It is no secret that the floral industry is a visual industry. A big part of a florist’s job is to think, create, and design florals that express an event’s unique ambiance or bring comforting beauty into customers’ homes. But like any work with perishables, another big part of a florist’s job is to maximize product life, called vase life in our industry. The Horticulture International Journal says that “vase life quality of cut flowers is one of the most crucial factors for customer satisfaction and repeat purchase.”
Keeping this in mind is important to be successful in a highly competitive market like floristry, as unsatisfied customers can easily switch. To understand why our processes affect vase life, let’s first review how uncut flowers live and what happens when we cut them from their stems.
How Flowers Live Before We Cut Them
Flowers are organisms that essentially need two things to survive: 1. Water and 2. Food. Wildflowers get these two necessities from Mother Nature’s rain and the power of the sun. They use these elements to create an energy source through a process called photosynthesis – a complex series of reactions that allows flowers to take the electromagnetic energy from the sun and turn it into glucose (sugar) and oxygen which becomes an energy source. Nutrients then need help from water to be transported to the flower’s cells (more specifically, its Chloroplast) to turn sunlight into energy.
If this process sounds familiar, it might be because this is the basic process we humans use to survive. We, too, need an energy source (your daily grub) and water to help transport that energy source to our cells. Who knew we were so similar to flowers!
What Happens to This Process When We Cut Flowers
Cut flowers cannot properly conduct photosynthesis and slowly begin to die. With no ability to get water and nutrients from the soil and energy from the sun, a flower goes into “survival mode.” It quickly acts to close the cut site to protect itself from harmful bacteria and keep the remaining water and minerals in the stem. That is why you must cut the flower stem again before placing it in a vase. Doing so re-opens the stem and allows the xylem to suck up the water to the head of the flower.
How to Ensure Vase Life is Maximized?
It is inevitable – your flowers will eventually wilt and fade away, but what is in our control is how long this process takes. By reducing stress, properly cutting your flowers, and mixing the proper amounts of water and food, you and your customers can get the most value from your gorgeous blooms.
Reducing Unnecessary Stress on Flowers
Unnecessary stress on flowers can include rapid changes in temperature, exposure to ethylene, and poor hygiene. This means proper storage and handling of your cut flowers is essential to ensure long vase life and freshness for your client or when used for an event.
Reducing Unnecessary Stress: Monitoring Cooler Temperature
Monitoring your cooler’s temperature is critical to providing the best possible blooms to your clientele. It is best to store your cuts at just above freezing (~2-5c) to reduce their metabolic activity, slow the aging process, and stop ethylene production. Anything outside this optimal range shortens vase life. Too cold and you risk freezing your flowers; too hot increases metabolic activity and speeds up the aging process. It is important that you check the temperature of the water and not the room’s temperature, as air temperature tends to fluctuate more often.
Reducing Unnecessary Stress: Eliminating Ethylene Exposure
Exposure to ethylene will also reduce vase life. Ethylene is an odourless, tasteless, and invisible natural hormone that plants need to mature. Your business revolves around slowing the aging process, so naturally, ethylene is your enemy. Common ethylene sources are ripening fruit and flowers, vehicle emissions, decaying plant material, cigarette smoke, and propane-powered warehouse equipment. With that in mind, don’t double your cooler as the staff fridge! Make sure to remove old flowers, don’t smoke in your cooler (also a big safety hazard), and so on. We think you get the point – Don’t introduce ethylene into your cooler!
Reducing Unnecessary Stress: Cleanliness
You should also never introduce poor hygiene into your cooler. Cleanliness is key to maximizing your customers’ experiences. When shop areas and tools are not clean, you expose the flowers to bacteria and risk blocking the stem opening with debris.
To maximize your shop cleanliness, follow these tips:
- DCD is our recommended cleaner as it is more stable than bleach and does not evaporate.
- Re-cut flowers using a sterile cutting tool. Tools should be cleaned in DCD at least twice a day or more.
- Clean buckets after every use. Do not rinse off the cleaner as it has a residual effect that provides protection.
- Clean work surfaces and design benches daily with DCD.
- Clean cooler walls and floors weekly with DCD. Airflow in your cooler will spread bacteria and fungus to walls and back to your flowers.
- Delivery vehicles and delivery containers should be cleaned on a regular basis.
The end of a cut flower stem can be thought of as an open wound on your skin – you would wash your hands before you tended to it, right?
Re-cutting Flower Stems Properly
A flower’s stem is capable of drinking water without its roots but can only do so if the cut area is open. Every time you cut more of the stem, the flower will quickly begin to seal the area creating blockage like it did when it was cut from its root.
It’s best to cut flowers under running water to prevent blockage of the stem. Immediately place them in a bucket of water, and wait 30 minutes to place them in a vase (with water, of course). An uncut flower will not drink as its fibres have already worked to seal the wound.
