Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BUYING, CARE AND CONDITIONING AND STORAGE OF FRESH PLANT MATERIAL

BUYING

All flowers purchased should be in a first-class condition and as fresh as possible. There are many ways of sourcing flower material nowadays and it is a good idea for the florist to deal at least four suppliers, as this gives the opportunity for choice. If one supplier can't get a particular order others may be able to. It is important to have a local grower if possible amongst the suppliers - invaluable when the shop is running short of material. It is very difficult to predict sales on a daily basis.
  It is ideal if the florist can go to a market regularly, as there is the flexibility if being able to choose and also negotiate the price. Alternatively it is possible to get to know the wholesalers from whom flowers can be purchased by telephone and sent by parcel rail, but it is not a good idea doing this if the wholesaler is not known to the florist as poor-quality flowers may often be included.
  Some florists would say there is more choice buying from wholesalers who will call at the shop on a reqular basis. It is all a question of what suits the individual. There are many suppliers who travel to Holland two or three times a week from the UK. They have regular clientele and will take orders before they buy.
  Some wholesalers are locally based and buy in from many sources, ordering direkt from the Dutch markets, Guernsey flowers or Carmel, to name a few. There are quite a number of markets across Great Britain. New Covent Garden being the biggest. They then distribute the flowers to their customer on a regular basis. Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of English growers and the quality is excellent.
  The Dutch flower markets not only sell Dutch -grown flowers but source from all over the world: Israel, Colombia, Italy, South Africa, Spain and the UK. So there is a vast choice of flower and plant material. All florists make sure they visit the Dutch flower auctions and see the magnificent array of flowers available. Buying flowers is a skill which is acquired through experience, but some fundamental knowledge is essential. Flowers  are mostly sold in bunches of 5, 10, 20 or 25 or by weight and they are graded according to EU standards. The bunching and grading will vary depending on the type, stem length, colour and number and size of the flower heads per stem, but generally quantities within a flower type are standard in all wholesale outlets.
  The following list gives the usual number of stems per bunch or the way sold for some of the more popular flower varieties available commercially:


  •    Roses ( standard)  - 20 pcs per bunch
  •    Roses ( spray ) - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Carnations (standard ) - 20 or 25 pcs per bunch
  •    Carnations ( spray ) - 5 or 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Gerbera ( standard ) - 50 pcs per box
  •    Mini Gerbera - 50 pcs per box
  •    Gladioli - 5 or 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Lilies - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Freesias ( mixed ) - 5 or 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Tulips - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Bouvardia - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Alstromeria - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Anemones - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Chrysanthemum ( standard ) - 5 pcs per bunch
  •    Chrysanthemum ( spray ) - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Daffodils - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Irises - 10 pcs per bunch
  •    Cymbidium - per bloom or per stem
  •    Phalaenopsis - per stem
  •    Dendrobium - 5 in a packet
  •    Solidago - 5 in a bunch
  •    Liaris - 10 in a bunch
  •    Gypsophila - bunches of about 5 stems ( always sold by weight )
  The cost depends on the availability and demand worldwide. Various booklets give information on this. Many flowers are on the market  the whole year round nowadays, as they are grown all over the world, enabling us to purchase flowers which were only available seasonally in the past.
   It is unusual for any commercial cut flowers or foliage to be sold without some form of protective wrapping. The most widely used is clear cellophane paper, usually as protective 'sleeve' which safeguards  the flower heads from damage. For certain types of flowers such as roses there is also a protective inner wrapping of corrugated  paper to avoid bruising and to prevent the flowers from opening too soon. Anemones are completely covered with dark tissue to stop the flower developing.
   It is a good idea to keep the protective wraps on the flowers until they can be properly conditioned but note that if the weather is hot or the flowers are exposed to direct sunlight, condensation can occur on the inside of the wraps and discolour or mark the flowers.
  When removing the wrapping, always cut the paper free rather than pulling it down the stems, This will avoid snapping off any flower heads which catch or snag against the plastic. Lilies and spray chrysanthemums are particularly prone to this.

