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Gayle Smith Care & Handling: August-September 2012

Give Flowers a Leg Up on a Long Life

Written by Gayle Smith
Thirty years have passed and yet I can recall word for word a boss’s instruction about not making the same mistake twice. His volume-punctuated message was simple and to the point: he paid every time my staff made a mistake and if we made the same mistake a second time (pregnant pause), he still paid!

Time is money and efficiency matters. Streamlining costs, evaluating budget expenses, and determining return on investment (ROI) and contribution to the bottom line never ends. When analyzing the line items on your budget, where do you categorize flower processing solutions? Are they an expense or a cheap insurance policy focused on customer satisfaction? Considering  flower solutions maximize longevity (ROI), it’s easy to see a positive correlation between costs, customer satisfaction (ROI) and waste reduction (shrink line item).

But what about the intangible ROI – the positive “blue sky” of customer satisfaction? How much is that worth? Studies prove that vase performance is the number one consideration consumers use to evaluate the value of flower purchases.

The nitty-gritty of quality
One frequently asked question from many florists is whether it makes any difference if blooms drink plain water or flower food. Wholesalers often kvetch that products move through so fast, it doesn’t matter what’s in the bucket. Not true. Every time a stem touches water, it is drinking. If the stems are processed into dirty buckets or dirty water, flow is neither efficient nor effective. If water quality is questionable, flowers suffer. Kiss customer satisfaction goodbye.

Are processing protocols in place at your shop, or best described as adding “a scoop of powder here, a splash of concentrate there?” You will never realize positive results of flower food using haphazard processing techniques. Every product has dosing instructions. Following these guidelines is the difference between maximizing vase life and creating a juice bar for bacteria.

Food for thought
It’s hard to dispute the ROI of a 50 per cent vase life increase from using flower solutions rather than plain tap water. Outside surfaces of stems carry loads of bacteria and they bleed organic juices when cut. All this organic matter results in a bacterial soup – fast! Flower solutions contain clarifiers to check pollution, keeping solution free flowing in stems.

 Flower food also lowers pH levels to dissolve air bubbles blocking flow in the vascular (or plumbing) system. Imagine drinking a chunky milkshake through a straw. Flow stops the second a fruit chunk gets lodged. The same thing happens to flowers when air bubbles or bacteria stop up the “pipes,” impeding flow in the stem. Use pH strips to check pH. Correctly mixed solutions should give a pH level between 3.5 and 5.0.

There’s nothing magical about the longevity provided by flower solutions. Flower solutions change plain tap water into a supercharged energy drink for flowers. The pH is one factor involved, but augmenting the carbohydrate load available to your flowers is also important. Flowers need energy for bloom opening. Flower foods contain glucose for that purpose.

Also, there are other naturally occurring elements in water that are not harmful to humans but can negatively affect flower life. This is especially important if you are on a well or if the water in your area is very hard. For example, high levels of calcium and magnesium result in lime deposits that clog injector systems. A common commercial “fix” for hard water is water softening systems, but softened water is deadly to plants and flowers. Never use it for vase prep or plant watering. Softening flushes tap water through a salt brine, increasing the salinity to a level so high it can kill plants and flowers. Fluoride and chlorine are other common water elements that can cause flower headaches. 

Controlling condensation
No question, there is a direct relationship between temperature and vase life. Flowers die faster when subjected to high temps, but the real issue in our trade is not ambient temperatures; the culprit is condensation that develops every time cold flowers are moved out of the cooler to room temperature. Condensation provides just enough moisture for fungus (Botrytis) spores to germinate. Remember, Botrytis spores are like cold germs: everywhere. To prevent disease, avoid fluctuating temperatures and dripping on blooms. Allow air flow in buckets and never spritz corsages or arrangements with water or finishing sprays without allowing time for everything to dry completely before transferring into the cooler.

It makes sense to give flower food with every purchase and explain how to use it so customers experience maximum satisfaction with every purchase!
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