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Guarantee your rose quality for Valentine’s Day

Ten years ago, we wrote an article titled ‘The Roses are Screaming, Is Anyone Listening?” The American Floral Endowment funded research at the University of Florida to demonstrate that rose vase life of 8–10-plus days was possible, even on Valentine’s Day. We discovered how easy and simple it is to guarantee vase life, and how quickly one failed step will steal days of flower life.  

Rose1Ethylene reduces opening of ‘Movie Star’ Rose. Flowers on the right were treated with Ethylene while the flowers on the right were not treated.Rose quality has improved in the last 10 years as growers have modified production techniques and incorporated new technology into shipping, storage and retail handling practices.

But there is valuable new information that will benefit growers, wholesalers and retailers.

Consumer research has shown that over half of consumers do not want to spend money on flowers that do not last (Floral Marketing Research Fund). Guaranteed vase life that leads to increased sales is one of the highest priorities of everyone in the floral industry. This Valentine’s Day, you can help roses last by concentrating on the following postharvest requirements.

Believe it! Roses Are Ethylene Sensitive: Ethylene prevents roses from opening and reduces vase life. Scientific studies in the United States, Europe and Japan by seven scientists have repeatedly confirmed that a large percentage of cut rose varieties are ethylene sensitive. And, yet, there seems to be a continued denial in the industry that ethylene harms roses just as it damages and prematurely kills carnations, delphinium and other flowers. While some varieties of roses are not affected by ethylene, most of the cut rose varieties grown today are ethylene-sensitive. Premature petal wilting, reduced vase life and flower opening, and leaf and petal drop occur as a result of ethylene exposure.

Growers can limit and/or prevent ethylene damage by treating roses with anti-ethylene products.

To assure optimal quality and vase life, flower buyers should require all roses to be treated with an ethylene inhibitor.

Roses can not only be damaged by atmospheric ethylene during storage, shipping and display, but also by ethylene produced internally by the rose itself. Treatment to prevent ethylene damage should be a requirement — not an option.

Roses Need Water and Sugar: Water is an important factor for optimizing vase life and getting flowers to open. Water is absorbed and moves up the stem to the petals. As the water moves into each petal cell, the cell is expanded just as a balloon is expanded by air. The movement of water and the expansion of the cells requires energy. Initially, sugar stored in the leaves is used to provide this energy. Once the stored sugar is depleted, sugar must be provided by flower foods or the flower will die prematurely. Commercial flower foods contain sugar and products to lower the solution pH (lowers microbe growth) and accelerate water uptake. Hydration solutions should be used by growers and flower foods by retailers.

Roses should be processed soon after arrival. Boxes should be opened and inspected for insects and diseases.

Then, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches of the stem can be removed with a clean sharp knife (not underwater) and placed into a clean container with properly mixed flower food at retail stores.

Or, with new flower food technology, it is not necessary to re-cut stems. Both types of solutions provide good results provided the flowers and care and handling procedures are consistent shipment to shipment, but retailers choosing the no-cut solution will save money by reducing the time and labor involved in processing.

Keep Roses Cold from Arrival Until Sold: Cold temperatures are a major factor in keeping flowers fresh.

The importance of keeping roses cold (33 - 36 F) on the shipping truck and from the time of arrival at a store or distribution center to the time they are purchased is important.

Allowing the temperature to rise above recommended temperature will reduce vase life. In fact, research has shown that holding flowers at room temperature in retail displays reduces vase life for the consumer. Generally, each day at room temperature shortens vase life by a day.

Even during this busy holiday season, do not ignore the critical three steps to extend vase life:

* prevent ethylene damage

* use of flower food

* maintain of cold temperatures.

Terril Nell is the research coordinator of the American Floral Endowment; endowment.org.