Amazing Autumn

Hello autumn, season of change. The shift of daylength triggers a magic transformation as leaves change from chlorophyll-saturated greens to rich red and golden hues. Berries, hips, pods, branches, and grasses, turning orange, cobalt, red, and purple, add seasonal flair to bouquets and arrangements. Even the temperature and fragrance of morning air are distinctly different.

Autumn, especially October, has surpassed June as the most popular wedding month in many parts of the country. What are the wedding trendsetters in love with this year? Apparently loose, summer bouquet styles are not so cool by mid-September. Autumn designs trend to be tight, structured, more dome-shaped, featuring (what else?) warm autumn colors. Succulents are still hip in both designs and centerpieces. According to wedding trend watchers, this year’s look for table centerpieces is an array of various containers from silver trophy cups and copper bowls to earthy, lichen-covered wood containers.

Mismatched is in and guests are invited to take the table décor home after the festivities. The Knot, a popular wedding site, encourages brides to use local flowers and plants rather than imported blooms as a way of reducing their carbon footprint. Make sure “locally-grown” is all over your marketing materials, signage, and sleeves because consumers can’t be reminded often enough to think global, buy local.

Every Drink of Dirty Water Should be Prevented

As flower harvests shift to include other botanicals, postharvest solution use shifts a bit as well. The sugar in flower food so important for flower color and longevity is not as important for leaves and grasses. But before looking at solution options, it’s important to stress that regardless of solution used, success is contingent upon a clean start. If a flower drinks polluted water and then is transferred into solution, whatever is inside the stem remains basically unchanged: if bacteria is inside, it stays there regardless of what solution is introduced, one hour later or 24 hours later. Therefore it is extremely important to prevent bacteria moving into stems.

Bacteria, commonly Pseudomonas and Bacillus, can cause severe problems for cut flowers and botanicals, and are almost impossible to kill once inside stems. Bacteria can move up into stems at least four to six inches (10-15 cm), even more in gerbera stems, so cutting off a mere three-quarter inch (2-3 cm) won’t remove it all. The objective is to reduce the bacterial load to a safe level on tools, equipment and buckets.  Bleach is an aggressive biocide, but has no residual power because chlorine breaks down and evaporates quickly. Flower cleaners like Chrysal Cleaner and Floralife DCD are quaternary ammonium-based products with completely different chemistry from chlorine-based products. The major advantage with quat-based cleaners is the persistence of the disinfecting effect’s residual activity. Always scrub both inside and outside of any buckets or vases. Let the cleaner solution sit at least 4-5 minutes in buckets before rinsing to achieve maximum cleaning power, and make sure buckets are dry before stacking. Quat-based cleaners are not corrosive to metal, so spray work tables and dip or spray cutters and choppers frequently to prevent cross contamination.

Best Solutions for Fall Specialties

Chinese lanterns, pumpkins on a stick, grasses, and ornamental foliage usually fare best when the postharvest solution contains no sugar (glucose). Sugar sometimes stimulates leaf yellowing if introduced too early after harvest. Let the consumer or florist introduce sugar (flower food) when processing flowers for sales display or filling vases, and after stems are filled with a super-clean hydration solution. Simple product comparison tests are the best way to decide the best solution—one that not only gives best results, but also fits your production logistics.
I am the technical consultant for a postharvest solutions company, Chrysal. Because our company is international, our consultants travel to farms all over the world, so that our troubleshooting covers many crops and our information pool is extensive. I am not shy about asking for colleagues’ input when a grower has a product issue with which I am not familiar. Doesn’t matter what it is, likely one of our techies has run into the same situation. I recall asking several years ago about zinnias (and marigolds) and was immediately informed that Professional Gerb pills are the trick to prevent stem conk, a bacterial condition which causes xylem tissues to shrivel and stop drawing water.

he same treatment works for Physalis, although tip droop is the issue with lanterns rather than stem collapse. Cotinus and Physocarpus have long been staple bouquet fillers in the Netherlands, so as foliage interest developed in the U.S., I again turned to colleagues for advice on preventing droopy tips. Chrysal OVB with a surfactant (or a few drops per gallon of liquid detergent) is the recommendation to keep these stems turgid to the very tip.

The beauty of fall-fruiting branches, and grasses like wheat and millet, is that they need no special treatment or flower foods. But studies conducted by our U.K. technicians for a large chain found that bucket water exploded with bacteria and pollutants when bouquets included “autumn” items. Tests showed the best pollution control was attained when these non-flowering items were pretreated with Professional Gerb pills to clean pollution from stems before elements were mixed in the bouquet. Because of the volatile nature of chlorine, the pills are a one-time use solution and are active up to three days. The solution basically sanitizes the stems, ridding them of dust and bacteria.

If berried branches are part of your program, avoid exposing them to sources of ethylene gas, which include exhaust from combustion engines, cigarette and barbecue smoke, and rotting green trash. Ethylene is generated from bacterial and botrytis infections as well. Always store sphagnum moss apart from flowers and berries, and empty trash cans regularly. One half-eaten mango stuck on the bottom of a trash can produce sufficient ethylene gas to “poison” an enclosed packing area. Ask Patrick Zweifel. Lunches and food should always be stored apart from flowers and ornamental items. 

Gay Smith

Technical Consulting Manager

Gay Smith is the Technical Consulting Manager for Chrysal USA. Contact her at [email protected]