The Garden Spotter

Cutting and Conditioning: Add Hours to Your Flowers


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Fresh cut flowers are so beautiful, you’d like them to last forever. But it is a simple fact that once severed from its life-giving mother plant, a flower is already on its deathbed.

So the challenge is to coax these fleeting things that give us so much pleasure into lasting as long as possible. A week would be nice. Two or three even better.

What I’ve found is that if you start with the freshest flowers possible, flowers you’ve cut from your own garden or purchased fresh from the farmer’s market, you’ve already got an edge.

But there are some other specific things you can do to help prolong their beauty, and it sometimes depends on the type of flower:

10 Tips for Adding Hours to Your Flowers

  1. Throughout the cutting and arranging process, keep flowers well-hydrated. Water is the key to their longevity in the vase. If you’re cutting from your own garden, immerse stems immediately in water, preferably warm water, which will move more quickly up the stems than cool water. If you’ve purchased them at the market, keep the stems moist at all times and in water as soon as you get home.
  2. If possible, cut flowers in the morning or evening. Again, to a flower, water is life. During the day, sunlight and heat rob flowers of hydration, weakening them in the process. Rainy weather, incidentally, is a perfect time to cut.
  3. Make sure all tools and containers are clean. Any form of bacteria can infect the flowers so wash vases with warm soapy water and a natural bristle brush to remove any residue. Shears can be wiped down with a damp cloth.
  4. Remove all extra foliage. Any branches or leaves or even thorns can drain water and nutrients from the cut flower, so remove any excess that will be below the water line in the vase.
  5. Re-cut stems. This is an important part of the conditioning process, which varies according to each flower variety. If flowers have been out of water for any time, it’s possible air has been trapped inside the stem, preventing access to that precious water. Cutting a half inch to an inch off the bottom should alleviate this problem.
  6. Prepare the stems, according to variety. Most flowers have hollow stems, and some have either a clear or a milky liquid inside that is a source of food to the plant. As soon as you’ve cut the stems, seal the ends by either dipping them in boiling water or holding them over a flame for a few seconds. Work quickly and submerge the stems back into the water as soon as you can. When the stems are woody or exceptionally large, as in the case of spring branches like forsythia or quince, split the ends or smash them, so the branch can absorb water more easily.
  7. Store flowers in a cool, dark place when not in use. There’s a reason florists store cut flowers in coolers: Heat and light tend to zap the life out of them. Before or even after arranging them, move them away from windows and heating vents to help prolong their beauty.
  8. Condition the water. Use a commercial flower food, which contains a combination of sugars, nutrients and mild fungicide. Use according to package instructions. Alternately, some people use a few drops of bleach and/or a small amount of sugar.
  9. Change water every few days. Once flowers have been arranged, freshen them up every few days with a change of water. Stagnant water tends to attract bacteria, which can infect stems and cause rapid deterioration.
  10. Avoid contact with fruits and vegetables. The last tip is one I have not tried, but makes perfect sense from a biological standpoint. Certain fruits and vegetables emit ethylene gas, which can shorten the life of certain flowers such as snapdragons and carnations.


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