Conditioning Cut Flowers

Proper preparation and careful maintenance maximizes the vase life of any cut flower whether grownyourself or purchased at the local flower shop. Properconditioning or hardening of flowers is critical. Recut stemsunder water to prevent air bubbles from forming within the stems.Remove 2 inches from the bottom of each stem, cutting at an angle.Transfer the cut flowers into the container in which they will beconditioned. To condition flowers, immediately immerse flowers intepid water (110 F) containing floral preservative almost up to theflower heads. Fuzzy foliaged plants such as dusty miller shouldnot have their foliage submerged during conditioning. Remove thelower third of the foliage and immerse only to foliage level.Place the containers of flowers in a cool, dark, humid location fora minimum of 2 hours. A longer period of time is preferred. Afterthis time, flowers are ready to be arranged. When transferringfrom the conditioning container to the vase, recut stems underwater to the lengths needed for the arrangement.

Some flowers require special attention prior to conditioning.Flowers with milky sap such as oriental poppies seal over,preventing water uptake. To prevent this sealing, singe the endsof the stems in an open flame until they blacken or immerse thelower stem in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Flowers withwoody stems should have the bark scraped away from the lowerportion of the stem. The stem should then be cross-cut to increasewater uptake. Flowers with hollow stems such as hollyhocks anddelphiniums should have their stems filled with water. Turn stemsupside down and pour water into the stems until full and plug theends with cotton or absorbent floral foam. To eliminate small airbubbles, pierce the stem with a pin just below the flower head. Ifflowers stems are recut, these special procedures will need to berepeated.

Floral preservatives supply sugars needed for survival andgrowth as well as disinfectants to inhibit the growth of bacteriaand fungi in the water. A good floral preservative uses 1/4teaspoon of citric acid per gallon of water. Citric acid iscommonly available at drugstores. One tablespoon of sugar and1/4 teaspoon of bleach is another widely used preservative. Thebleach kills bacteria and fungi while the sugar nourishes theflower. Tonic water or lemon-lime soda (not diet) at the rate of2 parts water to one part soda or tonic water works as apreservative as well. Many florists also sell several ready-madeadditives which disinfect the water and provide the needed sugars.

Additional hints to maximize vase life of cut flowers includekeeping the vase filled with water. Check the water levelfrequently and avoid the use of chemically softened water. Startwith clean vases and clean flower stems. Keep the arrangement outof sunlight and away from heat and drafts to minimize water loss.Keeping the arrangement in a cool location will also extend thelife of arrangements. Change vase water periodically if possible.The use of floral preservatives is an effective alternative ifchanging water is impossible. If water is changed, recut the stemsbefore replacing in the vase. Flower selection is the mostcritical step. Choose flowers that are just coming into bloombefore pollen is loose. When choosing flowers at the florist,avoid soft, limp blossoms and buds and discolored or droopingfoliage. When purchasing flowers, select those with a long vaselife and buy from a quality florist.

Flowers affect our lives in numerous ways. They symbolizejoy, sorrow, love, and friendship. Proper conditioning and carewill extend the enjoyment of fresh flower arrangements.

This article originally appeared in the August 11, 1993 issue, pp. 1, 1993 issue, pp. 133-134.

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on August 11, 1993. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.