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Amy Balsters

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How To Tell If Your Flowers Are Healthy

It’s almost too basic to be worth a blog post, except… it’s actually not.

Flower quality can be really hard to assess at times. Some floppy, wilty flowers can bounce back after 6-12 hours of hydration, while some flowers can be saved with the right flower food or conditioner, and, on top of that, some flowers look good… until all of a sudden they don’t?

Flower health and quality contribute significantly to the beauty, performance, and customer satisfaction of a design and our work. AKA, flower health is vital to success and profitability.

So how do we know we are using quality flowers, and when we should give our providers a call?

  1. Understand the Inherent Longevity of Your Blooms

Simply put, some varieties simply  last better than others. If you aren’t sure what lasts, look at what most floral retailers often stock their cooler with.  Retailers, unlike event designers, work on speculation instead of purchasing in anticipation of just one (wedding/event) day, and need flowers that perform for 6-12 days and beyond. Alstroemeria, chrysanthemums, and carnations are at the top of the list for longevity, but roses, spray roses, orchids, pods, grasses, and various foliages are also long lasting.

That doesn’t mean novelties like ranunculus, garden roses, and locally grown flowers can’t be long lasting and perform well but may be more fragile depending on the time of year and variety. It’s important to understand each flower’s unique  performance period so checking the wholesaler site for estimated vase life can be helpful. Many florists stagger their flower deliveries of product. For example, roses, lilies, fillers, etc. may come in earlier for an event and more fragile blooms may come in closer to an event date, etc. 

  1. Seasonality and Ecology of Your Blooms

Flowers have a native ecology, climate, and season dependent on where they grow. Artistically, customers find the novel and creative thrilling and intriguing. Through international floral wholesalers, designers can get many blooms, all year round. That doesn’t necessarily mean they should.

While hardy blooms like roses, alstroemeria, and carnations (etc.) have been developed and modified to be year-round, some flowers, genetically, aren’t as dependable.

As an example, tulips are available year-round, but their longevity and beauty (as well as their profitability) will always be best in late winter and spring. 

Some flowers are sensitive to seasonal conditions. Orchids (a tropical flower) are prone to cold-damage more than most blooms (they may reflect damage even before the frost temperatures that kill other flowers). Items like sweet pea, hydrangea, dahlias and astilbe are known to struggle in heat and may not recover from traveling from the farm to you during hot seasons.

Wilted hydrangea. Hydrangea can bounce back from this condition with proper hydration, but this may not be a bloom you want to depend on to last for days or in extremely hot conditions. 

Understanding this aspect of your flowers can help ensure that you only order flowers that arrive healthy and perform well.

3. Flop and Drop

Many (if not all) flowers will be compromised upon receipt. Flowers traveling from around the world or even down the street can face stressful conditions without water, in the boxes in the base of planes, in the backs of trucks, in heat and cold, alllllllll the way to our door. 

One of the most obvious indicators of damaged flowers is floppy heads and dropping, droopy foliage. 

The hard part about floppy, droppy, droopy-ness is that it’s not a deal breaker. These are flowers that have been through it BUT many times they can bounce back. 

From roses, to ranunculus, to hellebore and more, flowers can be rescued with good hydration.

At the end of the day, removing excess foliage (especially any that will fall below the waterline), leave the top two leaves at the top or any flower to support hydration, a fresh cut, two hours in conditioned water, and then a night in a cooler can rescue most flowers from the droopies. Hot water can also be a huge help with very wilted stems. Use hot, (not boiling) water and dip the stems, then place in room temperature water. 

Once the flowers are turgid, stiff, and ideally (but not necessarily) straight, they are more likely going to survive until event day. If the flowers never revive, they need to be replaced or refunded.

4. Mold + Botrytis

Sleeves, packaging, and rubber bands reduce airflow, can cause heat, and encourage excess moisture. As you process your flowers, check them them for mold and botrytis (a fungus often found on roses and other flowers). 

Botrytis on roses and stock.

Mold can cause irreversible damage to your stems, but it’s not a 100% deal-breaker. Moldy spots on leaves can be removed in processing, and (no guarantee) that removal can address the issue before it’s too late. Just in case, I like to run these stems under hot water to clean them off, keep them isolated in different buckets, and only expect a few days’ performance out of them. 

Mold on petals, florets, and at the base of the flower head, however, is typically indicative of a much bigger problem. Now, if it’s wedding-day, I might peel off a bad petal or two, but otherwise these blooms will not survive for long, and it’s time to call your wholesaler. 

5. Yellowing Foliage

Like mold, yellowing foliage isn’t necessarily something worth worrying about. If the delivery day is a day or two away, your bloom will probably hold out, but if you’re hoping it will last for days and days, it might disappoint. 

6. Cold Damage

If a flower freezes, it dies. While winter-hardy plant root systems can survive the cold from October to April, the flowers themselves die back. The same happens to cut flowers. 

Cold damage can be caused by wintry conditions or faulty refrigeration, and can be difficult to detect. These flowers may look healthy upon arrival, but they quickly devolve as they reach room temperature. This can look like browning and “melting.” If your flower has cold damage, you should absolutely get a refund or replacement.

7. The Shake Test

As you handle and process your flowers, you may notice some petals drop. This is typical of a bloom that has traveled and been handled. However, if you flip your flowers over and gently shake them, you may discover a much deeper concern. If the petals continue to fall and coat the floor when you shake it, they are beyond saving. 

8. Bloom Age and Development

Ideally, our blooms arrive in healthy, tight, but ready-to-use condition. Frankly, though, not all blooms arrive this way. We all recognize blown rose heads, but be sure to look for soft rose heads, too. Gently squeeze the base of the head to determine if they are healthy. Good condition roses are stiff and full-feeling. 

It’s also important to check for underdeveloped blooms. Blooming branches, peonies, iris, gladiolas, and lilies are common victims of underdevelopment and may never open. It may take a few days to know if these blooms are going to open, but bloom hardness can be an indicator. Cut them and leave them in warm water to encourage them to open.

As florists, our job extends beyond arranging. So much of the beauty we create depends on flower quality, and our ability to assess that is HUGE for our craft and our bottom-line. Now that you have determined your flowers are good quality, it’s time to process them and design!

Have any other tips or tricks when it comes to flower quality? Hit the comments below and stay tuned for my tips on hydrating flowers!

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