Whether they come from your garden, the market, or as a gift, you can persuade cut flowers to remain beautiful for at least a week—maybe two, or even longer!—when you are careful to follow a few fabulous flower secrets.
The first thing is to know the enemy. Actually, there are two: 1) bacteria and 2) drought. Defeat both and your flowers will last and last. You will be amazed!
Start with a clean vase
Scrub it with soap and hot water, rinse well and fill with tap water. This will guarantee a clean, bacteria-free vessel and give those beautiful flowers the best environment possible in which to extend their life.
Add 1/4 teaspoon of liquid chlorine bleach for each quart of water. This will slow down the growth of bacteria and fungus in the water without harming or affecting the flowers. Measure carefully! Trying to eyeball this very weak ratio of 1/4 teaspoon per quart of water could backfire by bleaching all the color from those beautiful flowers.
Remove leaves below the waterline
You want to remove any leaves on the stems of cut flowers that will be below the waterline. Submerged leaves will quickly rot and promote bacteria and algae growth.
Condition the stems
Cut flowers will die of thirst even when standing in water if the stems have not been conditioned to draw that water all the way to the blooms. That’s because when cut, a flower stem quickly seals its “wound,” preventing it from drawing water.
Just before plunging the stems into the vase of water cut stems at a 45% angle to allow for the greatest amount of water as possible can be absorbed.
Change the water every day
The moment that water turns cloudy you know bacteria is present. Cloudy water is proof positive that bacteria are having a field day in that vase. Change it every day with the same formula of 1/4 teaspoon liquid bleach per quart of water and quickly snip a bit from the end of each stem before plunging it back into the water.
Some flowers like lilacs, dogwood, crab apple, azalea, camellia, and forsythia have “woody” stems. They look more like branches than stems and require a specific treatment to help them draw water.
Split the last two inches of the stem with a sharp knife. Next, pound that part of the woody stem with a hammer until it is well frayed. Now, that stem will allow water to draw all the way to the blooms.
Stems with nodes
Certain types of flowers require different, yet specific stem treatments. For example, when cutting carnations and similar flowers with spaced bumps on the stems, make your cut between the nodes of the stalk. This allows the flower to more easily draw the water it needs.
Lilies and their stamen
Lilies, particularly the stargazer variety, have orange pollen that will leave a permanent stain on anything they touch, especially clothing and table linens. Carefully remove the stamen with small scissors before conditioning the stems for placement in the vase. This will lengthen bloom time and also protect your hands, clothes, and linens.
When you purchase roses from a florist, the thorns have most likely been removed. When you purchase cut flowers in bulk from a flower mart or other bulk source—sometimes called a “grower’s bunch”—or cut them from your own garden, you will need to remove the thorns from the stems with a sharp knife, working from the top down to put less stress on the stem.
Ah … Flowers!
There’s nothing quite so lovely than a bouquet of beautiful cut flowers. Follow these simple tips and you’ll be able to display cut flowers with confidence and pride for much longer than only a few days. A few weeks sounds a lot better to me.
First published: 9-10-13; Revised & Updated 2-11-20
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