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How to Extend the Life of Cut Flowers

Updated on June 7, 2019
Casey White profile image

Dorothy is a Master Gardener, former newspaper reporter, and the author of several books. Michael is a landscape/nature photographer in NM.

If you don't grow your own, you can always buy cut flowers, and if you do, you definitely want them to last as long as possible.   This article will show you how to preserve your cut flowers so that you can enjoy them for a long time.
If you don't grow your own, you can always buy cut flowers, and if you do, you definitely want them to last as long as possible. This article will show you how to preserve your cut flowers so that you can enjoy them for a long time. | Source

Minerals Make Tap Water Alkaline

  • Most people probably don't know that almost all tap water contains minerals in it that make it alkaline, or that alkaline water has difficulty moving through cut flower stems. Because of this, the life of your gorgeous cut flowers in a vase will be shorter because they don't get the nutrition and hydration that they desperately need to survive. This article will show you various simple ways to extend the life of your beautiful flowers so that you can enjoy them longer.

If you have cut flowers from your garden, you always want them to stay beautiful for as long as possible.
If you have cut flowers from your garden, you always want them to stay beautiful for as long as possible. | Source

Things You Will Need

* sand (for short-stemmed flowers)
* adult aspirin
* hairspray
* hydrogen peroxide
* distilled white vinegar
* sugar
* antiseptic mouthwash

  • The first thing you can do is to lower the pH of the water by making it acidic. Simply use one part of Sprite (non-diet) to three parts of water in your flower vase. It is the citric acid in the Sprite (or you can use Seven-Up) that helps to lower the pH, and the sugar in the drink gives the cut flowers an extra boost of energy. However, you can just use distilled water in your flower vase instead of tap water if you are willing to purchase some at the supermarket. That should completely eliminate the pH problem.
  • Here's a tip you don't usually hear: Certain fruits (like bananas and apples) emit ethylene gas that is harmful to your cut flowers, so don't put your vase near a bowl of fresh fruit. Also, if you have fruit in your refrigerator, don't put cut flowers in there.
  • Each time you refresh your water in your vase, add about a teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide, which is a way to prevent stem-killing bacteria. You can also use about a half a teaspoon of antiseptic mouthwash for each quart of water in the vase. Look out bacteria, we are becoming wise to your ways!
  • Sugar and distilled white vinegar will also help prevent the growth of bacteria and remember that the sugar gives them the needed nourishment.

Some Great Tips to Keep Your Flowers Looking Lovely Longer!

  • If you have guests coming for lunch, put your flowers in the closet for about an hour or so. Bringing them out and exposing them to the light of day (right before your guests arrive) should perk them right up.
    (Only works in the daytime)...
  • When your gorgeous bouquet of flowers begins to wilt, grab a can of hairspray and hold it about 18 inches away from the underside of the leaves and petals, spraying hairspray upward. Commercial hairsprays contain glycerin and a class of acrylic resins which will help them survive another few days.
  • Now for wilting flowers that you want desperately to revive, dissolve an adult aspirin in half a cup of warm water, and pour it into your vase. And, before you throw them out completely, cut the stems again on a slant and put them in fresh, warm water.
  • If you happen to have a bouquet of short-stemmed flowers, put them in a container with sand saturated with warm water. They should look great and last a while.

Read my tips for keeping your daffodils looking beautiful longer!
Read my tips for keeping your daffodils looking beautiful longer!

Tips for Specific Cut Flowers

Daffodils- the sap-like fluid that they release in water is harmful to other flowers, so before you add them to an arrangement in a vase, put them in a separate vase with some lukewarm water. In a couple of hours or so, they will have released the sap, so you can empty the water out of the vase, rinse off the flower stems and then put them in a vase with other flowers

Marigolds - A teaspoon of sugar added to the water will help!

Roses - Use hot water in your vase, so that the stems will expand and it will be easier for the water to get up to feed the blooms and flower buds. (Also, roses love salt, so add a pinch a salt to their water and they will last longer).

