feature story


Good sanitation and properly mixed flower foods are the keys to maximizing your flowers’ lives and your customers’ satisfaction.

by Andrew J. Macnish, PH.D.; Ria T. Leonard; Kate Hughes; and Terril A. Nell, PH.D., AAF

The floral industry encourages consumers to “say it with flowers.” But how many who do end up being disenchanted with their gift choices because flower buds didn’t open, leaves quickly turned yellow and the water began to smell?

Make sure your flowers offer more than just a good first impression; sell blooms that make a lasting impact on recipients. The process begins with cleaning up your care and handling procedures.

Flowers exposed to bacteria end up with worse than the blues: They die prematurely. Bacteria lurk on the surfaces of buckets, cutters, workbenches, coolers and flower stems, and they can easily build-up in hydration solutions without being visible. Bacteria enter and plug stem ends, reducing water supply to flower blooms.

Stems plunged into hydration solutions that are a “bacterial soup” suffer from dehydration and die. Beautiful blues, pinks, whites, yellows, reds—every color petal imaginable—wind up a toasty brown as cells die of thirst. Dead flowers, buds that fail to open, yellow leaves and vase solutions that stink discourage value-conscious consumers from making subsequent floral purchases. There’s no value in flowers that don’t last.

A survey of eight randomly selected flower retailers (four traditional florists and four supermarket florists) in Gainesville, Fla. on Valentine’s Day 2005 revealed that bacterial contamination of rose flower solutions is still a major problem (see Table 1, right).

With the exception of the bucket solutions of one retailer, which had relatively low bacterial populations, all of the nutrient solutions contained extremely high bacterial levels. These contaminated solutions weren’t fit for flower consumption and eventually led to blocked stems and reduced vase life.

We also noticed a high pH in the vase solutions. Commercial flower-food solutions acidify water to reduce bacterial growth and enhance water uptake in flower stems. The high pH we encountered gave us a clue that our local florists didn’t use flower-food solutions correctly, if at all. No wonder they were swarming with bacteria!

Meet your customers’ needs by selling only clean flowers that last. Commit yourself to maintaining a shop that’s a stickler for cleanliness.

1. Regularly clean the surfaces of all cutting tools, buckets, work tables, counters and coolers. Wash them with a commercial detergent, antibacterial solution or some sort of sterilizing agent, such as a 1:10 bleach:water solution. Guard against passing on infection by washing buckets between batches of flowers.

2. Always use commercial flower foods. They contain tried-and-tested biocides that reduce bacterial accumulation in solutions. Flower stems naturally contain some bacteria on their surfaces. Even if you keep your shop’s equipment and cutting tools sterilized, without properly mixed flower-food solutions to fight naturally occurring bacteria on stems, you’ll negate your other efforts at cleanliness.

Because defeating bacterial accumulation in solution is so vital to flower life, researchers continue to search for even more effective sanitizing agents. Currently we’re studying the potential of a novel biocide, Selectrocide™* (active ingredient: chlorine dioxide), to prevent bacterial stem plugging and extend flower longevity. Preliminary experiments show that adding just 10 parts per million of Selectrocide to vases containing Gainesville, Fla. tap water, 2 percent sucrose, and single stems of Gerberas, stocks, and lilies greatly reduces the number of bacteria that grew in solutions (See Figure 1, below).

Including Selectrocide in vase solutions also extends the longevity of Gerbera and stock flowers by five to six days over blooms held in just tap water and sucrose. We didn’t observe the same effect with lily flowers, which makes us think that this compound might prove particularly useful for flowers with a reputation for introducing bacteria to solutions, like Gerberas and stocks. It could also prove to be especially beneficial for operations where bacterial contamination is a concern. We are conducting further tests in our laboratory at the University of Florida.

Customers want long-lasting flowers. They want value for their dollars spent, and with fresh flowers, one aspect of value is vase life. When flowers last, consumers notice. When you commit to high standards of hygiene in your flower handling practices, you reward customers with products that deliver value.

Positive experiences influence consumers’ future purchase decisions. Will their first choices be flowers?
It all begins by selling blooms that last—flowers that aren’t standing in “bacterial stew” and flowers whose thirst has been quenched. Floral thirst-aid begins with cleanliness. A commitment to cleanliness begins with you.

Andrew Macnish, Ria Leonard, Kate Hughes and Terril Nell are from the University of Florida, Gainesville. This research was funded by the American Floral Endowment.

While every effort was made to provide the most accurate information available, the authors make no guarantees regarding the information contained in this article or the applicability of such information in specific situations. Use of a company or product name does not imply approval or recommendation of the product to the exclusion of others that also might be suitable or that the products are registered for the use as described in this article.

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