Basic Cut Flower Care

Photography courtesy of Jody Johnston.

Everybody loves buying fresh flowers from the farmers markets or flowers from the grocery store but how do you extend their vase life? 

1) Flowers wilt quicker without a water source. If you have a few errands to run prior to getting home, see if the seller can place the flowers in water tubes, or even put some water in a plastic flower sleeve, or wrap with a damp towel. Or plan ahead and bring a bucket (If you're at Trader Joe's they throw out those black buckets so maybe you can ask if you can have one). 

2) Cleanliness is extremely important. Bacteria accumulation shortens cut flower life. Make sure your vessel is clean, tools are clean, remove all foliage that will hit below the waterline of your vessel. Leaves rot when submerged which creates bacteria. Peel off any outer rose petals that are bruised or damaged. This will help prevent bacteria from spreading. When cutting flowers clippers are fine if that's all you have but a sharp knife makes cleaner cuts. Sometime clippers can squish the stem too much. Change the water every 2 to 3 days and add food from packet. 

3) Check the water level each day. The more flower stems in an arrangement, the more often you need to check the water level especially with flowers like hydrangea. Water should be filled close to the top of the vessel. You can top off with water as needed. What I usually do is pick one side of the arrangement, gently move the stems to make enough room to fill the vessel with water.

4) Food. Since the flowers have no nutrient source once cut, use the floral preservative provided. Or you can make your own: 2tbsp lemon juice, 1tbsp sugar, 1/4 tsp bleach for every quart of water. Sugar acts as food. Lemon juice and bleach kill the bacteria. 

5) Temperature. Higher temps make cut flowers deteriorate quicker. After prepping and placing in vase I would actually keep the flowers cool in the fridge (towards the front) for a couple of hours. Then, you can take out and use in your home. In the evenings you can store in the fridge (temps 36 and up) and bring out during the day. Keep away from drafts, direct sun. 

6) Fruit. Make sure you do not have fruit next to your cut flowers. Fruit emits ethylene gas which can quicken cut flower life. Most florists will say not to place flowers in the fridge because most people store fruit. I think it's fine, just move the fruit away from the flowers. Most people do not have a cooler and some don't have a basement so not too many options to keep flowers cool.

7) Woody stems. If your cut flowers have woody stems (examples are lilac, dogwood, mock orange, clematis vines) be sure to split the ends versus smashing them. This keeps the vascular tissues intact and allows more surface area for the stem to absorb water. You should also do the same with hydrangea stems.

8) Once the flowers start looking sad, you can dry them if you want. Just place in an empty vase with no water and set aside away from the sun for several weeks.