Conditioning Cut Flowers

Spring and summer are a great time to bring the garden indoors with cut flowers.  No prior experience is necessary to harvest flowers for bouquets.   However, to get the most out of your garden or purchased bouquets, follow the seven steps below.

First, use a sharp, clean knife or shears when cutting flowers.  You want to cut the stems cleanly without crushing them.

Second, cut flowers at the proper stage of development and when they are most turgid (fully hydrated).  The appropriate time to cut flowers depends on the species of plant.  Some flowers should be cut in the bud stage, while others should be fully open.  Flowers are most turgid in the morning before the heat and stress of the day.  Many cut flower growers harvest early in the morning – near sunrise – for best blooms.

Third, place the flowers in water as quickly as possible.  If you are cutting flowers from your garden – take a vase or bucket of water with you.  The faster the stems are hydrated, the longer they will last.

Fourth, purchase a floral preservative from a florist or garden center.  Floral preservatives are designed to help keep the water clean, provide carbohydrates or sugars to the developing flowers, and generally extend the vase-life of almost all flowers.  Sugar, aspirin, tea, pennies, rusty nails, bleach, citric acid, and other ingredients do not work as well as a floral preservative.  In fact, some of these materials can shorten the vase life of cut flowers.  If you don't have a floral preservative – skip it – clean water without additives is second best.

Fifth, remove the lower leaves on flower stems.  Leaves that are submerged in water will likely rot and quickly discolor the water.  This means you will need to change the water more frequently.

Next, arrange the flowers as you see fit in a sturdy, clean vase.  Make sure all flower stems have access to water.  Almost anything will suffice as a vase, as long as it holds enough water for several days for the flowers.

Finally, change the water as needed.  When the water level gets low or it starts to get cloudy, simply dump it out and replace with clean, fresh water.  More floral preservative will be needed.  No need to recut stems as long as you are reasonably quick.  Re-cutting stems under water is ideal, but sometimes difficult to manage – especially after you have already arranged the flowers in the vase.

As a side note, certain plant species involve special treatment.  Stems that exude a milky sap, may need to be singed or burned slightly to prevent excess sap loss.  Simply hold the cut end over a candle flame for a few seconds until the flow of sap stops.  Stems of woody plants like lilac may need to be cut twice to ensure adequate water uptake.  After removing the stem from the plant, cut the bottom inch of the stem again, crosswise this time, prior to placing it in the vase.


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