Grading and Packaging of Quality Grade Cut Flowers for Export
Authors: Dr. Anitha Pedapati

The post harvest behavior of flowers is an outcome of the physiological processes, occurring in leaves, stem and flower bud. The nature and extent of post harvest damage in cut flowers is typical for each crop and/or cultivar. The post harvest losses become important especially when dealing with the export of fresh flowers to distant and foreign market. Standard Grades are offered as a help to growers who want to improve the marketability of their merchandise. Grading standards help to eliminate the human element in grading by providing an inflexible standard. The aim of all grading should be to make the product easier to sell at all levels. The Netherlands is the biggest exporter of cut flowers, with a total value of € 2.9 billion exported mainly to the European market. The Netherland (52%) has dominated the flower industry for many years; Colombia (15%) is the world's second largest exporter of cut flowers. The country has favorable economic factors that aid in the industry's growth. Colombia offers cheap labor, land, production costs and it has an ideal flower-growing climate. The industry has become a major source of employment for low skilled labor and for women. Colombia exports 95% of its production. Three out of every four flowers sold in the United States come from Colombia. The big seasons for flowers are Easter, Valentine's Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Mother's Day.

Quality standards of cut flowers

The cut flowers quality standards mainly depends on shape and size of the flower bud, turgidity or freshness, vase life or keeping quality, stem length, stem strength, condition of calyx, colour, fragrance, development and condition of foliage, foliage free from dust and spray residues, absence of insect/diseases, free from physical defects. Quality depends on the systems of pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest.

Pre-harvest: The condition under which the flowers are grown.

Harvest: Time of harvest, bud development at harvest stage, flower spike should be clean, turgid flower, free from other physical defects, flowers of good quality.

Post-harvest: Cutting equipments should be clean and sharp, collection buckets clean, conditioning and hardening of flowers, pulsing of flowers, grading, precooling, flowers should not be packed wet

Different grading systems

There are no uniform standards laid down for flower grading which varies from country to country and sometimes from grower to grower. It is better to keep colours separate, both in bunches and containers. The cut flowers along with their attached stems must be free from disease and pests. Each flower/bunch in a pack should be uniform in weight. The cut flowers are graded as Extra class, First class and Second class based on quality.

Functions and requirements of packaging:

The major objective of the cut flowers packing is to increase the sales and profit of a product. The Functions and requirements of packaging are as follows.

  1. To protect the flowers against physical or chemical damage during storage and distribution.
  2. To make the product distinguished, competitive and attractive.
  3. To present the product in good hygiene and attraction.
  4. To provide minimum inconvenience and maximum satisfaction to ultimate user.
  5. It should save time, labour, space while handling, storage of carriage of the flowers
  1. It should help in selling of the product
  2. It should be economical

Requirements of packaging systems

1. Inertness: Compatibility with the product to maintain it in a satisfactory state during storage and transit until it reaches to a retailer

2. Fitness for consumption: To provide product security during storage and transit

3. Environmental protection: it should able to provide environmental protection against the high risk of adverse interchange with gases

4. Mechanical protection: Against handling and transit hazards

5. Cost: Economical and available in commercial market

6. Decorative: It should be attractive provide adequate surface for identification of the product

7. It should help in selling the product i.e. it should give description, introduction

8. Bulk density: It should give idea about weight, volume, and number

9. It should be bad conductor of heat

Different packing materials

Two sizes of boxes used for shipping flowers, a "coffin" and "half-coffin".

  • Large box is mainly used for bulk wholesale and export consignments. The small box is exactly half the size of the large box, being 20cm tall x 38cm wide x 95cm long.
  • Small box is used for all retail sales, plus some wholesale and export flowers.
  • Flexible dry ice packs and an insulated liner are integrated into the packaging. The liner with the ice packs ensures the flowers stay cool. All retail consignments include ice packs and insulated liners.
  • Generally each bundle individually wrapped using paper, paper board, polypropelene or polyethylene tissue paper or combination of these materials
  • Protective cushioning, elastic tape or other fastening devices, wooden or paper board cross bars, nails or stapples are used
  • Containers for cut flowers are often long and narrow, of full telescopic design with vents at both ends to facilitate forced-air cooling. The total vent area should be 5% of the total box surface area. A closable flap can help maintain cool temperatures if boxes are temporarily delayed in transport or storage in an uncontrolled temperature environment. Porto: Innovative packaging for cut flowers, this is the best way to transport flowers in water. The Porto system comprises a plastic container with a lid, which has a hole surrounded by gripping fingers that hold the flower stems in place, and an anti-spill rim. The Porto is filled with a medium that absorbs and retains water so it can be sucked up by the stems in contact with the medium.
Aqua pack: Even carton falls down, chances of spilt over of preservative water in Aqua Pack is very slim. Hydrated flowers are packed into Aqua Pack Carton

