The Pleasure of Cut Flowers
For centuries, gardeners have brought cut flowers indoors where their natural beauty and pleasant aroma delight the senses. In recent times, people have relied less on homegrown cut flowers and turned increasingly to purchased bouquets. The variety of available flowers seems limitless.
The first step to extending the freshness of cut flowers is to, obviously, buy them as fresh as possible, and the best way to do that is to purchase them straight from the producers themselves. The farmers’ market is a great place to purchase flowers that have just been picked.
Selection and Care of Cut Flowers
- Look for flowers that have no “droop” to them. Drooping flowers have been left out of water too long.
- When possible, purchase bouquets with buds that are just beginning to open or those with tight centers. You’ll be able to watch them open as the days progress.
- After purchase, make sure you get them into water as soon as possible. When exposed to air for even a short time, the cut ends of the stems will dry and seal off, preventing water absorption. Cut off at least 1/2 inch of the stem and cut at an angle, allowing for more absorption area. Hold stems under water while you cut them.
How to Take Care of Your Cut Flowers
Whether you display your flowers in cut crystal or a mason jar, the container you choose should be clean. Wash it with hot soapy water to remove debris and eliminate bacteria and fungi that contribute to decomposition of flower stems. The dishwasher is good for thorough cleaning because of the hot water temperatures, but make sure your container is dishwasher-safe. Swish the vase with bleach-water solution if a dishwasher is not an option for cleaning.
Conditioning the Flowers:
When you condition fresh cut flowers before placing them in an arrangement, you significantly increase their vase life. The process fully hydrates the flowers and allows time for the vase solution to saturate the plant tissue. To condition the flowers, place the freshly-cut stems loosely in a deep bucket of warm water, then put the bucket in a cool location for several hours before you attempt to place them in an arrangement.
Before you arrange the flowers, remove any leaves, thorns, or excessive foliage from the portion of the stems that will be below the water line in the vase. If left in place, this submerged plant material can decay and shorten the life of the cut flowers. Fill the vase with fresh water, re-cut the stems under water and at an angle, and place in your arrangement.
The Water Solution
Softened water contains sodium, so you should avoid using it for cut flowers. Do NOT use aspirin, vinegar, or diet sodas in the vase solution. They will not contribute to the longevity of your floral arrangements and may, in fact, decrease it. Many purchased bouquets come with a small packet of floral preservative. Be sure to follow the directions on the packet for mixing and use. If your flowers do not come with this packet of preservative, you may use one of the following mixtures to supply food for the flowers and enough acidity to deter microbial activity.
1. Lemon-lime soda mixture: Mix 1 part regular lemon-lime soda (not diet) with 3 parts warm water. Add 1/4 teaspoon household bleach per quart of solution.
2. Lemon juice mixture: Mix 2 teaspoons fresh or bottled lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon bleach per quart of warm water.
Check the level of the vase solution in your container daily, and replenish it when necessary as it evaporates and the flowers absorb it. Add an additional 1/4 teaspoon of bleach per quart to the container every three or four days. If the vase solution becomes cloudy or smells bad (signs of bacterial activity), replace it completely and then rinse and trim flower stems before putting them back into the container.
Cut flowers will last longer if kept cool, and most will tolerate temperatures as low as 32°F, except for tropical flowers, which don’t like anything lower than 50°F. Avoid placing arrangements in direct sunlight, near heater vents or the fireplace, or on top of a heat-generating appliance, such as a television set. Fresh fruits and vegetables produce ethylene gas, a naturally-occuring ripening agent. When fresh produce is included in a floral arrangement, the gas they emit may drastically shorten the life of many cut flowers.