By Terril A. Nell, Ph.D., AAF

Research Coordinator at the American Floral Endowment (AFE)

Professor Emeritus of Floriculture at the University of Florida

Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day with gifts of flowers, candy, cards and more, creating the largest retail sales day of the year for florists. In 2023, customers spent an estimated $2.5 billion on flowers for Valentine’s Day. Roses accounted for about 84 percent of those sales, with red roses being chosen most often—69 percent of rose purchases.

Delivering high quality roses—those that open fully and last seven or more days—will lead to satisfied customers who will return again and again to your business throughout the year. Because roses are the most popular flower gifts on Valentine’s Day, it is especially important to focus on proper care and handling practices tailored to these flowers.

red rose

Every retail florist can deliver high quality roses by following this a simple checklist.

1. Buy Properly Treated, Shipped and Handled Roses

Proper care for roses following harvest is vital for flowers to achieve the best performance and longevity. Ask your growers/suppliers these questions:

• Were roses dipped for Botrytis control following harvest? Research sponsored by AFE, the American Floral Endowment, has identified new dipping solutions, including calcium chloride, for Botrytis control (

• Are roses hydrated with a commercial hydration solution following harvest and grading?

• Have roses been treated with an anti-ethylene product? Many rose varieties are ethylene sensitive.

• Were roses precooled or vacuum cooled to 35 F and maintained in a 35 F cooler until boxed?

• Were leaves, flowers and stems free from water prior to boxing?

2. Receive and Process Roses Correctly

Roses need to recover from long shipments from the growers and transport on planes, ships and trucks. Here are some guidelines for processing.

• Don’t delay processing. Unbox the flowers upon arrival and process them promptly. If, for some reason, it is not possible to process the flowers at the time of arrival, place the flower boxes in a 35 F cooler.

• Inspect flowers for diseases and insects.

• Remove plastic sleeves so the rose blooms do not remain in moisture-retaining plastic sleeves.

• Remove leaves and petioles that will be underwater in storage containers. Removal of leaves by hand will be less damaging to the rose stems.

• Remove 1½ to 2 inches of each stem with a clean, sharp knife or flower snips with bypass cutting blades.

• Be sure all stems are cut. Uncut stems cannot absorb enough water needed by the flower to open fully. Current research suggests that underwater stem cutters should not be used.

• Place flowers with freshly cut stems into clean, sanitized storage containers with properly mixed rose-specific flower food solution made with cold water.

• Do not reuse flower food solutions unless recommended by the manufacturer.

• Place processed flowers into a 35 F cooler promptly, and keep them there until design time. Then, immediately place completed arrangements back into a 35 F cooler until delivery time. NOTE: In cold regions, appropriately and adequately wrap rose arrangements to protect them from outdoor temperatures of 32 F or lower, and in warmer climates, deliver rose arrangements in a cool vehicle.

3. Keep Design Areas and Coolers Clean

Don’t overlook sanitation in your care and handling practices. Leaves, stems and other plant debris may contain Botrytis spores.

• Remove plant debris from floors and design tables several times daily.

• Vigorous sweeping may release spores into the air. Consider using a wet/dry vacuum for removal of leaves and petals from the design room and cooler.

• Wipe off design tables with an anti-microbial cleaning solution several times daily.

• Mop floors, including the cooler, with an anti-microbial cleaning solution at the end of each day

4. Provide Care Instructions and Flower Food for Recipients and Customers

• Include flower food packets with each rose arrangement and bouquet sold—as many as required to enable recipients to refill and/or change the vase solution every other day or so.

• Include care instructions with each arrangement and bouquet sold.

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) is the trusted source and catalyst for floriculture advancement through funding innovative research, scholarships, internships and educational grants that best serve the dynamic needs and demographics of all industry sectors. Learn more at