Step 1: Sterilize everything. Before flowers arrive, thoroughly wash all flower buckets, cutting tools, and workbenches and countertops with a professional antibacterial bucket cleaner, a kitchen sanitizing spray (similar to ones used to clean countertops) or a solution of one part chlorine bleach and 10 parts water. Repeat this step with every shipment of flowers.
Step 2: Check the shipping temperature. When flowers arrive, immediately check the temperature inside the boxes by inserting the probe of a needle thermometer either through the side of the box, behind the flower heads, or into the water of wet packs.
If temperatures are higher than 40 F, examine the flowers for insects, foliar or petal diseases, yellowed leaves, and loss of blooms and leaves. Isolate any affected flowers, and contact the supplier.
Step 3: Unpack flower boxes immediately. As you remove flower bunches and inspect them, remove any sleeves and bindings. Leaving sleeves on can help prevent damage to blooms, but the sleeves must be removed eventually to promote air circulation among the flowers. If you can’t unpack flowers immediately, store the boxes in a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F.
Step 4: Clean stems. Remove all leaves that would fall below the water line, and thoroughly rinse stem ends—especially of field-grown flowers—under running water.
Step 5: Recut stems. Remove at least 1 inch from all stem ends, cutting either under water or in air, with a sharp knife or pruner, to remove dried-out ends and accumulated dirt, debris and microbes in the cells. If cutting flowers under water, change the water (or flower-food solution) frequently to prevent it from becoming overly contaminated with bacteria.
Step 6: Place flowers into hydration and/or flower-food solutions. If your flowers have not been treated with hydration solution at the grower and/or wholesaler levels, which are the most common treatment points, dip or place the stems into a hydration solution (either an instant dip or a standing solution) immediately upon recutting them.
If your flowers have been treated at either or both of these levels, you can forgo this step and place your flowers directly into sterilized containers half filled with cold properly proportioned flower-food solution.
Some flower foods are formulated specifically for certain genera of flowers, such as roses or bulb flowers, as well as for different qualities of water. For example, when bulb flowers are cut, hormone imbalances occur that cause premature leaf yellowing and other problems; therefore, bulb flower foods contain—in addition to the ingredients in standard flower foods—“replacement” hormones, and they have a lower concentration of sugar, which can aggravate leaf yellowing.
Step 7: Refrigerate the flowers. Place most flowers (except tropical blooms and some bulb flowers) immediately into a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F and 90 percent relative humidity for at least two hours before designing with or selling them. This will allow them time to hydrate.
Tropical flowers require storage temperatures between 50 F and 55 F, and some bulb flowers, such as amaryllises (Hippeastrums) and paperwhites (Narcissi), prefer temperatures from 36 F to 50 F.
Except for design time, always keep flowers refrigerated until sold or delivered. This will slow their moisture loss, help them maintain their carbohydrate reserves and decrease their sensitivity to ethylene (see Step 9).
Sell all flowers within two days of receipt. Flowers held in a floral cooler for more than two days rapidly lose vase life.
Step 8: Monitor your cooler temperature and relative humidity. Check the temperature in your cooler daily by placing a thermometer into a container of water sitting inside the cooler. The water temperature should range from 33 F to 35 F. Check relative humidity with a psychrometer or hygrometer.
Step 9: Protect flowers from ethylene. Purchase only flowers that have been treated with an anti-ethylene compound at the grower or wholesaler levels, at the point of importation or during transportation. In addition, help control the amount of ethylene in your department by using an ethylene filtration system in your cooler. Exposure to ethylene causes flower and bud drop, wilted or prematurely dead blooms, yellow leaves or unopened flowers.
Step 10: Give every walk-in customer, and send with every delivered arrangement, a 10-gram packet of flower food—enough to make one quart of solution. Also provide verbal and written care instructions to every walk-in customer, and send written care instructions with every delivery.