  Nowadays the aqua-pack is commonly used by growers and wholesalers. This is a packaging method whereby the flowers are packed in bunches, often wrapped in cellophane and placed in a bucket containing a small amount of water, which is then packed into an upright box. Although in water, the flowers will still need to be unpacked on arrival at the shop and conditioned correctly according to their specific requirements. It is not enough just to put them in the cold store as they are.  There are certain basic points and procedures to follow when receiving flowers into the shop:

  • The flowers should appear firm and have good colour in the petals.
  • Look for any broken or damaged heads.
  • Look for any discoloration or petals dropping. This indicates disease or it could be that the flowers are old.
  • The leaves on the stem should be green and not show any yellowing.
  • Look for signs on the bottom of the stems of yellowing or smell. These indicate that the flowers have been stored for some time.
  • The calyx should be green and firm; yellowing on the calyx means that the flowers are old.
  • Brown or yellow marks on the calyx indicate that the flowers are old.
During warm humid weather flowers tend to sweat and overheat, leading to botrytis forming amongst the petals. This is particularly evident in roses which are closely packed. Apparently good-quality flowers may well have damaged petals so always check carefully after opening the pack.
  • Flowers such as lilies, spray carnations and bulbs should have some colour showing in the buds; if they are too green they will not develop. On the other hand, if they are too open they will have a much shorter vase life.
  • Look for strong, straight stems. Cheaper carnations often have very weak stems.
  • Sometimes during very cold weather flowers suffer from the effects of the cold temperature during transit, and this may not be obvious at first. If they do not recover after conditioning, then they should be returned and credit given. Most suppliers have a code to follow whereby the florist should inform them within a certain time if the purchase is not up to standard.
  • If carnation petals are shrivelled and marked at the edges, this indicates ethylene gas damage and the flowers will not open. 
 TIP  
  If using lilies in wedding work, think ahead and buy in a week before they are required, as they are always sold very tightly in bud and must open to give maximum impact.

When purchasing foliage similar rules apply. Never buy foliage which has smelly stems or yellowing, damaged leaves. Old foliage will usually have yellowing lower leaves and the leaves at the top will be curled at the edges.
 These are only a few of the basic guidelines when purchasing flowers and foliage. There are many points to look for which are peculiar to individual varieties, but this knowledge will come with experience of handling  a wide range of material.
A golden rule is that if in doubt, don't accept the purchase. Quality is the most important factor when purchasing flowers. Bad buying can ruin a business, as can a reputation for selling old flowers.

CARE AND CONDITIONING

 All fresh materials need some initial conditioning treatment before being used in floristry work. Conditioning is essential for commercially purchased as well as locally harvested materials.
 The main reason for carrying out this work is to ensure that the cut materials are able to absorb as much water as possible through the stem prior to use. As soon as  a stem is cut from the parent plant, the cut surface begins to dry, forming a seal to prevent the loss of  valuable water. The existing moisture within the stem continues to be lost through the remaining surface area of the flower or leaf, and if no available replacement is absorbed from the base, the flower quickly becomes dehydrated and wilts.
  This process cannot be avoided when harvesting flowers but can easily be corrected provided the flower does not dry out for too long a period. There is a point at which serious damage can be caused to the internal cell structure due to total water loss and even with subsequent treatment the flower will not revive. Therefore, as a general  rule of conditioning, all cut plant material should be placed in water as soon as possible after it has been harvested. Some plants have a greater resistance to wilting than others due to the greater amount of stored water in their leaves or flowers. Materials which have thicker freshy leaves and petals such as tulips and orchids are better able to withstand prolonged water loss than flowers with thinner papery petals like roses or lisianthus.
  It is important to minimise the rate of bacterial growth in the water, which is caused by decomposing plant material and results in the water turning green. This in turn reduces the amount of water the flower is able to absorb through the stem and shortens its vase life. Flower food is useful in dealing with this problem and should always be used. One of its main ingredients is an antibacterial agent, which keeps the water clean and by preventing bacterial growth and providing soluble nutrients can almost double a flower's vase life. Buckets and vases used for storing or displaying cut flowers should always be cleaned regularly with hot water and bleach to prevent a build-up of sediment and bacteria. The water should be changed every few days in any long-term displays or storage.
   Another  result of plant decomposition is the production of ethylene gas. It is odourless, and even relatively  small amounts of it can dramatically shorten the life of a flower. Some species of flower are more susceptible to it then others, in particular roses and carnations. Ethylene causes limpness and general wilting in flowers which are otherwise well conditioned. Stored fruit also produces ethylene and even a bowl of fruit near a vase of flowers can make a considerable difference to its life. Good ventilation to disperse the gas is thus necessary. This is particularly important when flowers are stored commercially for a period of time in either a cool room or a cool store.
  Water temperature can affect the way some flowers respond to conditioning. Ice cold water is not recommended. Room temperature is the general rule, although lukewarm water will aid water uptake because it contains less air than cold water.
  Before discussing specific conditioning methods, it is worth giving a checklist of easy commonsense things to do to ensure the freshness and longevity of cut material.

