Gardening: Tips on getting the best flowers this Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day along with Mother’s Day are the busiest time of the year for the floral industry. Floral shops are well stocked grocery and big box stores bring in masses of pre-packaged cut flowers. Like most commodities, fresh flower market works on supply and demand meaning that the cost of fresh flowers increases dramatically during these two weeks.

Not all stores bring in the same quality of flowers or take the best care of their products. Think of fresh flowers as produce, you want the freshest available. Look for flowers that are just breaking bud or at the very least still have some flowers in the bud stage. Flowers that are in full bloom might make a great first impression but they die quickly making a bad lasting impression. Freshly cut flowers that have constant access to water should last between one and two weeks.

Florists will sell cut flowers but they specialize in floral arrangements. Flowers in a florist shop are kept in coolers and are only handled by their staff, when they are being conditioned, or put in an arrangement. Reputable florists know how long the flowers have been in the store and throw out them out when they begin to age. Flowers are their business, not a sideline. If florists don’t sell attractive arrangements and healthy flowers they don’t stay in business.

In self-serve displays customers are continually handling the packages of flowers. They take them out of the water, examine them and often drop them back into the bucket without checking to see if the stems are in water. If the level of water is low, or the container is crowded chances are that the stems will be dry until the next person handles them.

All bundles of flowers are wrapped in plastic sheaths that offer some protection protect from damage but constant handling can leave flowers looking bedraggled.

Large box stores and grocery stores bring in cut flowers that are already bundled and ready for sale. These stores count on the flowers to move fast, with very little work involved to keep costs down. Some outlets use inexpensive cut flowers to draw customers into the store.

Examine the flowers before making a purchase.

Roses are not all equal. To grow a long stemmed rose, all side shoots are removed ensuring that all the plants energy to go into a few select flowers. As a result the flowers are larger and cost more to reflect the labour and space used to produce fewer flowers.

When roses are fresh, their calyxes curve upwards towards the petals. As the flower ages, the calyxes turn downwards and the arrangement of petals are looser. Eventually a slight bump will cause the flower to shatter.

Beware of roses where all the flowers are in bud or the buds are hanging downwards. Florists call these “bullets” as the buds will never open.

Lilies are easy to force making them another popular Valentine’s Day flower. They come in many colors with a number of blooms on each stem. The flowers bloom in procession from the top to bottom extending the blooming time up to two weeks. Older flowers can be spotted as the pollen on the stamen will be loose. Word of caution, the pollen will stain fabrics.

Temperature plays a huge difference in how long cut flowers survive. The warmer the air temperature shorter the flower life. Florists will move cut flowers in and out of the cooler to insure the flowers look their best when needed.

In February, flowers should be wrapped before being taken outside into the cold.

When flower stems are not in water the bottom of the stems close allowing the stem to retain as much moisture as possible. When putting cut flowers into water, remove the bottom centimeter or half inch just before they are placed in water. After a few days, remove the stems from the vase, clean the vase, cut the stems and place back into clean water.

Examine all flowers before making a purchase to ensure the blooms will last as long as possible.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden @hotmail.com

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