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Illinois Country Living

David Robson Extension Educator, Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois

Yard & Garden

Flower Power Solves Winter Doldrums
How to keep that loving feeling and cut flowers fresh

In the middle of the month, wives will hint that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and “wouldn’t some roses be nice?” If they’re lucky, they’ll get a dozen or more. If their unlucky, they may get a vacuum cleaner, though I’ve been told that some appreciate the vacuum more than the roses.

Fresh flowers are a thing to be enjoyed during the doldrums of February. With little green outside to mask the browns and grays of the season, colorful blooms can provide a boost to the soul, if not a route to something more enjoyable like a freshly baked pie.

Giving flowers is easy enough. Find a store that sells them, preferably staying away from gas stations, which is not to say they aren’t the best place to buy flowers, but would you really think a florist was the best location to buy gas?

So, you hand the flowers to the intended and say, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you love them. Is that a freshly baked pie I smell?”

Your part is done as the giver if you want to appear as nothing but a pie-hungry buffoon.

Like most things, if you can make the enjoyment last, the benefits also increase. The same applies to flowers.

It doesn’t take much to make flowers last, as long as you remember they love water and cool temperatures, and hate bacteria. All the fresh water and 60-degree temperature don’t mean a thing once the bacteria start swinging.

Bacteria-ridden water turns cloudy quickly and causes interesting aromas to permeate the air that smell more like rotten cooked cabbage. No one mistakes it for a freshly baked pie.

Once you start seeing the water cloud, it may not be too late, but more times than not it really is the beginning of the end. You can change the water, but you also need to clean the vase thoroughly at this stage with bleach to disinfect it. You also need to worry that the bacteria have attached to the stems and will multiply once you supply them with fresh water.

On top of that, the bacteria clog up the cut end. No matter how much fresh water you supply, the blooms might not be able to absorb any without the stems being recut.

The vast majority of bacteria are harbored on flower stems and leaves. That’s why the first tenant of flower longevity is to strip all the leaves that would be under water. You can’t do much about the stems since they’re an integral part of the flower.

Also start with a clean vase. While it takes a little more work, fill the vase with warm water and add a half-cup of bleach and let it sit for 30 minutes. Most bacteria should be killed. Fill the vase twice with clean water and empty to get rid of the bleach residue.

Many bouquets come with flower preservatives that keep the bacteria in check as well as nourishing the flowers. Some folks say they achieve the same effect using clear sodas such as Sprite, 7-Up or Sierra Mist.

Flowers also need a fresh cut before placing them in the water. Take a pair of pruners or a sharp knife and cut off a half-inch of the stems. Some like to do this underwater, which makes more sense, as the cut end isn’t exposed to air. However, you end up with stems floating in the vase or sinking to the bottom.

In most cases, if you just cut quickly and stick the flowers in the vase, you shouldn’t have
a problem.

Just because you do all this doesn’t mean the flowers will last longer. You have to go the route of changing the water completely every three days and adding more preservatives.

Keep temperatures on the cool side. Flowers last longer at 60 degrees than they do at 70 degrees. 50 degrees is better, but usually not practical.

Realize that no matter what you do, the flowers ultimately will die. That’s a fact of life and a part of the charm. Just think of the advantages if you brought another bouquet in once a month - all those freshly baked pies.

More Information:

David Robson is an Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension, P.O. Box 8199, Springfield, IL 62791. Telephone: 217-782-6515.


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