Living Well: 10 Secrets For Extending The Life of Cut Flowers

March 6, 2013

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.  

MINI-APPENDIX

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.

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sharon @ Discovering Blog March 6, 2013 at 8:35 am

Not only are your pictures just gorgeous, but there is so much useful info in this post! Love it.

Reply

2 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:00 am

Thanks, Sharon!

Reply

3 Elisabeth March 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

I’ve always wondered how I could make my flowers last longer- this is a wonderful post! And my favorite flowers are lilies, of almost any kind, but especially tiger lilies!!

Reply

4 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:01 am

Oh, I love tiger lilies! I can’t wait until they start blooming again this year. My neighbor has a bunch in her yard.

Reply

5 Lisette Wolter-McKinley March 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

I absolutely love the smell of freesia, thanks for the tips.

Reply

6 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

Isn’t it intoxicating? Makes me want to pack up and head to Hawaii…sigh.

Reply

7 Amy3 March 6, 2013 at 10:00 am

I agree with Sharon, the photos are amazing! I also love the tips. I’ve always cut off the stems (although I’ve been using scissors – never again!) and removed lower leaves, but many of these tips are brand new to me. I may just have to stop by the florist on my way home!

Reply

8 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:02 am

Thank you, Amy!

Reply

9 Joy March 6, 2013 at 10:03 am

Gorgeous flower pictures!

Freesias I planted last year are popping up all over my yard, they are a favorite. The cut flower I love the most is hydrangea, mostly because they last so gosh darn long if you change the water: two weeks+

Reply

10 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

I’m incredibly jealous! Freesia has got to be one of the best smelling flowers. The hydrangeas in the pictures just keep getting prettier every single day and make me so happy to look at. They do last a long time!

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11 Raquel March 6, 2013 at 10:26 am

This is so useful, can’t wait to put all the tips to the test with Spring flowers. Thank you very much! I can give yet more anedoctal evidence of the soda trick: I use a can of Sprite (funny thing is that even the diet version works!) and it makes most of the flowers last for two weeks or longer. A colleague from work who’s always had the most beautiful flowers on her desk thaught me that several years ago and it never fails.

Reply

12 Lindsey (Cafe Johnsonia) March 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

That’s a good reason to keep soda on hand, isn’t it? :) That was one I didn’t know about until I asked my florist. Yay for pretty flowers! Thanks, Raquel!

Reply

13 taste area March 6, 2013 at 11:56 am

Wow I didn’t know hydrangeas need so much water! I don’t think there’s a flower I don’t like-every single has its charm- but I’m really looking forward to peonies. I adore them.

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14 Lucy Mitchell March 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Thanks! Great tips, I’ll definitely try the 7up. My Aunt used to cut the ends of roses when she got them, dip the end into boiling water and hold it there until bubbles stopped coming out of the stem. It took a few minutes sometimes, and then put the rose into its new fresh water. Its pretty laborious but it does make roses last longer!

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15 Ma March 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm

The colors are so gorgeous! I love fresh cut flowers around the house.

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16 Stella March 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I never knew about freesia until I was looking for purple flowers to go in my wedding bouquet. They are so beautiful! And they dried beautifully too. I have the dried flowers in a vase on my bedroom dresser. These tips are wonderful! Can’t wait to use them next time I pick up some cut flowers.

p.s. Great post again Lindsey, I always love your’s :)

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17 Jana March 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

What a great post. Wonderful tips, amazing photographs!

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18 Sarah March 6, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Oh, I just read a new tip I hadn’t heard of this amazingly gorgeous book called Bringing Nature Home (by Rizzoli) that you should change the water frequently to prevent bacteria and if you do that you don’t need the food packet or you could just add a little sugar to the water but that changing the water should really do the trick. :)

Reply

19 Kasia March 7, 2013 at 2:15 am

These are so great. I love buying fresh flowers and am always sad to see them die so quickly. Will definitely be giving these a try next time I purchase! and will be great incentive to have a weekly rotation of lovely flowers, they add such a homey feel the place :)

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20 Martina March 7, 2013 at 4:55 am

I have also always heard a little sugar does the trick just as much as flower food and I am sure that is exactly the ingredient in 7up which helps. But I would certainly never add any bleach – flowers are natural after all! (Sorry to be critical but I cannot agree with using chemicals unnecessarily.)

Reply

21 Deepa March 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

I live in the Netherlands where cut flowers seem to last a ridiculously long time (I once had peonies on my sill for nearly three weeks!) but these tips are pretty great!

A tip from my neighborhood florist: when bringing roses from the cold into a warm (heated) indoor environment, leave them in cold water for an hour before putting them in room temperature water. The adjustment to the temperature helps lengthen their life span.

Reply

22 Barb Smith May 13, 2013 at 4:32 am

Thank you for your tips about care of cut flowers. My flowers wilted fast because of too warm room temp. . . No AC for 2 days. I live in Phoenix area. b.

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23 shaina eggleston August 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

the flowers are sooooooooooo beautiful my rose bushes and flowers are growing great thanks alot for the tips

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24 shaina eggleston August 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm

and thanks for showing me how to take care of my flowers after i cut them

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25 Fabi August 17, 2013 at 10:18 pm

I’m going to give you a another tip for hydrangeas after you cut them in a angle dip the end of the stem on alum. Then put them on water. It’s a trick from us flower designers ;).

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26 Lee wolff June 7, 2014 at 10:05 am

Thanks for all those tips.
What is alum?

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27 jenn June 23, 2014 at 9:29 am

Aluminum?

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28 Margaret swift August 28, 2013 at 9:32 am

Tulips will not flop as quickly if you pierce the stem right through, just under the flower head. Also singe the ends of Poppies to prolong their life.
Marg.

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29 Bernie September 17, 2013 at 5:42 am

Can you give me any advice please I am doing wedding flowers for my lovely niece she is getting married on the 28th of december I have asked my local market when the last delivery date is and they tell me the 23 December five days before my niece wants roses and another wedding flower which she hasnt decided I have never done a winter wedding and am nervious incase the flowers dont last Iv taken the 7 up advice on board can you give me any more advice thanks !!!!

Reply

30 true nutrition review October 7, 2013 at 4:21 am

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31 Glenda Bridges October 12, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Hydrangeas can actually be soaked up to four hours in cool water, I use ice cubes or bagged ice to cool the water for their entire body. I do this when first arriving from the farms, in some deep soaking sinks or even in a clean bath tub, it is especially important for wedding work that has lots of hydrangeas depending on time of year for outdoor weddings with warm temp months.

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32 Olivia Maroon October 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Thank you so much you helped me alot with my science fair project:)

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34 Christine Riding December 7, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Thanks for the great tips. Really appreciate them!

Christine
Australia

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35 Yerang Ryu January 24, 2014 at 6:28 am

Thank you so much for the brilliant tips! Do you mind my translating it into my first language(Korean) to share on my blog?

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36 michael March 24, 2014 at 1:17 pm

i need suggestion ab out fresh cut flower to give a longer life, my job is flower arrangement i’m new, because all my fresh cut flower is morethan a 3 days or 4 then after dat all of this is not good,.. any one can help me about this my problem,.. thank’s a lot and have a nice day to all,….

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38 Stefanie May 30, 2014 at 11:28 pm

Wow, what great info you’ve shared. I love keeping fresh flowers on the dining table, and now hopefully they’ll last longer. Thank you!

Reply

39 Linda June 10, 2014 at 11:57 am

I picked some flowers today to give away tomorrow. And also some fresh herbs and sallad from my garden. Need to keep them fresh and beautiful and will try a few of your tips. Hopefully I can give them all away tomorrow.

Reply

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