Text and images by Lindsey Johnson for Design Mom.
Nothing brightens a room quite like a vase of fresh flowers. Also, nothing smells quite as nice (with the exception of a few flowers maybe — I’m looking at you, Easter Lilies!).
I love walking by a vase of freesia. It reminds me of being someplace warm and sunny, preferably tropical, with the breeze blowing through my hair. Roses remind me of my great-grandmother’s rose garden and her gorgeous Peace Roses the size of small dinner plates. Hydrangeas bring back fond memories of my time living on the East Coast. Then there are peonies. My maternal grandmother had so many growing in her garden. They are cheerful and happy and make me think of summer and bare feet in the grass.
Whether it’s a bouquet of gorgeous roses from your significant other, a friendly bunch of birthday daisies from your bestie, magenta peonies fresh from the garden, or that impulsive bunch of tulips you grabbed on your way through the grocery store check out line, there are some helpful concrete things you can do that will keep them fresh, lasting longer and looking their best.
Most of the time you’ll probably find flowers bunched together, held with either a rubber band or twine, packaged in cellophone or paper. When you get flowers from the florist, try to buy from one that has a high turnover so you can be sure you’re getting really fresh flowers. It’s a good idea to befriend your favorite florist, like I have with mine. They are going to be your best resource regarding specific flowers and they might just let you in on good deals or specials, or tricks only the pros know.
Tips like Secret #1: when shopping for roses, gently squeeze the rose where the petals meet the top of the stem. If it’s soft and squishy, the roses are old and you shouldn’t buy them. If it’s firm, the roses are fresh.
Florists and floral sections of grocery stores will keep some flowers in refrigerated areas in buckets of water. The cooler temps help keep the flowers fresher, and the water is of course to keep them alive. Speaking of water, flowers will wilt quickly without it. Secret #2: If you have a ways to go before purchasing your flowers and putting them into a vase, be sure they are A) packaged with individual water containers, or B) that you plan ahead and have a bucket of water with you, or at the very least C) wrap the stem bottoms in damp paper towels.
Once you get home, inspect the flowers. I find this is especially true with roses.
Remove any severely wilted petals or leaves, and Secret #3: remove any greenery from the bottom of the stems that will be submerged in the water — you’ll be amazed at how much removing lower leaves will help keep the water clearer.
Next, take a look at the stems. Sometimes you’ll see that they’ve been burnt, or are severely dried out. Water is changed regularly at the florist, but they leave the stem trimming up to us. Time to trim those ends!
Cut off 1-2″ of the stems, under running water or in a bowl of water, at a 45 degree angle. Doing this underwater will help prevent extra air from going into the stems. Secret #4: It’s a good idea to trim a bit from the stems each day or every other day to help the flowers receive a steady flow of nutrients and water.
What should you use to cut the stems? My florist says scissors squish the stems too much. They can damage the end of the stem and prevent them from absorbing the water from the vase. So I take her advice and Secret #5: I use a very sharp knife to get a clean cut. For woody, thicker stems, you can also use sharp garden shears.
If you don’t cut the flowers underwater, be sure to get them in water as soon as possible after cutting. They should stay in fresh, clean water until you transfer them to a vase or put them into an arrangement. There are only a very few flower stems that can handle being bashed or split, so steer clear of that unless you know for sure it’s good for a particular flower.
When you’re ready to arrange the flowers, remember Secret #6: Always, always, always use a sparkling clean vase that has been washed in hot, soapy water and rinsed well. This will help remove any microorganisms. Those pesky microorganisms equal slimy water and dead flowers.
Some flowers will continue to grow even after they have been cut from the main plant. Anemones (the pretty purple flowers pictured) will keep growing and taking in large amounts of water every day, as will tulips. In just two days, the anemone blossoms opened and the stems grew about 1/2″!
Flowers take in more water than you might think. Look carefully at the hydrangeas below and you’ll notice that in a little over 24 hours they drew in 3/4 of the vase water. I use good old tap water, but you can also use demineralized water — like the distilled water you’d put into an iron. Florists don’t recommend using soft water. There’s too much sodium in the water which is not good for the flowers.
Which brings us to Secret #7: Since cut flowers are no longer receiving nutrients from their roots, it becomes your job to keep them fed and happy. This will also help any unopened buds bloom.
There are homemade vase solutions you can make, but when I asked my florist to give me the down-low on that, she said the best thing is the same thing the pros use: commercial flower food in packets. When buying your flowers, ask for a few extra food packets, because you will want to change the water every day or every other day, and each packet is only enough food for 1 pint of water.
Secret #8: In addition to the food, adding a tiny amount of bleach to the water — 1/4 tsp. per quart of water — will also help keep the water clean and clear and prevent harmful microorganisms from taking over. But please don’t use too much or you’ll damage the flower you’re trying so hard to preserve!
Secret #9: Besides drawing water from their stems, almost all flowers benefit from a daily mist of water. This is a fun “chore” my kids enjoy helping with.
Lastly, cut flowers will keep fresh longer if kept at cooler temperatures. Remember how florists keep flowers in those large refrigerators? Secret #10: You don’t have to keep your flowers in the fridge, just move them to a cooler spot every night and keep them away from hot spots in your house — this includes being near fireplaces and heaters, and away from direct sunlight, which can harm the delicate petals.
Temperature also matters when cutting the flowers from the garden. Cut in the morning when the temperature outside is cooler.
I’ve also gathered random bits of flower-specific advice that don’t fit in the general discussion above, but they’re too good not to share. Take a peek:
- You might have heard that aspirin or vinegar will help prolong the life of cut flowers, but it doesn’t really have much of an effect. One thing that does seem to work is using lemon-lime soda. Word on the street (from an elementary science fair project) is that filling a vase with straight 7-Up instead of water will keep roses looking fabulous for up to 2 weeks. Wow!
- There’s an old wives tale about putting a penny in the bottom of a vase of tulips to keep them standing up straight. It really seems to work!
- Another one for tulips: dipping stems in ice water each morning and cutting off 1/4″ will make them last a lot longer.
- Hydrangeas like water so much, that instead of misting them, they can handle a quick dip in a bowl of cool water!
Now you’re ready for all those gorgeous Springtime flowers! If you have life-extending flower tips that have worked for you, I’m sure we’d all love to hear them. And I’d also love to know what flower you’re most looking forward to as the weather warms up. (Preferred flowers can be a passionate topic!) As for me, I can’t decide between peonies and hydrangeas.
P.S. — Hungry for more secrets? You can find all of the posts in this series here.