  • Before placing a stem in water, always re-cut the end at an angle with a sharp knife to remove damaged and dry cells.
  • Remove any leaves  which would be submerged and foul the water. With very leafy materials it is a good idea to remove some of the existing foliage to reduce water loss.
  • Add flower food to the water.
  • Stand buckets of flowers or leaves in a cool, shaded place to allow the flower to drink for at least two or three hours before use. Some material will need even longer.
  • Do not overcrowd buckets or storage vases with material. Allow enough space for air to circulate between the stems and blooms.
  • Whenever possible, stand flowers in tepid or room temperature water. Tepid water will also hasten bud opening, which is particularly useful during the winter months when many commercial flowers are in tight bud.
  • Always choose flowers just before their peak of maturity. These will continue to develop after cutting remain in better condition than a flower which has reached or passed full maturity.  
CONDITIONING FLOWERS
   The method of conditioning a plant depend on its stem structure: soft, hard, hollow or woody. Each type requires different treatment. Many bulb flowers such as tulips, irises and nerines have soft, frehly stems, whilst harder stems range in thickness from those of carnations and roses to the large woody branches of lilac and protea. Many of the co-called summer garden flowers like lupins and delphiniums have hollow stems, whilst bleeding stems or those which exude large amounts of sap when cut include euphorbia, poppies and daffodils.

Woody stems:  A great deal of woody-stemmed material is now commercially available. Shrubby flowers such as forsythia, prunus, viburnum and lilac are grown to provide early blossom. This type of branching material is extremely useful for large displays or as a distinctive or unusual addition to the more familiar florists' flowers.
 The stems of these flowers are well generally hard, woody branches, which can have difficulty in absorbing water. Previously it was widely held that the base of the stems should be crushed with a hammer; however, this idea has now been challenged. Although the basic principle of splitting the stem is correct, excessive crushing can cause more harm than good, as crushed stems are  not able to absorb water and so when submerged quickly begin to decompose. It is now thought to be more effective if the stem is split with a knife. A  cross-cut of about 3.5 cm in depth at the base of the stem is sufficient.
  Another problem associated with certain types of shrubbery flowers is wilting foliage. Even with correct conditioning  the foliage will still wilt whilst the flowers remain firm. Possibly this is because the combined demands for water from both the flowers and the leaves is too much for the cut branch to sustain. This is particularly noticeable with  lilac and prunus. Removal of some or all of the foliage
not only allows the blossoms to receive more water but also enables them to be seen to much greater advantage.
Hollow Stems: Many of the so-called old-fashioned or garden flowers such as delphiniums and lupins have hollow stems. Most of these have the taller spiked shape which is so useful for adding height to a design.
  As soon as the stem is cut from the parent plant, air enters the open stem and is trapped inside when the stem is placed in water. As the flower tries to absorb the water, the air is forced up the stem until it reaches a point at which it connot escape, usually just below the neck of the flower, and thus effectively reduces or blocks the water to the bottom.
  This can be prevented by holding the flower upside down and carefully filling the stem with water, which forces out the air. Then place your thumb over the end of the flower and put it in a bucket of water to drink normally.
  When the flowers have to be taken out of water before arranging, a plug of cotton wool or tissue paper is also useful to prevent air from entering the stem again. Another popular remedy is to pass a fine pin through the stem just below the flower to allow the air to escape.
Bleeding stems: A few types of flower and plant material lose a great deal of stem sap when cut. In some insances this loss is so acute that liquid drips from the end of the stem almost as soon as it is cut. This continues until the cut surface dries and forms a natural callus, by which time the flower will have lost valuable moisture. Unfortunate side effects of this problem are that in many cases the sap is poisonous to other flowers sharing the same water and the sap can also cause severe irritation on the handler's unprotected skin.
 The treatment for this problem is perhaps the most dramatic form of conditioning. The base of the stem is passed through a flame (match or candle) for a few seconds to seal or cauterise the wound. This stops the flow of sap but does not prevent the flower from drinking. The flower then can be replaced in water as with normal conditioning and safely mixed with other flowers. If the stem is cut again prior to arranging, the process will have to be repeated.              Boiling water can be used as an alternative to a flame to eal the ends of stems. Place just the tips of the stalks in the water for a few seconds and take care to protect the flowers and foliage from the steam.
 When picking and conditioning flowers of this type it is a good idea to wear  protective rubber gloves and to avoid any contact with the mouth or eyes. Many types of plant sap can cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes, itching, blistering and burn- like symptoms. People have different physical reactions to various plants and flowers but particular care should be taken when handling any plant material which bleeds a white milky latex sap, which is common in most types of euphorbia. The helleborus group also has  an especially irritating sap, which causes a burning sensation.
  Daffodils and narcissi, although hollow-stemmed,  are best treated in this group of flowers, as when cut they exude a clear sticky sap that can poison other flowers if they are mixed with them immediately after picking. Because of their very soft stem structure, they cannot be burnt to seal the stem ends. The most effective treatment is to stand them in water on their own immediately after cutting to allow the flow of sap to stop. After a couple of hours they can be mixed and arranged with other flowers.
SOME SPECIFIC CONDITIONING TECHNIQUES

