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Follow these seven steps to assure postharvest rose quality

Successful retail care and handling of roses is a simple process. A few simple steps assure that roses will open and last seven days or more. Each of the steps is critical and should be followed each time flowers are processed. Share these steps with floral personnel — rose quality will improve and customers will return to buy more flowers.

• Purchase wisely. Rose varieties differ in vase life, sensitivity to botrytis, response to ethylene and flower opening. Some varieties will last only seven to eight days or fewer, while others will last 12-15 days with proper care. Of course, vase life will be reduced if roses have been stored for extended periods or shipped at high temperatures.

• Prevent ethylene damage. More than 75 percent of cut rose varieties today are ethylene-sensitive. In a number of trials at the University of Florida, 38 rose varieties were tested and 27 were found to be ethylene-sensitive. Of these 27 varieties, flower opening was reduced in 17 of the varieties. Flowers should be treated with an anti-ethylene treatment following harvest to optimize longevity.

• Recut stems dry and hydrate with commercial flower food. Most roses are more than a week old when received at retail stores. The flowers lose water and use stored sugars during storage and shipping. Rose flowers require water and sugar to open properly. Cutting stems (removing one to two inches) and placing in a commercial flower food accelerates water uptake and minimizes problems with clogging due to microbial activity. Fresh water and clean buckets should be used each time flowers are hydrated. Cutting underwater is not necessary if flower stems are cut and placed directly into a commercial flower food solution. In fact, cutting stems underwater will decrease vase life if the water in the cutter is not changed, or the cutter is not cleaned frequently.

• Hydrate one to three hours in the cooler. Placing flowers in a cooler during hydration helps to re-establish water balance. Cooler temperatures should be 33-37 degrees F for best results.

• Clean and sanitize all working areas and equipment and use clean water and solutions. Water must be absorbed and transported to the leaves and flowers for the flowers to open and achieve maximum vase life. Anything that clogs the stem will limit or prevent water absorption. Dirty water, or water containing high levels of microbes, can clog stems and reduce water uptake. Sanitizing cutters, counters, and buckets prior to use is essential, as the dirt and microbes on these surfaces can contaminate the hydration and vase solutions.

• Keep flowers cold (33-37 degrees). Keep roses in the cooler at 33-37 degrees for display. Research has demonstrated holding flowers in a cooler extends flower life four to five days compared to flowers displayed at room temperature. Storing too long in retail coolers will decrease flower life.

• Always provide flower food to customers. Flower food works. Properly mixed flower food extends rose flower life by two to four days and promotes flower opening. Every flower customer should receive enough flower food to make a quart of flower food solution.

Terril A. Nell is professor emeritus at the University of Florida and a production and post-harvest consultant to the floral industry. He can be contacted at terrilnell@gmail.com.