The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased orders for florists already busy due to Valentine’s Day, raising expectations that this will be one of the industry’s busiest holidays ever.
The Society of American Florists expects it to be “the biggest Valentine’s Day in decades” for flower sales. Normally, with Feb. 14 being a Sunday, couples could celebrate with a weekend getaway or dinner at a special restaurant as other options, but with the pandemic limiting possible celebrations, flowers are predicted to be big.
“Valentine’s Day is our biggest single day of the year for flower sales,” said Scott Edwards, owner of Scott’s Floral in Danville.
George Herrold, co-owner of Graci’s Flowers in Selinsgrove, said there is always a rush in mid-February, but his business has been busy since Mother’s Day last May.
“I feel bad for other businesses that have struggled during this time,” he said. “But since Mother’s Day, we’ve been very busy. People just don’t want to take the risk, and visit their mother or loved one and possibly get them sick.”
Tony Creveling, vice president of Dillon Floral Corporation in Bloomsburg, whose wholesale business supplies roses to floral shops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and New York, said they have imported more than 100,000 stems for this Valentine’s Day. Dillon’s used to grow its roses locally, starting in 1875, but today most long-stemmed roses come from Ecuador or Colombia.
One problem has been limited air travel. Roses are shipped from South America in the bellies of jets, Edwards said, but with so few people flying, planes are having to travel empty to Bogota and then fly back, packed with crates of flowers not only in the cargo hold but also on seats and luggage bins in the main cabin.
It is something of a miracle that roses survive the long trip from South America as well as they do. Timing is tricky, and South American growers trim back their rose bushes right after the Christmas rush to prompt new blooms, according to Edwards. Stems are cut and packed with a substance to take out ethylene, which will ruin the buds.
The roses are rushed to the Bogota airport in refrigerated trucks and onto refrigerated planes, according to Creveling, who partners with farms in Colombia for his wholesale business. The optimal temperature is 34 degrees, which keeps the blooms in hibernation for the trip. In Miami, they are inspected by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and then loaded onto refrigerated trucks for the trip to Bloomsburg and on to florists. Both Scott’s in Danville and Bird Florist in Riverside get much of their stock from Dillon’s.
Creveling said that turn-around time is good. If he places an order on Monday, he gets his shipment by Friday, then distributes it to individual florists. That makes about one week transit time from cut stem to arrival at a flower shop.
When the flowers arrive is when the hard work begins. The first step is to cut off the tip of each stem and put the flower in warm water. It takes about two days in water for the bloom to be ready to sell. Each stem goes through a stem stripper to take off the leaves and thorns, and then a guillotine-type cutter to refresh the stem, which has become clogged by minerals in the water.
Meanwhile, Edwards’ five designers have begun the assembly line. Before the flowers even arrive, they have been making bows. Next, the greens are arranged in vases. Flower food is added to the water for nutrients and also to kill bacteria. Then, the roses are arranged among the greens and the vases set in a cold storage room to await delivery.
Vicki Schneider, at Bird Florist, sells all her Valentine flowers as arrangements as well.
Since roses are so expensive, she often does mixed bouquets, in springlike colors of red, pink and white.
She cautions customers to keep an eye on the water level once they get home and change the water every few days. She also warns them to keep fresh flowers away from a heat source.
Herrold said his shop has additional help on hand and may be bringing some more hands in later this week.
“At Valentine’s Day, there is just so much extra to do. We always have extra help,” he said. “We have extra people out delivering, helping in the back. We might bring in another person to help at the counter.”
With Valentine’s Day on a Sunday, deliveries are scheduled all this week. Hopefully, flower supplies will hold out.
“Eventually you do get to the point where you don’t have the time or you don’t have the flowers to fill out all the orders,” Herrold said. “We’re not there yet.”
“We’ve run out of red roses once or twice in the past,” said Edwards, “but we always have plenty of flowers.” At the end of the week, Scott’s might have to cut off deliveries, but pick-up is always possible. Both Scott’s Floral and Bird Florist will be open on Sunday.
“Men are procrastinators,” Edwards said. “We need to be here.”