Photo Via University of Florida Blogs
Waiting too long to place a flower in water after re-cutting allows its fibres to reseal the wound, creating blockage, and prevents the flowers from drinking. There is also a risk of deadly air bubbles entering the stem (also creating blockage).
You should also be aware of how you cut your flowers. Make sure to cut at least 3/4 inches from the bottom of the stem and aim for a 45-degree angle when cutting. The bigger the angle, the better. If you cut straight on, you risk the stem sitting flush to the bottom of the vase, blocking the opening and preventing it from drinking.
These practices are the industry standard and are best to follow whenever possible.
Water Quality Matters
So, you’ve done everything mentioned to keep your flowers alive for as long as possible but are still hearing short vase life complaints from your clientele. Maybe it’s time to ask them about water quality, often an oversight of the cut flower process, especially in rural areas. If your customers are experiencing short vase life, ask them what type of water they’re using as filtered water could significantly improve customer satisfaction.
Try recommending this tip:
- Take a bunch of flowers and divide them in two.
- Place half into a container filled with regular tap water using normal preservatives, and the other half goes into a container filled with bottled water and the same preservative ration. The test only works if all things except the water are equal.
The test results will speak for themselves. If both vases are relatively equal in vase life, then tap water works just fine. If the results are noticeably different, strongly consider a purification system or alternative water source to improve vase life.
The scientific reasoning behind water quality and its impact on vase life is found in the Ph levels and alkalinity amounts present in the water. For optimal vase life, these levels must be in the correct amounts.
If you want to learn more of the ins and outs of flower water, visit: https://ag.umass.edu/sites/agcenter/files/pdf-doc-ppt/mf2436.pdf
The Importance of Floral Food in Extending Vase Life
It turns out your customer’s water is fine or maybe the filtered water only slightly helped. Either way, you’re still getting complaints about vase life – How frustrating! Have you talked to your customers about flower food? If not, you should! Flower food is a flower’s energy source, and you and your customers need to feed them what they need if you wish to make them last.
Most floral foods contain three ingredients flowers need. They are:
- Sugar – Source of energy for the flower. Promotes colour development and bloom opening.
- Citric Acid – Lowers pH to improve water uptake and reduce bacteria growth that can clog stems.
- Biocide – Inhibits stem clogging bacteria growth.
It is important to properly mix the flower food as it is only effective if mixed at full strength. If under dosed, bacteria will not be controlled and will feed off the sugars, harming the flowers more than helping. If you are overdosing, you are wasting money and can harm the flowers through additional sugar.
Generally, the proper mix is a standard .5-gram pack per litre of water, much less than most vases hold.
Take some time to educate your customers on the importance of proper mixing habits and provide them with the right number of packs for the volume of flowers and vase size. Ensure proper dosing at your store by setting a protocol for consistently measuring each time. Make sure any of your team members filling buckets know and follow the protocol.
Not sure what type of preservative and treatment options to use? We’ve got you covered! Try these below:
Used to preserve the flowers and improve vase life. Some preservatives will work better for some flowers than others. Please read descriptions to make sure you are adding the proper solutions.
- It is everyday all-purpose food with a higher percentage and quality of sugar and a fungicide to help prevent stem blockage. We highly recommend this product for Roses, Hydrangea, Lilacs, and other woody stemmed flowers; it does not harm any flowers and can be used as your everyday preservative.
- Are slow-release chlorine that acts as a biocide to keep water free from bacteria. Gerberas are unique as they do not require sugar due to the bloom being fully formed and developed at harvest. Removing sugar from the solution removes the source of food for bacteria. Most effective in the cooler and holding solution, no consumer packs available. If using Gerberas in mixed bouquets, use regular food as the other flowers require it. Tablets will not harm other flowers.
Bulb Flower Food
- Contains a hormone to prevent leaf yellowing that is common with bulb flowers like Tulips, Iris, Lilies, and Glads. It does not harm non-bulb flowers and can be used in mixed bouquets. The leaves stay green longer, and actual/perceived vase life is increased. Most effective at the consumer level by using consumer packs of bulb food rather than using it in your holding solution.
These are not Preservatives but are used to get the best “look’ out of your blooms.
Anti-transparent that seals the flower to reduce water loss. Very effective for event and wedding work with limited water source for the flower. It should be used once the bloom is open to the stage you require, as the bloom will not open much after application.
A hydrating treatment that controls moisture loss. The nutrients are absorbed into the leaves and petals, allowing flowers to “breathe” and continue to take up water and flower food. Best Used for floral arrangements in vases or floral foam whenever flowers have a water source.
- Forces tight blooms to open for event work. Expect one day of vase life. This is not a care and handling product.
Yes, improving the vase life of your flowers is a lot of work. But once you put these protocols in place, it will be worth the value you and your customers will receive.
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more tips throughout the year.