Gerbera: This often arrives from market very limp. Stems should be cut and placed in water, and the flower heads can be supported by either chicken wire or the packing material from the box in which they were purchased. This will straighten the stems.
Bouvardia: Sometimes this does not take water easily and needs frequent re-cutting of the stem and removal of most foliage. The addition of flower food will encourage water uptake.
Carnations: Always cut the stem between the nodes, as the stem will not take water if cut on the note. Keep away from any damaged flower or fruit, as carnations are very sensitive to ethylene gas.
Euphorbia: Seal the bleeding stems by passing through a flame or dipping the ends into boiling water for a few seconds. Then place into cool water. Remove the foliage as this tends to droop very easily.
Irises: Remove the white stem as the base as this does not take up water easily. Cut stems frequently.
Lilac: Remove all foliage and soften the woody stem by dipping the end in boiling water before placing in cool water.
Lilies: Handle very carefully as the flowers are very susceptible to bruising. They can be held in cold store to slow down the maturing process.
Lily of valley: Forced lily of the valley (convilaria) is sold on the root and may be stored thus up to two weeks in cool conditions. When roots are cut, the flowers should be placed in water immediately.
Ranunculus: If they are limp, cut the stems, wrap tightly in tissue or waxed paper tightly and place in water.
Roses: Remove lower leaves carefully and de-thorn without damaging the bark. Wrap tightly in tissue, cut the stems and place in cool water. If the head is wilted and bent, re-cut the stem and place it in boiling water for a few seconds ( this encourages the flow of water ) and then place in cool water.
Stocks: This flower will last well if the water is changed daily and flower food added. Remove all the lower foliage and the white root.
Violets: These flowers are sold dry-packed in bunches in boxes. They should be cut and immersed in a bowl of water for a few hours. On display they should be sprayed regularly.
CONDITIONING FOLIAGE
Conditioning of foliage often consists of no more than re-cutting the base of the stems and standing in water. With a little extra care, however, leaves and foliage can be prepared so as to extend their vase life quite considerably. 
 Commercially grown foliage tends to be evergreen or at least quite hardy and tough species. It is this quality which has made them so popular, requiring as they do so little in the way of specialised treatment. The main necessity upon delivery is to re-cut the base of the stems, loosen the bunches to allow air through the foliage, remove any foliage which may be below the water level and stand loosely in buckets of shallow water. It is only some of the more unusual garden types of leaves which need particular methods of treatment.
  Wherever possible, choose mature foliage, as it responds much better to being used in an arrangement than very soft young growth. However some leaves, such as lime and birch, are particularly beautiful in their juvenile stage. To ensure these young leaves last when used in a mixed display, they should be allowed to drink and harden up for a couple of days before use. Any problems or wilting will become apparent before they are put in an arrangement, Young individual leaves can be conditioned in this way too, in particular hosta, bergenia and ivy. Any foliage, especially young leaves, should be placed in water as soon as possible after being picked. If allowed to dehydrate for too long, they might not recover at all.
 Some leaves benefit from being completely submerged for one or two hours before use or normal conditioning. Again, larger leaves such as hosta and bergenia respond to this treatment but should not be left under water for too long. The leaf surface of very soft or young foliage will become transparent if left too long. Ideally water should be at room temperature, as if it too cold, discoloration will  result.
  Foliage which has a grelysh 'bloom' over the leaf surface like Hosta sieboldiana or grey or silver leaves such as senecio or stachys should not be submerged at any time. This removes or damages the coloration.
 As with all conditioning treatments, the water and containers used for storing should be as clean as possible. Flower food can be used to prolong foliage but it is really only the antibacterial agents in the solution rather than the plants nutrients which will have any effect. A cheaper alternative is to add drops of bleach to the water to keep it clean.

