Nothing brightens your day quite like a vase full of freshly cut flowers. But it can be disappointing when your beautiful flowers wilt and die quickly though. So what can you do?
There are a few steps you can take when you’re choosing, collecting and presenting your cut flowers to ensure your bouquet lasts as long as possible. From cutting the flowers to placing the vase, here is what you need to know to keep your cut flowers thriving for as long as they possibly can.
Cutting your own flowers
If you are harvesting your own flowers, you should follow a few rules of thumb. For instance, the best time of day to harvest flowers is early morning or early evening when the temperatures are cool.
“You don’t want to do it in the afternoon when it’s hot,” said Mary Turner, owner of Salt Farm Flowers in Trenton. “[It’s best to pick] them when they have the maximum amount of water that is in the plant itself. That will improve the longevity of them.”
In general, it is best to choose flowers that haven’t fully opened yet, too. Lacey Sinclair, founder of Solid Roots Flower Farm and Gardening, said to look out for flowers in the “colored bud stage.”
“This means that the bud has started to open and you can see some of the color but it’s not open or ‘blown out,’” Sinclair said. “Most flowers will continue to open and grow in a vase after [they are] picked.”
However, you also want to have some knowledge of your flowers so you know when you are ready to pick. For example, Turner explained that if zinnias stems are stiff when you shake them, they are ready to pick. Dahlias, on the other hand, should be opened halfway or more because they do not open as much after they are cut. Peonies can be cut in the “marshmallow stage,” meaning that the bud has some color and is still closed but when the bud is gently squeezed, it will have some “give” like a marshmallow.
“Then you remove all but the top leaves, wrap in paper and lay flat in the refrigerator,” Turner said. “They will keep at least a month this way. When you are ready to use them, just recut and place in water.
Some varieties of flowers will simply last longer than others because of their morphology and other characteristics.
“Flowers with woody stems have a hard time staying hydrated and don’t last as long,” Sinclair said. “For example lilacs and hydrangeas can be tough. Daylilies aren’t usable because their blooms only last for one day. Most iris don’t have a great vase life. Anything that doesn’t grow a long stem is difficult, such as ground covers and dwarf varieties. Flowers with excellent vase life, up to a week or more [include] baptisia, zinnia, sunflower, strawflower, larkspur, peony, aster, chrysanthemum [and] lily of the valley.”
Turner added that dahlias are the “divas of the flower world,” despite their popularity. Meanwhile, lisianthus is a longer-lasting variety, though they are difficult to start from seed so Turner recommended purchasing seedlings if you plan to grow them yourself for cutting.
Turner said to place your flowers in warm water after cutting as well, as it improves hydration. Some flowers like tulips and snapdragons should be wrapped in paper after cutting, then put in water for some time because they will be straighter for the bouquet after they have had a chance to hydrate.
Buying a bouquet
If you are choosing a bouquet at a florist or a supermarket, there are still ways you can choose a long-lasting bouquet.
Turner said to look at the “focal flower,” or the primary bloom in the bouquet. Make sure that the petals aren’t dry and that they don’t come off easily when lightly tugged in the back of the bloom.
Also, try to shop local. Many cut flowers are imported from abroad, and the process of transport means that they are likely not going to last along as flowers that are freshly cut.
“When you’re cutting them and they’re that fresh, there’s no comparison to something that goes into a distribution center shipped out, not to even mention all the carbon footprint issues,” Turner said. “If you can get them to your table within a day or two of being cut they should last a really long time.”
Many florists and even grocery stores carry locally cut flowers, so make sure you ask what is available. You can also buy directly from cut flower farms themselves.
Caring for cut flowers
Once you have your bouquet, you can make it last longer by properly caring for it.
First, choose the right vase — a clean one that has been freshly sanitized, with plenty of room for all your flowers.
“If the stems are too crowded, they do not last as long,” Turner said.
Always recut the ends of the flower stem before you place them in the vase. Cutting the stems at a 45-degree angle will help the flower to better take up water.
Sinclair said that woody stems like lilacs and hydrangeas have a harder time pulling up water and may need to be slit in the middle in order to hydrate effectively. She also added that stems should be recut every time you change the water — which, ideally, would be every day, but should be at least every other day — in order to prevent the flowers from getting droopy.
When placing your flowers in water, be sure to remove all the leaves below the water line. Clean water is key to having long lasting flowers.
“Fresh water is the best thing you can do for your flowers,” Turner said. “The cleaner your water the longer your flowers will last.”
Also, remove any flowers that have died, as they will have a negative effect on the others in the vase.
The small packets of flower food and hydration ingredients that come with store bought bouquets are also well worth using, according to both Sinclair and Turner. You can also purchase your own separately from places like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and there are home remedies that are effective as well.
“A dash of bleach helps keep water clean and long lasting,” Sinclair said. “There are lots of things you can try — a penny, a sprinkle of sugar, floral food — but I really like to keep it simple and bleach is always accessible for me.”
Placement of the cut flowers also matters. Keep your cut flowers out of direct sunlight and away from heat, it will last longer. Also, keep the flowers away from your produce.
“Fruits and vegetables give off ethylene and some flowers certain flowers are more sensitive to it,” Turner said. “Especially when we give people a flower order for their wedding, we will tell them, don’t put them in a cooler with fruit and vegetables because they give off ethylene and that causes them to wilt.”
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that zinnias are not ready to cut when their stems are stiff. They are, in fact, ready to cut when they are stiff.