Extending the life of Valentine’s Day flowers

This certainly has been a trying winter. We’ve seen more than two months of often punishing and sometimes dangerous cold, with nighttime temperatures all-too-often falling well-below zero, and daytime temperatures sometimes remaining below zero. The wind, which has for the most part been unrelenting, has made it feel much colder and, on occasion, even made it perilous to be outdoors for any length of time.

February is generally the coldest month of the year; the heart of winter. It’s a time that finds many of us patiently waiting, if not longing for spring. Perhaps that’s why the preferred gift for a cold, wintry Valentine’s Day is a fresh bouquet of colorful, fragrant, cut flowers. What could possibly be more heartwarming?

Valentine’s Day is the day when, more than at any other time of the year, people declare their undying love with cut flowers. More than half of the cut flowers that are given are roses. Most of them are red. And men make the majority of purchases.

An often asked question is, “How can I extend the vase life of my cut flowers?” The answer is, “By following a few very simple steps.’

First, select the bestquality flowers. Flowers that are still in bud will have a longer vase life than flowers already in full bloom. Look for upright, firm petals and buds that are just beginning to open. Avoid yellow, spotted or drooping leaves.

Make sure your flowers are protected from damage when you transport them or when they are delivered. Keep in mind that tender flowers and buds will not tolerate cold for any length of time and can be seriously injured by freezing temperatures.

When you get them home, thoroughly clean the vase that you are going to use with hot, soapy water or a weak bleach solution.

Before placing the flowers in the vase, cut off a portion of each stem while holding the stem in or under warm water. Use a sharp scissors, knife or a razor blade and cut at a 45 angle, being careful not to crush or tear the stem. The angle exposes more surface area than a straight cut, thereby allowing greater water absorption. It also keeps the stem from resting flat, on the bottom of the vase.

Next, gently remove the lower leaves from the stems so none of the foliage will be in the vase water, which will inhibit bacterial and fungal growth. Once these steps have been taken, you will be ready to arrange your flowers in the vase.

Florists use a process called ‘hardening’ when doing this. Hardening is just placing the cut blossoms in hot water (100 110 degrees Fahrenheit), to which cut flower food and preservative have been added, and then placing the arrangement in a cool location until the water becomes room temperature. Using hot water promotes maximum water uptake, which forces the maximum amount of food and preservative into the stems, leaves and flowers.

If a packet of flower food was not included with your flowers, you can make your own by adding 2 or 3 drops of bleach, one quarter teaspoon of vinegar and one or two teaspoons of sugar to a quart of water. Other substitute solutions include using a small amount of mouthwash, or a bit of hydrogen peroxide and a splash of 7-Up or Sprite.

Once the flowers are safely in the vase, they should be kept away from extreme heat or cold. This includes direct sunlight, drafts and hot air from heat sources. They should be kept away from ripening fruit and vegetables, as well. Dead flowers should be quickly removed.

You can maximize the freshness of well cared for cut flowers by allowing them to spend their nights in the coolest room in your home and by changing, or at least topping off, their water daily.

Happy Valentines Day.

Cut flower business facts

According to 2012 data, the most recent available from United States Department of Agriculture’s National Ag Statistics Service, the wholesale value of domestically produced cut flowers for all flower-producing operations with $100,000 or more in sales was $342 million.

The California Cut Flower Commission estimates that there are 40,000 florists and 24,000 supermarket floral departments, as well as numerous kiosks and outlets across the United States. California employs 11,000 people in fresh flower related jobs and dominates the industry with 77 percent of the nation’s total production. According to the Society of American Florists (SAF), Washington State is second with 6 percent of production, while New Jersey and Oregon each account for 4 percent of production. SAF estimates that there are more than 16,000 retail flower shops in the United States and that the annual retail value of all cut flower sales in the United States is in the $7 billion to $8 billion range. SAF information also states that imports comprise about 64% of the fresh flowers sold by dollar volume in the United States, with Columbia accounting for 78 percent of imported fresh flower sales.

If you would like to know more about starting a cut flower business or making cut flowers a part of your horticultural or floricultural enterprise, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 518-483-7403 and ask for information on cut flower production.