swear by a finishing spray of diluted Elmer’s glue. Recently, a floral manager told me not to waste my time with leaf shine, because rubbing foliage with mayonnaise worked much better. WHAT?!

Seeing is Believing

During a floral training session with a cutting-edge group of floral managers, one of the participants made it his mission to negate the information I was presenting about flower food being more effective than home brews, boiling stems and Grandma’s remedies. I tried to present a convincing platform (including: the tenets of flower physiology and the reality of reduced labor hours) to let him know why gerberas will last longer when displayed in a commercially formulated solution rather than in vinegar.

Like all care and handling urban myths, there was a kernel of truth to the vinegar concept. Vinegar will lower the pH of tap water and science has long proven that flow in flower stems is more efficient in acidic water. Lowering pH stimulates flow in stems and dissolves air bubbles that block flow. Tap water has a neutral pH level (about pH 7). Flowers prefer a level closer to pH 4. OK, so I conceded that vinegar makes the water more acidic, optimizing flow inside flowers’ cells….but vinegar does nothing to check pollution. Pollution control is critical because bacteria also love acidic water!

After bantering back and forth, he looked me straight in the eye and said, Well, I don’t care what science says, I learned from the best — my merchandiser!” Alas, sometimes you just can’t change someone’s mind. Thom David, a marketing manager of the Paul Ecke Ranch, encounters many people convinced that poinsettias are poisonous. He resorts to a very no-nonsense, hands-on strategy to make them see the light. He grabs a few bracts and eats them. Bitter? Yes. Toxic? No.

Get With the Times

Can you imagine processing orders on a computer from the 1980s? We’d struggle mightily if we didn’t upgrade our operating systems regularly. Yet, there are plenty of 30-year-old flower care myths still in circulation. Some examples: using warm water when prepping solutions, cutting stems underwater, preparing a cocktail of aspirin, bleach and sugar rather than a commercial flower food, placing lilies in tap water instead of a formula specific to bulb crops, reaching for vodka to process tulips (or antifreeze for gerberas or alum for hydrangeas). The list of outdated methods is long!

Let’s look at how science has busted each of these myths:

Research has proven that cold water flows faster in most flower species than does warm. Although water temperature has nothing to do with ultimate vase longevity, getting blooms 100 percent hydrated in a timely manner limits the stress of dehydration. It’s an especially useful habit during holiday crunch time, when flowers are coming in at almost the same rate as they are being sold.

How about underwater cutting? The concept is right, based on the fact that stem cells start callousing over as quickly as 10 to 15 seconds after being cut, but it falls apart in the execution. Why? The bacteria and organic juices released by a cut stem floating in the water reservoir pollute the system fast — real fast (bacteria colonies multiply exponentially every 20 minutes). Adding bleach or a hydration solution to the cutting reservoir would mitigate the pollution, but wreak havoc on cutting blades.

Homemade cocktails of bleach and 7Up do follow the strategies of commercial flower foods, which are to lower pH, suppress bacteria growth and provide energy for blooms to develop. The downside: if the ratio of ingredients is out of sync, bacteria explode in the sugar water, losing any chance for impressive longevity.

Vodka for tulips? For starters, the cost of vodka vs. bulb flower food overrides any logic for using this blend. Who would use antifreeze for gerberas when slow-release gerbera pills are so simple, effective and sustainably disposable?

Some florists swear that dipping hydrangea stems into alum powder keeps beautiful flower balls hydrated. To them, I say a simple comparison between alum and a hydration solution is in order. Hydrangeas love aluminum, which is what alum is. Aluminum sulfate is also an active ingredient in Chrysal Professional 1, which includes other hydrating ingredients. An alum powder dip prevents blooms from sagging for about 24 to 36 hours, whereas the hydration solution keeps them fresh for up to six days.

Simple tests comparing treatments provides firsthand insight to the best solution choices. It’s also valuable to put pencil to paper and figure out costs. Remember to compare the cost of ready-to-use solutions, not concentrate costs. Consider, too, the labor hours saved when flowers are processed correctly. If you measure when mixing your solutions, all commercial products will stay clean, clear and flowing for four to six days (depending on temperature), which invalidates the “toss out and change solutions every other day” myth! Finally, how do you measure the “cost” of customer satisfaction? Under promising and over delivering will satisfy customers and build trust in the product. Product trust is the backbone to winning repeat flower sales!

Gay Smith
Gay Smith is the technical consulting manager for Chrysal USA.
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