USE OF COLD STORE AND STOCK ROTATION
 It is very important to ensure a good method of stock rotation. Flowers on display in the shop should be checked daily to ensure they are at their very best, as well as flowers being used for make-up work. The flowers on display should be placed away from draughts, sunlight and areas where they may be knocked or damaged. The containers used for flowers must be absolutely clean to avoid a build-up of bacteria which will cause decay and in turn damage the flowers. It should be emphasised
that the water should be changed daily and commercial flower food added.
 A cold store enables the florist to buy in bulk  and prepare work ahead. A big advantage in having a cold store is that work may be made in advance and stored. This is very useful when there is more than one wedding at a time. It must be stressed that the cold store should be maintained correctly in order to maximum benefit from it.

  • The store should be absolutely clean. Any dirt will cause a build-up of bacteria and botrytis will develop. Botrytis is a fungus which grows on flowers and is usually visible by the appearance of yellowing leaves or bron spots on buds or petals. Carnations often have evidence of botrytis on the calux, which appears yellow; roses are also very susceptible and so great care should be taken when buying, particularly during the summer months when the warm air temperature combines with high humidity to create the conditions in which botrytis will thrive.
  • The store should be well ventilated and the flowers circulate. This will allow the water produced by transpiration to evaporate.
  • Old decaying flowers should not be kept in a cold store. One forgotten bucket in the corner can do a lot of damage.
  • The temperature should be checked regularly to ensure there are no drastic changes. It is a good idea to have a thermometer which is easily visible. The recommended temperature for most flowers is around 3-5 C.
  • Do not keep flowers in the cold store  for too long. Old flowers may look fresh when taken out from the cold store but on meeting warmer air will deteriorate very quickly.
 Some tropical flowers do not respond well to the usual treatment of a spell in a cool room or chiller. In their natural environment they are accustomed to a high temperature humidity, and even a few hours in a cooler can result in dicoloration and blackening of the petals, limpness and dehydration. Many of these flowers arrive with a small vial of water attached to the base of the stem. This should be removed, the stem re-cut and the flower stood in shallow water with some flower food added. The stored flowers should then be kept at a steady room temperature away from direct sunlight, heat sources and draughts. Occasional misting will help to  maintain the humidity around the flowers. This should be done lightly so that excessive moisture droplets do not stain or mark the flowers.
It is a good idea to keep flowers such as roses in the cold store and have just small selection on display. The heads of correctly conditioned roses should be wrapped in paper to delay development. Roses should not be displayed in the shop by day and put back into cold store at night as constant temperature change causes the rose to blow very quickly.
 Any flowers which have matured in the shop display should be removed and used for funeral work. This does not mean old flowers but flowers which have opened fully and are not suitable for cut flowers sales.
 Finally there should be recognised code of practice within the shop routine to ensure good stock rotation. The reputation of the business is dependent on good-quality flowers which are long lasting and give value for money.





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