How to Make Flowers Last Longer

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Dahlia flowers in garden
Grow your own garden flowers for the very freshest cuts. This is a dahlia called Pumpkin Spice.

Cut from the garden, scooped up at the farmers market or in a bouquet from your honey, fresh flowers brighten any day. Naturally, most of us have wondered how to make our flowers last longer.

Here are 5 proven ways to extend your flowers’ vase life

Enjoy your fabulous blooms longer with these tips.

1. In Your Garden, Cut Early or Late

The freshest flowers anywhere come from your own garden. Here’s how to retain that edge.

Flowers cut early in the day still hold most of their moisture from the cooler nights. And the blooms have benefited from morning dew. Snip before the sun is high, as the ray’s heat causes evaporation from flower petal surfaces, drying them.

Bright garden flowers in orange bucket
Gather garden flowers into a clean bucket of tepid water

 

 

Alternatively, cut your flowers in the evening, after the sun has dropped and the air has cooled.

When cutting your flowers, take a clean bucket with lukewarm water out to the garden with you. We prefer plastic pails because they’re lightweight, easy to clean and unlike metal, won’t impact water pH. And pails come in fun colors!

Drop the freshly snipped stems into the water as you cut. This keeps the stem ends from drying or developing air bubbles that can block the stem openings. Both reduces ability to draw in water.

Also, think about whether to cut partially opened buds or perfectly formed flowers.  Some blooms stop developing once cut, while other continue to open further. Here’s a cheat sheet from the Oklahoma State Cooperative Extension with excellent specifics on when to cut individual flower varieties. See pages 1-2.

Florists “condition” their flowers for longer life. This just entails leaving your freshly cut blooms in a pail of room temperature water for 4 to 5 hours while you go do something else. The flowers absorb as much water as they can hold and are in the ideal state for creating stunning bouquets.

2. Flowers Are Big Drinkers. They Get Hungry, Too.

Most plants are about 95% water and just a small amount of moisture loss leads to wilting. Florists know this and keep their cut blooms in coolers with super high (90-95%) humidity to limit evaporative loss.

To stay fresh, flowers must be able to draw clean water in and up the stems. When arranging your flowers, add a generous amount of water. Then keep an eye on the level as it’s remarkable how quickly some flowers drink up the liquid.

And hungry? Once cut, most flowers don’t grow taller but many continue to develop. Buds expand to become mature flowers, which requires energy. For plants, that comes in the form of sugars.

The perfect balance of nutrients, plus bacterial fighting agents and pH modifers, are found in those little packets of floral preservative. While there are a variety of homemade versions of this, the combination developed just for this purpose really does the best job.

Vase of flowers with foliage below the waterline
Foliage below the waterline quickly becomes a slimy, choking mess

3. Beat Back the Bacteria

Unfortunately, that same sugar bump that helps your flowers last longer provides nutrients for bacteria.  And robust, growing colonies of bacteria clog stems, making it impossible for the flowers to get the water they need.

Change the water daily and dump that bacteria down the drain. This quick activity pays big dividends. Also, trim or pluck off leaves that sit below the water line so they don’t get slimy (with bacteria), creating a foul mess.

And finally, when changing the water, snip off about 3/4″ of the stems. Use sharp shears which make clean cuts rather than crushing the stems. This removes any clogs and damaged tissue, allowing water to flow freely.

4. Avoid Heat, Drafts and Ethylene

Vase of peonies with fruit on counter
Ripening fruits give off ethylene gas which shortens flower life. Keep flowers and produce separated.

A basic rule of biology is that higher temperatures speed up biological processes. This is true with flowers. The warmer the air around your flowers, the faster they mature and then die.  Placing your vase of beautiful blooms in a sunny window, near a radiator or in the hottest room in the house shortens it’s life. Find a cool site.

Likewise, drafts, breezes, fans and vents all move air that strips moisture from cut flowers. Choosing a still place for your vase lets the flowers shine longer.

Ethylene gas is given off by many fruits and vegetables as they ripen. This gas causes flowers to age prematurely, with all the drooping and sagging that typically entails. An easy solution? Move your cut flowers away from that bowl of apples.

Small, rounded bright flower arrangement
Store compact arrangements in the fridge overnight. Bring out daily for enjoying.

5. Find Room in the Fridge

If your bouquet isn’t too tall, slip it into the fridge overnight. Then bring it back out to enjoy all day.  Cooling the blooms slows the normal aging process, making buds and blossoms last much longer.

There’s a reason florists – folks who work with flowers all the time – keep their blossoms in a cooler, right?

Myths About Making Flowers Last Longer

You’ve probably heard these “easy tricks” to extend the life of your bouquet. Easy, yes. Effective, sadly, no.

Myth 1: Add Some Alcohol to the Vase Water

Like all good myths, there’s a spark of truth hidden here. A very small amount of clear spirits added to vase water can limit the amount of ethylene produced and that’s good for longevity (see  #4 above.) But too much alcohol, and it doesn’t take much to tip over the line, can poison the flowers.

Flowers in a vase with pennies at the bottom
Pennies don’t help flowers last longer

Myth 2: Pony Up a Penny

Toss a couple pennies into the vase water before adding your flowers and the copper will keep the blossoms fresh, right? Nope, sorry. Metals, including copper, don’t dissolve in water and can’t be absorbed this way.

And dirty pennies may add to the bacteria in your vase.

Myth 3: Aspirin Reduces Drooping Heads

Bottle of aspirin and can of hairspray on table
Leave the aspirin and hairspray in the bathroom cabinet

Aspirin is reputed to help lower pH levels in the water, making it easier for flowers to absorb and rehydrate. However, numerous tests have failed to show noticeable gains from this approach. While it doesn’t seem to hurt, it’s not a big help either.

Myth 4: Hairspray Keeps Blooms Fresh

Hairspray is a mixture of alcohol, polymers and other chemicals.  Alcohol dries quickly and as it evaporates, it takes moisture with it. This is why a disinfecting alcohol swab cools your skin.

While hairspray may stiffen and help hold dried flowers, it does just the opposite for freshly cut blooms with their high water content. Leave the hairspray in your bathroom cabinet.

Lilac stems in clear glass vase
Snip an “X” in woody stems for water uptake

Myth 5: Smash Woody Plant Stems

If you’re arranging lilacs, hydrangeas or other woody flower stems you may have learned that smashing the stems with a hammer opens the wood for water uptake. Actually, just the opposite is true. The crushed stems are damaged to the point where water can no longer flow.

Instead, tip the freshly cut stem so you’re looking at the end. With sharp scissors or pruners, snip an “X” about 1.5 to 2″ up the stem. This opens up the stem without mangling the water transport channels.

Gold dahlias in a vase by a window
Bright, indirect light from north facing windows is ideal.

 

One last thought . .  placing flowers near windows can create magic as the light shines through the petals. Find a north facing window for your vase. That way the blossoms will be softly illuminated without being toasted by the sun rays.

Some of our favorite grow-your-own cut flowers are:

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