Caring for Fresh Cut Flowers

Bringing fresh cut flowers into the home is one of the many pleasures of spring and summer time. Not only do the fresh flowers brighten the inside of the house and fill it with a wonderful aroma, cutting flowers encourages further blooming on the plant.

The best time to cut is in the morning. Flowers are perky after a night of cool air and a touch of morning dew. Their stems are the firmest at this time of day because they are filled with water. As the day progresses, they become dehydrated and limp. Carry a pail or bucket of lukewarm water and immediately place the freshly cut flowers into the water. (For bulb flowers such as tulips, use cold water.) The water prevents the stem from sealing up which would interfere with the fresh cut flower’s absorption ability.

Budding flowers with a cluster of buds on a single stem need to have at least one bud showing off its color and one beginning to open before the stem should be cut. If the stem is cut too early, the buds will fail to open in the vase. Single flowers on a single stem should be fully open before cutting.

Common household scissors should not be used for cutting flowers as they will crush the vascular system of the stem, denying the cut flower its fair share of water. Instead use a sharp knife, shears or clippers. Some people re-cut their flowers underwater in the bucket to prevent any air bubbles from entering the stem and possibly interfering with water absorption. Cut the stem at a 45 degree angle. This gives the stem a greater surface area for absorbing water.

A note about different stem types: Flowers have a variety of stem types: hollow, solid, soft, woody and milky. Each type of stem requires a special preparation to increase the life of the cut flower. Fill a hollow stemmed flower with water and plug with a small wad of cotton. This will keep the stem firm and hold the cut flower upright. Soft stemmed flowers are usually from bulbs. Cut at the green portion, just above the white and place in cold water. Woody stems like to be split rather than crushed. A clean split allows for more surface area. Sappy or milky stems ooze sap into the vase clogging the cuts of the other flowers. To avoid this, dip the cut end of a milky stem in boiling water or use a flame on the cut part of the stem for 30 seconds. A diagonal cut is all that’s needed for solid stemmed flowers.

To help prolong the fresh cut flower’s vase life, a preservative is needed. Preservatives provide the flower with the nutrients it once got from the plant. Commercial preservatives are available but home remedies work as well. An aspirin or pennies are popular home preservatives for extending the life of fresh cut flowers. The aspirin provides much needed carbohydrates while a copper penny decreases the PH balance of the water. A simple solution to use for a homemade preservative is to mix a quart of lukewarm water with a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of bleach and two teaspoons of lemon juice. This provides the nutrition from the sugar, bacteria fighting bleach and acid to acidify the water. Use this solution in the vase.

Once the fresh cut flowers are arranged in the vase, place in an area out of direct sunlight, away from drafts and away from ripening fruit. The fruits emit a type of gas that prevents buds from opening and shortens the cut flower’s life. Be sure not to overcrowd the vase, check the water level frequently and discard wilted blooms. Limp flowers aren’t getting the water they need, so pull them out and re-cut.

While taking these steps may seem like a lot of extra work, it really isn’t. Simply use the right tools and cutting technique, place immediately in water and add a few ingredients to the water. The flowers will last longer and bring more joy into the house.

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