Wintertime brings more cut flower arrangements into my home. I need to have flowers inside when it is too cold to grow them outdoors. Flowers are used to communicate. ‘I love you’, ‘I’m sorry’, ‘Get well’ and ‘Thank you’, are all sentiments conveyed through flowers. Birthday, anniversary, and holiday arrangements help to celebrate special occasions. Extending the life of the bouquets makes the celebration continue. It is always a disappointment when the first rose head begins to nod like a broken bobble head dog in the back window of a car. Trying to prop up the blossom never works so removal ensues with rearrangement of the remaining blooms and greenery in a hopeful attempt to prolong the dying process. What can be done to eliminate or diminish the natural decomposition process of the bouquet? There are a number of steps you can take.

Lots of beautiful flowers to chose from. Photo by dmp2021

First, flower selection is important. Buy fresh flowers and they will naturally last longer. Shorter time spent in the florist’s bucket means longer time in your home. Whether purchased in the grocery store or flower shop, smell the water in the holding container. If it smells at all, then bacteria have begun to grow. Bacteria equal deterioration to a cut flower. Fungus, yeasts, and algae can also grow in the vase water. Flower stems have cells that move water up by capillary action, a constant pull upward towards the blossom. Bacteria and other organisms clog these cells restricting the uptake of water resulting in wilted flowers. Start with a clean vase. Remove any leaves from stems that would sit below the water surface to lessen areas for the organisms to feed and reproduce. Change the water every two days to reduce colonies of bacteria available to be sucked up the flower stem.

Remove any foliage that would be below water line. Photo by dmp2021

Air bubbles are another detriment to water uptake. If the flow of water it not continuous but interrupted by an air bubble, water flow will stop. Once home, cut the stems of the flowers under running water or in a sink or container filled with water with a sharp, non-serrated knife or scissors. Enough water will cling to the 45-degree angled cut while you quickly place it in the water filled vase to secure a continuous flow of water. Use warm water (110 degrees) in the vase to encourage faster movement up the stem. Enough water will cling to the cut surfaces during water vase changes so re-cutting of stems is usually not necessary. Never let the water level fall below the bottom of the stems.

Recut stems at an angle under water. Photo by dmp2021

Placing additives in the water is a common practice for cut flower arrangements. The commercial floral preservatives often distributed with purchased flowers are meant to be a vase water additive. They contain a sugar to feed the flower, a biocide that kills bacteria, fungi and yeasts that feed on the decomposing greenery and sap that seeps from flower stem, and an acidifier. The acidifier lowers the pH of the vase water retarding bacteria, fungi and yeast growth and also help move the water up the stems.

Use the floral preservative provided for longer vase life. Photo by dmp2021

Some home treatments of vase water are said to work on the same chemical principles as the commercial preservatives. A 1/4 teaspoon of bleach per quart of water will act as a disinfectant to kill the bacteria and algae. One tablespoon of sugar acts as a food source. A penny contains copper which is a fungicide. To create an acidic condition in the water, add one aspirin tablet or two tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to one quart of water. Non-diet lemon-lime soda will add sugar and create acidic conditions when added to water. Use one part lemon-lime soda to two parts water. Keep in mind, however, that it is generally easier, cheaper and more effective just to use the floral preservative that comes with your flowers.

If possible, consider storing your arrangements in a cool place or even a refrigerator when they are not on display. Temperatures between 33 and 36 degrees F will keep many cut flowers fresher longer. However, if your arrangement contains tropical blossoms like heliconia, bird of paradise or ginger, temperatures should not fall below 50 F.

Vector set tropical flowers. Jungle exotic strelitzia, anthurium, hibiscus, plumeria, orchid and ginger flower.

Keep arrangements away from ripening fruit which releases ethylene gas that will age flowers faster. Place bouquets out of direct sunlight and out of drafts. Use lukewarm water for most flowers but cold water for bulb flowers like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths. Flowers that release a milky sap from the stem when cut benefit from sealing by passing the cut stem ends over an open flame or dipping the cut ends into boiling water for 20 seconds. This stops the stems from oozing. Some flowers naturally have a longer vase life than others including alstroemeria, aster, celosia, cosmos, gypsophila, lavatera, rudbeckia, scabiosa, snapdragon, statice, sunflower, yarrow and zinnia. Hollow stem flowers wilt the quickest.

Enjoy your beautiful arrangement. Photo by dmp2021

So as these long days of winter leave you longing for summer, head to the flower shop armed with all this information to make the beauty of cut flower arrangements last a long time in your home.

Here’s to an early spring!

Carol Q.