“Looking toward February sales leaves the December red rose market lacking in supply.”

Christmas is a time of year retailers welcome holiday shoppers with inviting displays, merchandised with all sorts of gifts and décor that are perfect to spread holiday cheer. If you were to ask someone in the U.S. what “Christmas” colors are, he or she would most likely tell you red, white and green. Traditionally, these are the colors the majority of people use to decorate their homes, and they are the colors they will most often request when they visit your shop this season.

However, one of the most popular flowers, red roses, is in short supply at this time of year. You might ask why in the world in December – when the color red is in high demand – aren’t red roses readily available in the market? In a word? Valentine’s.

Timing Is Everything

So, what does Valentine’s Day have to do with roses in December? The rose flower business, from grower to retailer, revolves around Valentine’s Day. In order to produce the stems needed for the Valentine’s Day surge, rose plants must be “pinched” or pruned back so that the roses can sprout new growth and increase their yield. Growers carefully prune away the last cycle’s stems. This elimination causes new buds to push at the base so that healthy new stems can form.

In fact, one pruned stem can clear the way for up to 2.5 fresh ones, on average, which means adequate supply for Valentine’s Day needs. When does this “pinch” need to happen in order to deliver roses on time for Valentine’s Day? You guessed it – the end of November; therefore, red roses are scarce during December but plentiful for the Valentine’s Day shipping period that begins at the end of January/beginning of February.

More than 90 percent of roses sold in the U.S. originate in Colombia and Ecuador, where the growth cycle is 75 to 85 days (cycles differ in other growing regions around the world). This growing cycle affects the types and colors of roses available in the U.S. the rest of the year, with the biggest impact being the lack of red roses during the Christmas season.

Can’t They Just Plant More?

Knowing they have to pinch the roses in late November for Valentine’s Day, why don’t growers just plant and program production for December? The answer is that the growing cycle continues throughout the year, and so you have waves of “pinches” and “flushes” (or harvest periods).

Although Valentine’s Day is the focal point of the production calendar, following these cycles, growers also have periods throughout the year when they have a harvest ready and no holidays to move product. The balance between supply and demand is a delicate one.

As for demand, the biggest floral powers set the tone, just like in any other business. Large supermarket chains have contracts with growers that clearly spell out the massive volume of roses they will buy and what they will pay during the Valentine’s season. These terms and conditions are set a year or more in advance. Meanwhile, wholesale florists typically have standing orders with growers or bouquet operations, where they also commit to taking a certain volume of flowers each year. They also agree on the amount of extra volume they can purchase and the price. The idea is to create a sense of price and supply stability in the market. Those who fail to plan may find themselves in a panic-buying situation where they are charged whatever the market will bear – if they can find any extra product on the market.

What will the market bear this Valentine’s Day? Growers will have spent 80 profitless days coaxing vast greenhouses of bare pruned rose bushes into (hopefully) profitable fruition, And they will have to hire an army of workers – at double, triple and even quadruple their typical payroll – to harvest, grade and pack the stems. They will use additional warehouse space, trucks and even chartered airplanes, if necessary, to get their highly perishable products to market in time. After all of this effort and expense, it’s understandable that they want to balance supply and demand to achieve the best return.

So, the next time a holiday customer speaks out of frustration at your lack of red roses for Christmas, take the time to educate him or her about this little-known reality of our industry.

Holiday Tradition

Now that you’re in the know about why red roses are hard to come by in December, you can creatively help your customers find solutions to add traditional colors to their floral designs. Mixing traditional color containers, hard goods and seasonal elements with nontraditional colors can transform the product that is available into splendid holiday décor!

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.