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
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.
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
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.
Disclaimer: 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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