Cut Flower Care
Simple steps for longer life expectancy
David Robson
Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.

In the middle of the month, a slew of people, mainly those of the male persuasion, will be purchasing flowers in order to say “I Love You.” Valentine’s Day will come with florists scrambling to fill every order, and people scrambling to get them to their loved ones in one piece.

Flowers can bring so much joy — and – potential grief. Nothing says the same thing as a bouquet of fresh flowers. Nothing says the same thing as those fresh bouquets fading and falling apart fast. What looked fantastic one day may be a mess of petals everywhere or limp stems the next day.

These bouquets are an investment, not just for the cost of the flowers. You want them to last.

Most of the failure can be laid on the recipient or giver, and not on the florist. Short of keeping the flowers out of water for more than 24 hours, which seldom happens even though many of the blooms are grown in South America or the Middle East, about the only damage a florist can do is freeze the flowers.

So, the problem lies at your feet, or more accurately, in your hands.

The typical rose should last at least seven to 10 days. Carnations and chrysanthemums should last at least two weeks. Orchids can stick around for three weeks.

With a little extra care, you can be sure any of these flowers last as long as possible.

First, make sure the container you use is large enough to hold ample water. More importantly, make sure it’s clean. Scrub out the container and rinse it thoroughly. Bacteria from dirty containers will rapidly plug the stems of your flowers and make them wilt. Non-metallic containers are usually best if you use floral preservatives.

It doesn’t hurt to fill the container and pour in a cap-full of bleach. This goes a long way to sterilize any bacteria you might have missed.

Strip off leaves that will be under water. They will decay and cause bacteria to grow. Nothing can make water as green and rancid as fast as leaves floating beneath the surface.

Next, carefully cut one inch from the base of each stem just before you put the flower in water. Some people will tell you that cutting should be done under water. There is no definitive “yes” or “no” to this; if it makes you feel good, do it.

Warm water is the best initially. That’s about 100° degrees F, or what you’d feel comfortable bathing in. You might think cold water will keep the flower longer, but the blooms need the warm water to allow for uptake of water later. Plants take up warm water quite readily after cutting but will seldom take up cold water. If your water is very hard or is from a water softener, use distilled water instead. The salts in the undesired waters also clog the stems.

The cut flower life of roses, carnations and snapdragons can be doubled by using floral preservatives. These materials are available from your florist. Or make your own using a bottle of lemon-lime soda (not the diet type) with an equal amount of warm water and a teaspoon of household bleach. Use it instead of water in the container. Floral foams (called Oasis) used in arrangements contain preservatives. Be sure the foam is immersed in water thoroughly before using and kept moist throughout its use. Do not reuse the foam for other arrangements.

Keep your flowers in a cool place out of drafts. At night, put them in the refrigerator or a cool, 35 to 40 degree, room. Also, avoid direct sunlight on the plant.

THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT: Change the water at least once every two days. There’s nothing wrong with changing the water every day, washing out the vase and washing down the stems. For some flowers, making a fresh cut every three or four days can also prolong the life of the flowers.

While these procedures will get the maximum life from your flowers, the fact that cut flowers only last for a brief time is part of their charm. No matter how you look at them, they’re so much better than silk or plastic flowers.


For more information:

check out the University of Illinois Web site at: www.ipm.uiuc.eduYou can contact David Robson via E-mail:

Or write to him in care of:

Illinois Country Living
P.O. Box 3787,
Springfield, IL 62708.

Telephone: (217) 782-6515