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Introduction

There are many measurable factors which both positively and negatively affect the post-harvest life of flowers, including the type species or 'cultivar' of the flower (such as Osiana roses, for example) the growing media, light, temperature, humidity, the maturity of the flower at the time of harvest, the time the flower spends in cold storage prior to consumer purchase, the amount of ethylene gas around the flower, and the cleanliness of the water in which the flower is stored and displayed. Everyone who handles the cut flower, from the grower to you, the consumer, affects the longevity of that flower. We offer the following information so that you can learn how a flower reaches you and how you can help fortify its lifespan.

Cut flowers travel through many hands before they reach the consumer. The goal of each handler is to prolong the flower's life. The grower who grows the flower has perhaps the greatest control over the quality and longevity of the flower because he controls most of the factors influencing flower life, namely the type of cultivar, the growing media (including fertilization), the flower's maturity, and the light, temperature and humidity conditions during growing. When the grower harvests the flower it often spends 24 to 48 hours in the process of being graded, packaged and shipped. Since, most flowers are grown outside the US, the grower ships to an importer who then stores the flower for a brief period, usually a day or two, before shipping the flower to a wholesaler.

A wholesaler may hold the flower for as long as three days before a retailer purchases the flower. A retailer may also hold the flower for up to three days before the consumer makes a purchase. Hence, a harvested flower may spend anywhere from 8 to 10 days before it reaches the consumer. While being transported between these various handlers, the flowers are kept at a very low temperature thereby significantly slowing the flowers' physiological development and, in turn, prolonging their life.

Temperature, water quality and ethylene gas are the most significant factors affecting the longevity of the post-harvested flower. Most flowers are shipped dry to the wholesaler, who then puts the flowers in water for re-hydration. The flowers travel in refrigerated trucks or are pre-cooled and packed with ice for transportation by air. The grower, importer, wholesaler, and retailer do their best to maintain the temperature of the transported flower at approximately 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

Temperature

Temperature greatly affects the post-harvest performance of flowers. While cut flowers can last up to three weeks when maintained at temperatures of 34 degrees, they normally last 5 to 6 days at room temperature. Though the shipping process is carefully monitored, sometimes warming and its resulting stress on the flowers occur at some point in this process of moving flowers from the grower to the consumer, and so the flowers' lifespan is shortened. It can occur, for example, when a South American grower sends his pre-cooled, ice-packed flowers to the airport for shipment to Miami, and the airline holds the boxes on the tarmac under the hot sun because the plane is late. The flowers may warm to 60 or 70 degrees for a time.

The grower, importer, wholesaler and retailer are unaware of the warming that occurred on the tarmac. As usual, they carefully care for the flowers, which will not likely show any signs of stress until the retailer learns of their shortened lifespan in your home. This is just one example of an unfortunate and unforeseen case of temperature stress.

Stress from temperature changes can also occur in your home. Flowers may be placed too near drafty doorways or furnace vents, or when adding or changing water in the vase, people may use water that is too hot or cold. Any fresh water added to the floral container should be at a moderate room temperature. By considering the air and water temperatures you can decrease temperature stress on your flowers and help prolong their life.

If you wish to learn more about the effects of temperature on the post-harvest performance of flowers, including its effects on transpiration and respiration, then please click here to learn more about the effects of temperature on Post-harvest Performance. Please keep in mind that the additional information obtained from this link and all subsequent links on this page are directed toward wholesalers and retailers.

Water

Water quality plays an enormous role in the longevity of a flower's life. A plant's root system serves as a filter to limit dirt, micro-organisms and chemicals from entering the plant's system. When the flower is cut from its life-sustaining root system, it no longer has this vital filter to prevent dirt, micro-organ isms and chemicals from entering and blocking the stem. It is so important, therefore, to keep the water clean in order to protect the flower. I have found in my own home that by changing the water in the flower arrangement every day the arrangement will last twice as long. Viviano's treats all the water in its arrangements with a bactericide and flower food, which gives the water a milky coloring. However, within a day or two, the flower will consume the chemicals used as the bactericide as well as the flower food. Without the bactericide, microbes grow quickly and will block the stem thereby preventing water from moving up the stem. Without water the flower will quickly wilt and die. By replacing the water every day, most of harmful microbes go down the drain with the old water, and the chlorine found in the new tap water will control the remaining micro-organisms for another day. You can usually see the micro-organisms in clear vases because they make the water cloudy and green.

When changing the water in the arrangement be very careful because gravity will pull some flowers out of the arrangement. I gently put one hand up to cradle the flowers while carefully tipping the vase or container with the other hand. If any flowers are moved out of place they can simply be rearranged after the container is refilled with water. Though this may seem like too much trouble at first, you will quickly learn how to handle the arrangement in this way and you will be amazed at how well this works to preserve your flowers.

Ethylene Gas

Though ethylene gas plays an important role in the life and redevelopment of plants, it is detrimental to the lifespan of a cut flower. Ethylene gas naturally occurs in the environment from a variety of sources, including plants themselves, the ripening of fruits--perhaps most notably, bananas, decaying foliage and combustion of organic compounds such as the gas from gas stoves or cigarettes. The effects of ethylene gas on flowers are best controlled by importers, wholesalers and retailers, but consumers can do a few things to give their flowers an extra day of life. Because fruits naturally produce ethylene gas, you should keep your flowers away from fruit. Though we sell attractive arrangements with fruit and flowers, they do not last as long as arrangements made without fruit. Also, by keeping the water clean and removing any wilted or decaying foliage or flowers from the arrangement, you will help prolong your flowers' life. Remember, the cleaner the environment, the longer your flowers will last.

The following information regarding ethylene is interesting; however, most of the documentation is targeted toward importers, wholesalers and retailers. If you would like to learn more about this topic then please click here: ethylene effects of the post-harvest performance of fresh cut flowers.

Sanitation and Storage

If you are interested in reading more about water quality then please click here to learn more about hydrating flowers.

In addition to keeping the water clean you can add a flower food and bactericide or floral preservative to the water. If you change the water every day then the preservative will not add much to the longevity of the flowers. Nevertheless, if you want to take the extra step to maximize your flowers' vase life then you can add a commercially prepared floral preservative or make your own. If you wish to make your own, Dr. Joseph E. Houland recommends the following: to one quart of water add 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of chlorine bleach. (Dr. Joseph E. Houland, University of Nevada, So. Florist and Nursery, 11/25/83) Click here to learn more about flower food.

We offer two more sections of flower care and handling which you might find interesting. One is about sanitation, and the other is about storage. There is little application of these two categories of flower care and handling in the home, but I think you may be interested in learning the lengths to which florists go to ensure that you have a quality long-lasting product.

Viviano's is pleased to provide this information for you. We hope you have enjoyed learning about flower care and handling. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about flower care and handling then please send me a message by clicking on my name.

Thank you for visiting Viviano Flower Shop,

Paul Viviano