Care & Handling

Best Practices To Care For Valentine’s Flowers

Disappointing customers is a business buzz kill. The ramifications are far reaching in today’s social media world. Valentine’s Day, the occasion when people receive (and scrutinize) flowers in record volume, is when we’re most likely to see customer complaints exploding online.

In the interest of keeping the grumbling at bay, let’s examine the most common pitfalls that lead to poor flower longevity (read: customer disappointment) and proper methods to fight them. If you are showing the initiative to read this article, you likely know the basics, but just like frequent flyers have to listen to the safety speech prior to the plane’s wheels going up, it’s valuable to revisit familiar guidelines.

Start clean. This refers to your buckets, tables, choppers, knives, and scissors. Place a spray bottle of ready-to-use cleaner at every workstation and reach for it throughout the day. Think of a hairdresser’s comb or a butcher’s cutting board. Constant sanitation is key.

When prepping buckets, measure to get the dosage right. Guessing is a waste of time and money; experts have calibrated the right ratio of water and solution to reap benefits. Mark the fill line in various size buckets, measure that volume of water, and make a chart showing how many pumps of concentrate are required per container. Always prep with cold water (2-4 C) because it flows into stems faster than warm or tepid water, and speedy hydration is critical if you’re using the product in designs later that same day.

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Bruising, bumping, scraping, and stuffing product predisposes petals and stems to disease problems, so handle with care. Allow ample room in cooler aisles to avoid brushing up against products when you’re reaching for something. When you receive loads, don’t drop or toss boxes onto pallets (two words: impact damage). Unpack bunches from grower boxes rather than dumping the box upside down and letting flowers drop onto processing tables. Remind your processing crew that, as tempting as it may be to climb a mountain of boxes when searching for a particular grower or flower, it’s not worth damaging the product inside.

Have your team fill buckets with the same amount of bunches when processing like product. It’s much simpler to establish quality per bucket if you have your inventory organized. Resist jamming the total contents of a grower’s box into one bucket. A good rule of thumb: leave enough room to insert your fist perpendicularly between the bucket’s edge and the flowers. Airflow helps avert botrytis issues.

Speaking of botrytis…the best way to prevent it is to keep blooms dry. Whether it’s a micro-layer of condensation on petals or water inside sleeves, moisture triggers botrytis spores to start germinating. Botrytis is the non-specific, ubiquitous fungus that loves flowers, fruits, and veggies.  Always remove the infected parts and toss in trash. Keep trashcans covered so air-borne spores don’t take flight and float around the design room. Sanitize counters, cutters and knives throughout the day to prevent cross-contamination.

Cut with care. Why do roses that arrive as tight buds never open?  Likely the blooms were cut prematurely. The stems cells located directly under the bloom are not mature enough to carry the weight of the bud. Early cutting makes stems sensitive when they lose water. Water loss due to evaporation is higher than the refill by water uptake, which results in the stem bending just beneath the bud. Woody parts of the stem are not affected. How to prevent it? Insist on receiving roses at a more open cut stage and always cut off 5 cm of stem before rehydrating.

Valentine roses sometimes arrive with the heads popped off the base and yellow anthers waving their pollen into the wind. Why? Ethylene is the likely culprit. This odorless, colourless gas is known as an ageing hormone. Ethylene is used all the time to ripen fruits and vegetables, but it is deadly in minute amounts to many cut flowers, flowering plants, and even green potted plants. Although roses are not as sensitive to ethylene as other flowers (and thus are not treated at the farm level with anti-ethylene solutions), many popular varieties—especially garden roses—are indeed sensitive. Damage includes petal and leaf shattering, petals that turn blue, bud stagnation, and fast death. Damage is irreversible, so avoid contact between flowers and sources of ethylene. The long list of ethylene-sensitive flowers includes aconitum, alstroemeria, asclepias, bleeding hearts, delphinium, freesia, lilies (variety dependent), all orchid species, phlox, scabiosa, and sweet peas. Ethylene damage is a problem with potted and flowering plants too, including kalanchoe, azaleas, shefflera, zygo cactus, begonias, and fuchsias. The bottom line: Work clean, empty and sanitize trash cans regularly, sweep all green bits off shelves and out of corners, and prevent exhaust or cigarette smoke from leaking into areas where flowers are stored. Box fans are a great way to blend the air in loading areas.

Finally, respect temperatures. Temperature determines how fast a flower ages. It also affects the rate of water loss which is all about dehydration stress. Cooler set points need to be 34 to 36F. Allow room between product and cooler walls for good airflow. Stack boxes on pallets to prevent soggy bottoms if a bucket tips in the cooler. Measure and record cooler temperatures first thing every morning for a week to ensure everything is in working order. If your cooler fails when filled with expensive Valentine product, it can ruin profit plans.

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

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