By Tom Vail
Manager, Amy’s Orchids – Thailand
People frequently ask about the best ways to care for cut flower tropical orchids. Here are some suggestions.
First, the water tubes we use on the flowers are meant for limited time use. While the flowers usually last more than one week with the water tubes, it is best to remove the water tubes as soon as possible, re-cut the stems, and place in fresh floral nutrient solution. (Actually, the nutrient is of limited value. CLEAN water is the most important factor). Professional floral nutrient solutions contain sugar (the nutrient), but also antibacterial agents (usually a weak organic acid, like vinegar). Bacterial growth in the vase solution is the biggest danger for Thai orchids, and it causes stem blockage and reduces water uptake. This is why we recommend removing the water tubes and placing the flowers in fresh solution. Also, re-cutting the stems helps to remove any blockage (usually from bacterial growth) which may be present. Cool temperature storage also retards bacterial growth.
For wholesalers, it is usually not practical to remove the water tubes. In this case, 1) make sure the stems are IN the water, and 2) storage is cool. Ends of the stems must be in water (obviously) for the flowers to “drink.” Sometimes, the flowers drink fast, and use all of the water in the water tubes. If this happens, it is CRITICAL to re-cut the stem and replace the water. Also, stems might not be inserted fully into the water tube. Another case we have seen is orchid bunches displayed for sale with the water tubes elevated, leaving the end of the stem dry. Whenever the stem ends have become “dry,” they should be re-cut before placing them in water.
Storage temperature for both Wholesalers and Retailers should be around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius). This is not a critical factor, but storage at both warmer and colder storage temperatures can shorten vase life. A closely related factor is humidity. The smallest amounts of condensation on the petals can cause botrytis to develop. This usually starts as pinpoint sized black spots, and can spread rapidly and ruin the flower’s appearance, and dramatically reduce vase life. Allowing moisture (humidity) from outside to flow into cold storage, or moving the flowers from cold to warm and back, can cause condensation on the blooms – even if it is too small to see. Any noticeable condensation, either on the blooms or inside the wrapper, should be dried out as quickly as possible. Fans can help.
In opposition to high humidity and condensation on the blooms, is low humidity and desiccation. In our 15 years of experience, I have only encountered noticeable desiccation in one instance. This was at a small exhibition in Denver. They told me that there was very low humidity, and our flowers wilted dramatically in less than 48 hours. Floral sprays which “seal” the blooms, preventing transpiration, can prolong vaselife in circumstances like this. As a grower, packer and shipper of orchids, we have little experience with this and cannot recommend from direct knowledge. We pack our flowers, leis and garlands in plastic wrappers for shipping. This produces a “micro” environment in which humidity is favorable for the flowers. (But, beware of condensation inside the wrapper. This can be VERY damaging to blooms, and can cause the damage very fast). Wholesalers should keep orchids in the wrappers. For Retailers, the plastic wrapper would probably impede sales or use.
When blooms are on the stems, it is easy for them to hydrate from vase solution. Once placed into an arrangement without the stem and hydration, as in a corsage or a lei, it is more important to protect the bloom from desiccation. Storage in a plastic wrapper or container will help. Use of a floral spray will help. To counter this problem, Amy’s Orchids puts maximum effort into fully hydrating ALL flowers and floral products before shipping. Our loose blooms, leis, garlands, as well as our stems receive a treatment protocol that makes them long lasting in almost any situation. We have had garlands on display for up to one week without significant wilting.
Look for my soon-to-be-published book, How to Make Your Dendrobiums Last Four Weeks! It has more information about care and handling of tropical orchids.
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