Understanding how cut flowers hydrate is the cornerstone of providing longer-lasting arrangements and creating happier customers. Here’s what you need to know.

Cut flowers need water – a concept so elementary that it’s easy to file away while you worry about other aspects of maintaining a busy floral business. But when you stop to consider the true impact of proper hydration, you will begin to appreciate how your actions can make a real difference in the beauty and vitality of the flowers you provide to your customers.

It starts by understanding the biology of flower hydration. A flower’s waterway system, or xylem, consists of capillaries that act like straws carrying water and nutrients throughout the flower. Water and nutrients are pulled up the xylem by a process called transpiration: Water evaporates through tiny pores called stomata on the underside of the leaves, creating a natural “pump” that moves water up the stem to the flower. Hydration is basically a balancing act between the water that evaporates from the leaves and the water drawn up the stem. When a flower becomes dehydrated during postharvest shipping, its hydration function needs a jump-start. It takes a flower-food solution, mixed properly and at the right dosage. There’s a lot to consider. So, to help you achieve optimal results, here are six valuable flower care and handling tips.

1. Keep it clean.

Common sense tells us that clean tools, work surfaces and flower storage containers are better than dirty ones. Now there’s research that confirms the conventional wisdom. In fact, a dirty bucket can reduce vase life of cut flowers by as much as 20 percent! Take the time to clean buckets, cutters, surfaces and coolers with a disinfectant developed for the floral industry.

2. Know your varieties.

Flowers come in many cultivars, each varying in color, bloom size, vase life, and even foliage and stem anatomy; therefore, different varieties often vary in their ability to hydrate efficiently. Often, your customers are unaware of these differences and, as a result, purchase varieties that do not perform as they had expected. Complaints, negative social media posts and loss of business can result. The solution? Know your varieties, and educate your customers, as well.

3. Clean the pipes.

Clear, healthy capillaries are necessary to keep flowers properly hydrated. If those “pipes” become blocked, premature death can result. There are several causes of capillary blockage, including microbial growth, air bubbles and waxy compounds exuded from the end of the stems.

When this occurs, merely placing stems in a flower-food solution may not be the optimum treatment because you need to unblock those capillaries. Pour a commercial instant hydrating treatment into a container, about two inches deep. Dip the cut end of your stems in the treatment for one second. This will help open those capillaries, maximize uptake and keep stems flowing freely.

4. The right food, the right amount.

Proper nutrition is essential for the health of flowers. Flower foods are formulated to meet the needs of specific flowers and varieties, helping keep them strong, promote bud opening and prevent conditions such as bent neck.

Equally important as the correct flower food is the correct dosage. Commercial flower foods come in concentrated liquid or powder forms and are mixed with water. Dosage makes a difference! A diluted mix (too little flower food) will not only provide a skimpy meal for the flowers but also insufficiently lower the pH in the solution, resulting in decreased flower life. Too much flower food in the mix is actually toxic to the flowers and will also reduce vase life. Fortunately, there is a ready fix for this situation: Read and follow dosing directions!

5. Mind the thermometer.

Flower opening and vase life are also affected by factors such as the temperature of the water used to make flower-food solution. Warmer water promotes bud opening but also shortens vase life. A chilled solution, however, slows the flowers’ metabolism and promotes longer vase life while still delivering the proper nutrition. As a rule, you should hydrate and feed flowers properly and store them in a cooler at a temperature of 34 F to 38 F, and at 75 percent to 85 percent humidity. Air flow is also important in the cooler, but keep flowers out of direct air currents.

6. Lock in the moisture.

Biology dictates that cut flowers evaporate water from their leaves and draw water up their stems via transpiration. To slow this process and mitigate the flower’s fatigue, use a commercial finishing spray. This will reduce the water loss through transpiration and help extend vase life.

Proper Hydration: The Basic Element of Flower Care

Of course, hydration isn’t the only element of floral success. Other aspects such as sanitation, proper dosing and temperature management are also important. But each of these interact with hydration in important ways that directly affect vase life. Taken together, each makes an important contribution to creating and maintaining an environment for longer-lasting flowers.
The science of proper hydration: Master it, and reap the rewards!

Floralife, a division of Smithers-Oasis Company, is a worldwide leader in postharvest flower care and handling. Inventors of the first cut flower food in 1938, Floralife has developed products to feed, hydrate, nourish and protect cut flowers at every level in the distribution chain. To learn more about cut flower care and handling,
visit floralife.com.