Tulips - A tulip will grow, even after being cut, so be prepared to move them to a taller vase in order to hold the stems up. Copper added to the water also helps tulips to keep the blooms from drooping, so throw in a few copper pennies.

Sunflowers Sunflowers love the sun when they are growing, but after you cut them that scenario changes. A nice bouquet of freshly-cut sunflowers will last longer if they are kept in bright, but indirect light – out of the direct sunlight.

Baby’s Breath - They don’t always have to be used in wedding bouquets. Sometimes you might just want to stick some in a vase with some other flowers. So, buy the freshest ones you can find and avoid buying flowers that are brown on the edges. The best bunches of baby’s breath flowers are the ones that have blooms that are half opened and half closed. The buds should be pure white in color, soft and fluffy. The stems should be green and thin. All those things being said, there are ways to keep your baby’s breath looking great longer.

Once you have bought the flowers, remove the stems. There will be small leaves on the stem that will need to be carefully removed from the lower portion. After you have removed them, rinse the lower portion of the stems under running water. Put the stems immediately in a sterilized container that has about 4-5 inches of water that is lukewarm. Some people suggest using a flower-food solution to the water that will almost certainly extend the length of their freshness.

Zinnias – If you are cutting zinnias from your garden, make the cut about 12 inches down the stem away from the flower bud. Cut at a 45-degree angle and make sure that you are using a clean, sharp cutting instrument. If you are going to be outside for a while, place the flowers in a container of cold water immediately after cutting so they will stay hydrated until you take them inside and put them in a vase. Zinnias will stay fresh in a vase for over two weeks, so make sure you cut and keep them properly, such as:

Cut zinnias in the morning after the dew has dried but before the highest heat of the day, which may cause the petals or leaves to wilt and curl. You also need to select the right zinnias, which are ones that have begun to open but are not quite in full bloom. Those are the ones that will last the longest once they are cut.

If you have left any leaves that would sit below the water line in the vase, remove them. If you have to cut any of the stems from the bottom (for uniform length), make sure to cut the end at a 45-degree angle, which will ensure that the stem is open and absorbing moisture.

Fill your vase inside with water that is about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. For best results, dissolve a packet of cut flower preservative in the water, which will supply food to the zinnia and prevent bacterial problems, although you can’t always prevent all bacteria. Keep your vase in a cool area where the zinnias receive bright, but indirect sunlight. Direct sunlight (or even overly warm temperature) can cause zinnias to wilt.

For the very best results, replace the water (and preservative) in the vase every few days or sooner if the water gets cloudy or dirty looking. Remove the old stems as soon as they start to wilt to prolong the life of any remaining flowers you have.

Carnations – If you love carnations, they are an excellent choice for an indoor vase, as they will continue to look great for 2-3 weeks in distilled water because of the low mineral content. Avoid using hard or softened water because both contain dissolved minerals that are harmful to cut flowers. Change the water every other day.

If a carnation’s environment is healthy and you keep them out of direct sunlight, heat sources or cold drafts, it can stay beautiful for up to three weeks.

To handle them properly, hold the carnation stems under water and cut at a 45-degree angle, cutting off an inch or so from the bottom. If you don’t re-cut the stems prior to placing them in water, the flowers will wilt in just a few days. I find it is easier to cut them under running tap water before putting them in my water-filled vase. Cutting the stems while they are underwater will keep air from getting into the stems. As is the case in most cut flowers, remove any leaves from the part of the stem that will sit below the waterline to keep bacteria to a minimum. Every time you change the water, you need to re-cut the stems, even if it’s only about an eighth of an inch.

You can add table sugar of lemon-lime soda to the water in order to feed the cut flower. Use a tablespoon of sugar or mix one part lemon-lime soda with three parts of water. Don’t use diet soda – they don’t contain sugar and that’s the main nutrient your carnations need to stay looking beautiful longer.

If you have light-colored cut flowers, add some food coloring to the water and they will become a toned-down, muted version of the color you choose.

Remove dead flowers so that they don't contaminate the rest.

© 2011 Mike and Dorothy McKenney


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