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Keep Cut Flowers Fresh-looking Longer

April 30 2010

Spring is here and flowers are blooming. Whether you are cutting flowers from your own garden or buying them freshly cut from a flower shop, you want your cut flowers to last as long as possible.

Cut flowers last longest in environments that most closely approximate their living conditions before they were cut.  This includes providing nourishment and minimizing the growth of bacteria.

That’s why you’ll see cut flower tips that include some crazy-sounding advice – like adding a teaspoon each of vodka and sugar to the vase water, or white vinegar, lemon juice, and sugar. Other tips include crushing an aspirin into the vase before adding water, or adding a little salt, baking soda, or soda pop, and even letting a copper penny settle to the bottom of the vase.  Even bleach is recommended for fresh flowers, even if they discolor the stems.

You can save yourself a lot of experimentation and angst simply by following a few simple steps that are tried and proven to help cut flowers last longer.

• Buy from a florist, not the convenience store.  Call ahead to find out which shipments are freshest.  The fresher the flower, the longer it will last.

• Choose long-lasting flowers – orchids, gladiolas, anemones, dahlias, lilies, peonies, daffodils, carnations, daisies, and chrysanthemums, among others. 

• Look for flowers with closed or near-closed buds that will open later. Stems and leaves should be strong, springy, and green.

• Buy only when you get the flowers home and into water as quickly as possible.

• Have reasonable expectations of how long flowers can last. As romantic as roses are, they are fragile, as are other flowers with thin petals like irises, freesias and tulips.  However, these flowers are gorgeous, even if they are delicate. Enjoy them while they last.

The most important ingredient for fresh flowers is fresh, clean water. But the flowers also have to be able to drink in the water as well as possible. To accomplish that:

1. Start with flowers that are fresh and strong.

2. Choose a container that doesn’t crowd the flowers, or the stems will rot faster.

3. Use tepid water and only fill the vase part-way. A full water vase will rot the stems faster.

4. Cut away leaves and branches that would fall under the water line. These can decay water quickly with algae which will keep the flower from absorbing nutrients.  

5. Place the stems under running water as you cut them. Cut the bottom of the stems off about an inch or two at a 45 degree angle for maximum intake of water. Put them into the vase with water immediately.

6. Some flowers like lilacs have a woody stem that needs to be mashed in order to take in water. Ask your florist if the flowers you buy require any special care or treatment besides cutting.

7. Don’t use household scissors – they crush the stems and prevent water from traveling up the stem. Use florist shears or a florist knife. Make sure cutting tools are as sharp as possible. 

8. Sugar can provide nutrients, but it can also produce more bacteria. If you use sugar, make sure you something acidic, such as lemon juice, to help the stems absorb water. Cut flower food with the proper mix of nutrients, anti-bacterials, and acidity is best.

9. Display flowers in cool areas, away from sunlight, heaters and fireplaces.  If the head of the flower starts to droop, it’s a sure sign that water is not traveling up the stems. Plunge the bouquet in water immediately, cut away rotted leaves, recut stems, and replace the water with clean, fresh water.

10. Prevent bacteria build-up by changing water every day. Trim the stems by a quarter inch so your arrangement doesn’t become so short that it’s unattractive. 

As long as you start with fresh flowers, and keep their water fresh, clean and uncrowded, your cut flower arrangement should last as long as possible.