Grading and packaging of different cut flowers

  1. Rose: The flowers are graded based on lengths of stems. Cut roses are classified into three glasses as defined below
Grade Standard Spray
Extra Class 70-80 cm 60 cm
Class I 60-70 cm 50 cm
Class II 50-60 cm 40 cm

ECE standards for fresh cut roses

Code Length
5 5-10 cm
10 10-15 cm
15 15-20 cm
20 20-30 cm
30 30-40 cm
40 40-50 cm
50 50-60 cm
60 60-80 cm
80 80-100 cm
100 100-120 cm
120 More than 120 cm
Packaging: Imported roses are often traded in cardboard boxes. The quantity of roses traded in these boxes is increasing to reduce costs. Roses are often shipped without plastic sleeves to avoid build-up of humidity. After arrival, the roses are often unpacked and repacked at the auction or by specialized importers. They are usually put into plastic flower containers (buckets) and supplied to the auction in the Netherlands or redistributed to an exporting wholesaler. The Dutch flower auction recently piloted the auctioning of roses without unpacking them from the cardboard boxes, which increases the efficiency of the logistics process. Except Rosa floribunda, remaining all roses must be supplied in bunches of 10 or 20 stems; Rosa floribunda must be supplied in bunches of 5 or 10 stems be packed in foil per container

  1. Gerbera
The Gerbera should be graded according to:

  • Stem length, graded in classes of 5 cm. In departure from the General Specification for cut flowers, no maximum length difference applies to those supplied in boxes.
  • Flower diameter, where the diameter is measured along the widest side of a flat flower.
  • Maturity.
Gerbera with a stem length of 40 cm and 45 cm can be packed in interior boxes. Stem length of less than 40 cm may not be packed in interior boxes. These should be supplied in bunches that are standing in water. If Gerbera are supplied in water, these should be bunched as follows:

  • Gerbera large bloomed: 10 stems per bunch
  • Gerbera mini: 20 stems per bunch

FlowerRacket: FlowerRacket is a packing which combines a longer life in the vase with a reduced number of gerbera's per packing, a great advantage for shopkeepers. Gerbera's live longer due to the fact that in the FlowerRacket they are transported on water from the grower to the consumer instead of in a dry box. Only a selected group of quality growers from the Netherlands are allowed to pack gerbera's and minigerbera's in the FlowerRacket.This provides longer life due to transport on water attractive mix per bucket or order small amounts per type easy in transport sell it directly to the consumer. The following packings are available

1. MiniFlowerRacket: content eight FlowerRacket x 10 minigerbera

2. FlowerRacket: content four FlowerRacket x 10 gerbera

Master box

- 12 boxes Gerbera

- 18 boxes Mini Gerbera.

Minimum order - ½ masterbox (40”x 24”x 13”).

  1. Orchids: There is no standard grade for orchids, Grading is based on length of the flower spike, number of opened flowers and buds US standards of grading orchids
Grade Number of flowers Number of buds












  • When harvesting Orchids pack immediately in the final packing material in order to minimize the risk of damage. The flowers are transported from the greenhouse to the packing area by a monorail system in which the stems hang, further minimizing the risk of damaging the flower.
  • The Cymbidium stems and Phalaenopsis orchid stems are picked from the farm house and kept in cardboard boxes and taken to the packing room where they are cleaned and graded color wise and size and quality wise.
  • The Cymbidium stems and Phalaenopsis orchid stems are picked from the farm house and kept in cardboard boxes and taken to the packing room where they are cleaned and graded color wise and size and quality wise.
  • These are then transferred to a plain printed carton with each carton carrying around 5-10 flower stems. These are kept in a cold store where the temperatures are maintained at around 8-12 oC for cymbidiums and 12-15oC for Phalaenopsis.
  1. Anthuriums US standards of grading Anthuriums
SN Grade Average length and width of spathe (cm)
1 Miniature Under 7.5
2 Small 7.5 to 10.0
3 Medium 10.0 to 12.5
4 Large 12.5 to 15.0
5 Extra Over 15.00
Anthurium grades and packs

