Written by Gay Smith
Consumer surveys report time and again that vase performance is the measuring stick our customers use to evaluate their satisfaction with floral products. That said, what’s up with the wide array of processing methods used at wholesalers and retail shops, not to mention the prevailing fascination with aspirin, vodka and bleach as bucket solutions? Urban myths, confusion and carelessness not only cost our industry lost sales; dissatisfied consumers rarely give flowers a second chance, they just move on to chocolates and other gift items. The basics of care and handling are just that, basic: follow the directions when mixing, measure to get the dose right, give all stems a fresh cut before placing in solution, sanitize buckets every time one is emptied and be vigilant about temperature control through the chain.
Correct solution use is not difficult once you get your arms around the “whys” of using various compounds. As a business person, your first consideration is the economics of using the right solution for the right job. When mixed according to instructions, you can confidently use (and re-use) solutions for the maximum time they are “active”. Over-dosing wastes money and under-dosing doesn’t give desired results. Mix solutions as directed and use them for prescribed days mentioned on the label. Doing so saves time (labor costs) required to prep and change out buckets every other day reduces water consumption. When mixed correctly, all* the solutions available for wholesale and retail level are safe to dispose into the drain. (always neutralize *STS before disposing down the drain)
Proficient processing on the front end, maximizes vase performance in the consumer’s home. Some details to help you choose the solution that best fits your needs:
Flow is maximized when solution pH is acidic (between 3.5—5.0) because low pH helps dissolve air bubbles in stems. Tap water pH commonly falls around 7 on the scale.
- The efficacy of the biocide components in flower solutions is pH dependent. They work best within the 3.5—5.0 pH range
- Hormones improve foliage quality, bud opening, vase longevity and control stem stretching in tulips. Hormones are effective given as a primary treatment or as a delayed treatment–a few steps down the chain at retail level.
- All flower solutions should contain a germicide component to keep bacteria and pollution in check. Polluted solutions do not flow efficiently into stems.
- A slow-release chlorine formula is better than the chlorine formula in bleach because it is active longer (2-3 days vs. 4-6 hours).
- Sugar provides energy for blooms to continue opening. It also stabilizes color and enhances fragrance potential (if it exists).
Hydration solutions vs. Flower foods
What’s the difference between hydration solutions and flower foods? In one word–sugar. Hydration solutions lower pH, contain biocides to keep pollution in check and (sometimes) have a wetting agent to boost flow. Flower foods contain all of the above and also sugar—usually glucose. An easy way to determine which solution to use is to consider if your goal is to kick-start flow inside stems or start flow and provide energy for buds to open. With the flower food family, there are 2 basic formulas: display flower food and vase filling/foam soaking flower food. Display food formula contains minimum sugar and vase food contains maximum amount of sugar in the formula. A good analogy is gasoline: regular vs. super. Vase solutions and consumer packets contain maximum sugar because by the time flowers arrive in a consumer’s home, the internal carbohydrate reserves are close to depleted.
Correct solution use depends on the flower type as well as the method of transit. Wilt-sensitive flowers like hydrangeas and roses are best (re)treated at wholesale level in hydration solutions like Chrysal Professional #1 or Rose Pro Hydration. Hydration is all about kick-starting flow after long periods of dry transit. Hydration solutions do not contain sugar because sugar, introduced too early in the chain, can slow down flow. The usual sequence is treating with a hydration solution first and then transferring blooms into flower food. Applied too early in the chain, sugar sometimes stimulates foliage yellowing. There are exceptions—e.g. protea and tuberoses. These blooms are sugar lovers and should be processed into full-sugar flower food from first drink after harvest through retail design. Sugar uptake reduces black foliage problems with protea and improves floret opening of tuberoses.
Regardless, if you use a two-step or one-step process, give stems time (2-4 hours) to drink before putting flowers on sales display or using stems in design. A quick dip does not hydrate a flower. It takes time for any solution to travel through the cells of the vascular system. Both hydration and display flower food solutions are appropriate for reuse up to 6 days if buckets are held in coolers. A day or two less if buckets are held at room temperature. Maximizing solution use saves labor hours and conserves water. Skim green trash between uses. Use fresh solution when topping up buckets and avoid pouring old solutions together when consolidating display, start fresh instead.
Bulbous Flowers (blooms from corms, tubers, bulbs and rhizomes)
Think tulips and irises fare best in tap water? Think again. The entire family of “bulbous” flowers including alstroemeria, ranuculas, iris, dahlias, freesia, lilies and tulips, is not only beautiful, it is also sensitive to pre-mature foliage yellowing, bud stagnation, loss of color vibrancy and short vase life. Those nasty quality problems are symptoms of imbalanced plant growth regulators, commonly called hormones. Rebalance the hormones and symptoms not only disappear, vase life dramatically improves. Chrysal USA offers Bulb T-bags for display solution and consumer sachets formulated especially for bulb flowers.
Filling vases (blooms from corms, tubers, bulbs and rhizomes)
Last but not least is the solution used for vase filling and soaking foam. Blooms need sugar to reach their full genetic vase potential. Photosynthesis basically stops at harvest so flowers cannot replenish necessary carbohydrate reserves. By the time flowers go into the consumer’s home, internal reserves are pretty much depleted. At this stage, blooms require a flower food like Chrysal Professional #3 or Rose Pro Vase solution, both with maximum amount of nutrients to keep them upright and vibrant to the end.
Americans love the freedom of having many choices, but sometimes less is more. Albert Camus, said it this way, “should I kill myself or have a cup of coffee?” Do you favor a “one size fits most” mentality? If your wholesaler hydrates flowers before you receive them, using a low-sugar, display solution like Chrysal Clear Professional #2 is your best bet. Low-sugar solutions boost flow, keep pollution in check and provide a minimum amount of sugar to stabilize color and keep blooms turgid. Professional #2 is available in liquid or pre-measured, biodegradable packets (T-bags) that stay in the buckets for a visual check that flowers are drinking treated water. T-bags provide 70% hydration and 30% nutrient (sugar) to keep blooms looking great.
Flower solutions are the best insurance you’ll ever buy. Often, a dissatisfied customer may not complain, she just takes her business elsewhere (and tells her 15 best friends about the lousy experience she had with your flowers.) Demystify processing procedures. Develop a system that works for you. Display written product-use guidelines in both the processing and design areas to reduce errors and avoid confusion. Stop losing money unnecessarily. Use the right solution for the job to reduce waste and improve the bottom line.