Conditioning Cut Flowers

Being able to bring fresh flowers indoors from the garden is one of the great joys of gardening. Here are some tips for cutting and arranging them.

  1. It is best to cut flowers in the morning or just after sunset when their stalks are full of moisture and the plants are not stressed from the afternoon heat. Flowers cut in the middle of the day will be somewhat wilted and, once cut, have difficulty absorbing water.
  2. When possible select flowers with buds that are tight, but that are just beginning to open. This will prolong the life of your arrangement.
  3. Bring a container of tepid water to the garden. Use sharp pruning shears to cut woody stems and a sharp knife or scissors to cut the flower stalks of all other flowers. Dull scissors or pruning shears can pinch the water channels of the stalks or tear the stems. Plunge the stems immediately into the water, otherwise sap will seal the cut preventing water from absorbing into the flower.
  4. Remove the foliage from any part of the stem that will be submerged into the arrangement's container. These leaves may rot and foul the water.
  5. Cut the stems again. Professional arrangers make this second cut under water to prevent air bubbles from entering the stem. Fill a sink with water and submerge the stalks. Cut at least 1" from the stem at a 45-degree angle. This angled cut creates more surface area which improves the flower's ability to drink up water.
  6. Put the flowers into a tall container filled with water. Allow the flowers to drink deeply by placing the container in a cool, dark spot overnight. Do not put flowers in the refrigerator, as it will draw moisture from the flowers hastening their demise. During the night the flowers will undergo a "hardening" process, absorbing water that will make them stronger and stiffer, easier to arrange.
  7. When you are ready to arrange the flowers, fill the vase with tepid water. You may want to add a little sugar (1 teaspoon per gallon of water) or special cut flower additives to the water. This will help to prolong the life of the flowers. Also add a drop or two of bleach to the water to prevent bacteria and algae from growing. Be sure to change the water in the arrangement as soon as it appears cloudy.

There are a few flowers that require additional steps to insure their longevity.

  • Flowers with hollow stems such as delphiniums, amaryllis, lupines and Queen Anne's lace need to stay full of water. Fill the stem with water and then plug up the stem with cotton.
  • Woody stem plants like forsythia, azaleas and camellias should be split vertically an inch or two up the stem to allow more water to be drawn. If the stem is very thick, smash the end with a hammer until it is frayed.
  • Lilacs will last longer if you put them in wood alcohol for an hour and then put them into cold water. Leave the flowers in a cool spot overnight. Never place lilacs in a metal container or they will wilt.
  • Daffodils and hyacinths release a substance that is harmful to other flowers. It is best not to mix these flowers with other spring blossoms.
  • Florists recommend sealing the stems of flowers that exude a milking substance, such as poppies, zinnias and sunflowers. To do this, dip the stem in boiling water for 30 seconds or sear the stem with a match flame to keep the flower from loosing its nutrients. The flower will draw up water through the sides of its stem.
  • Some flowers, like carnations, sweet william and baby's breath, have nodes that run up the flowers stalk. It is important to cut the flower stem just above one of these nodes to allow the flower to drink water more freely.
  • The pollen in the stamens of lilies will stain anything it touches. For this reason, carefully remove the stamens with tissue before making your arrangement.
  • Remove rose thorns using a sharp knife working from the top of the stem down.

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