Grade Stems/box
Extra large 12
Large 6
Medium 16
Small 20
Masterbox capacities

  • 12 boxes extra large or Large grade anthuriums
  • 18 boxes Medium or Small grade anthuriums Cut flowers are packed into retail boxes and insulated with polyfoam prior to packing in a double walled masterbox. The Masterbox dimensions is 40”x24”x25”. Anthuriums are packed in individual trays, flowers are taped to the box to prevent shifting and each flower is packed in a plastic bag to prevent damage. To keep flowers fresh and hydrated each stem is fit with a water tube.
  1. Carnations
  • Bright, lean, firm flowers and leaves
  • Fairy tight petals near the centre of the unopened flowers
  • Symmetrical flower shape and size characteristics of calyx
  • No split or mended calyx
  • No lateral buds
  • No decay or damage US standards of grading Carnations
Grade Min.flower diameter (mm) Min. length overall (cm)
Blue (Fancy) Tight Fairly tight Open 50 62 75 55
Red (Standard) Tight Fairly tight Open 44 56 69 43
Green (Short) Tight Fairly tight None None 30
  • Packed in corrugated cardboard.
  • The size of the cartons:122 cm long, 50cm wide 30cm high.
  • The boxes should have polythene lining to help in maintaining high relative humidity inside the package.
  • Bunches of 25 flowers are placed in these boxes.
  1. Chrysanthemums Chrysanthemums are graded based on the stem length, flower appearance, number of flowers, stem straightness, colour and freshness of flowers. Standard chrysanthemums are graded into Blue, Red, Green and Yellow, whereas spray types are graded into Gold, Silver and Bronze based on the quality parameters. In Dutch market, spray chrysanthemums are graded into extra grade and shorter grade. The lower leaves are stripped off upto 15-20 cm and bundled in units of 5 stems and secured with a rubber band. ECE standards of grading chrysanthemums
Code Length (cm)
20 20 -30
30 30-40
40 40-50
50 50-60
60 60-70
80 80-90
100 90-100
120 Over 100
US standards of grading chrysanthemum

Grade Min. flower diameter (mm) Min. length overall (cm)
Blue Red Green yellow









Most of the Standard chrysanthemums are placed in sleeves and packed in display Boxes measuring 91 x 43 x 15cm. They are placed in the boxes according to the grades. For bulk packing of the spray chrysanthemums, 10, 15 or 20 stems are placed in sleeves according to the grades. Six sleeves, three at each end, are generally packed in each box, measuring 80 x 50 x 23cm

  1. Gladiolus
Spikes are graded into three lots, based on overall quality, variety, colour spike, length and number of florets per spike. After grading, they should be bunched in units of 12 and held together by rubber bands.

Grade Spike Length (cm) No.of flrts/Spike












Bundles of 12-spikes each are first wrapped in corrugated paper for protection from sudden temperature fluctuations, bruising and moisture loss. Then they are fasted with rubber bands, packed in ribbed cardboard boxes of 120 x 60 x 30cm and transported to their destinations. They remain fresh during transit for 1-3 days, depending upon the weather conditions.

  1. Tuberose
The flower spikes are graded according to the stalk length, length of rachis, number of flowers per spike and weight of spike. Straight and strong stem of uniform length and uniform stage of development are preferred. Flowers should be free from bruises and diseases and pests. Florets are graded according to their sizes for loose flowers (Reid, 2009).

Loose flowers of single-flowered tuberose are packed in bamboo baskets covered with wet gunny bags. About 10-15 kg fresh flowers are packed in each basket and transported to the nearby wholesale market where they are sold by weight.

The spikes are packed by wrapping them first in wet newsprint sheets and subsequently in corrugated sheets, making bundles of convenient sizes. Such bundles are finally packed in strong card boxes, which are quite handy.The fresh cut flowers being highly perishable and deteriorate in quality as soon as they are cut. They must reach the destination of consumption in a proper stage and fresh condition without losing its grade within 48 hours of cutting. For that, packing of flowers must be up-to-date to maintain the quality without any damage and remain fresh for longer time.


M.S. Reid (2009). Handling of Cut Flowers for Export. Proflora bulletin 8-23

About Author / Additional Info:
Working as a scientist at NBPGR, New Delhi