Cut flowers

Make Your Cut Flowers Last Longer

There are a few simple steps you can take to make
your cut flowers last longer.

By Larry Hodgson

Your home flower garden can be an almost inexhaustible source of cut flowers for the home. In fact, it was once common to plant a cutting garden near your house: a bed specifically dedicated to cut flowers. But even a small flowerbed can provide lots of bloom for indoor decoration.

When to Harvest

A simple cut flower arrangement with common annuals using a teapot as a vase.
A simple flower arrangement of blooms from the garden. Photo: National Garden Bureau

Each flower has specific preferences when it comes to harvesting it. However, in general, you should harvest flowers borne singly as well as composite flowers (daisylike blooms) just as they reach full bloom. If the flower stalk carries several to many flowers, though, harvest when about one quarter to one half of the flowers are open. That will ensure blooms for right away as well as the coming days and (hopefully) weeks.

Timing is important too! For a bouquet of cut flowers that lasts as long as possible, start by harvesting the flowers early in the morning, when the stems are fully turgid (rich in moisture). If the flowerbed is particularly dry, it may be worthwhile watering the day before.

What You’ll Need in the Garden

You need secateurs or a sharp knife. Don’t use scissors, as they tend to crush stems. Instead, you’ll want the stems to remain in top shape, with unhampered conduits.

And your cutting tool should be sterile.

You’ll also need a waterproof vessel to put the stems in . . . a clean bucket, for example.

And fresh water.

With that, you’re good to go!

How to Harvest

Bring a pail of warm water to the garden with you. Each time you cut a stem, place it immediately into the water. This will allow for better hydration.

And why warm water? Because flower stems absorb warm water better than cold.

Back Indoors

Packets of cut flower preservative.
Packets of cut flower preservative.

As you begin preparing your arrangement in the vase of your choice, add a packet of cut flower preservative (available at the florists or in a dollar store) to the water. This product is designed to feed cut flowers and also lower the pH of their water. (Tap water is hard, but plants prefer their water acidic.) Even as it feeds the blooms, the preservative helps slow down the growth of harmful bacteria.

If you don’t have a cut flower preservative on hand, you can make a close substitute. Mix one part of 7-Up or Sprite to three parts water and add a drop of bleach. Or mix 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of bleach and 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice to 1 quart (1 liter) of warm water.

Flower stem being recut under water.
Recut the stem under water. Ill.: laidbackgardener.com

Study each stem. Remove any leaves that will end up under water. Submerged leaves will likely start to rot, and then the rot can spread to the flower stem itself, bringing the display to a stop.

Recut Under Water

Now, recut the stem at an angle of about 45 degrees. If possible, recut them under water, ideally, while the stem is plunged the solution in the vase. Pick up the bits of cut stem after each cut.

Why do that? As you cut a section of stem free, it immediately creates a vacuum that fills with whatever surrounds the stem. By cutting under water, liquid will penetrate the wound rather than air bubbles. And you don’t want air bubbles to form, as they’ll block circulation to the flower above.

It won’t be possible to clip off the tip of the stem if the vase has narrow neck. In such a case, turn on the tap and cut off the stem in the flowing water. That way, the tip will fill with water rather than air. Then transfer the stem to the vase.

Despite a popular belief, you do not have to remove the thorns from cut roses. Doing so will reduce the bloom’s longevity and allow harmful bacteria to penetrate the stem.

Maintenance

Cut flowers will last longer in a cool, bright room. If that’s not possible, at least place the bouquet in a cool room at night.

Flower stem being recut under water.
Every few days, recut the flower stem underwater to prolong its live. Photo; zflowers.com

About every three days, thoroughly clean the vase and change the water solution. And recut the stems, removing about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from their tip. That will help to eliminate any bacteria that already have begun to form.

As flowers fade (and some only last for a few days while others may last two weeks or more!), simply remove them from the arrangement. And when there is pretty much nothing left, well . . . it’s time to get rid of the stragglers and go harvest a new bouquet!


There you go! A few carefully planned actions will give you the best possible results from your homegrown cut flower arrangement.

Text based on an article originally published in this blog on June 27, 2016

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

1 comment on “Make Your Cut Flowers Last Longer

  1. Good advice. Another useful tool to help your flowers last longer is to give them a bit of a rest in a cool place- basement, shaded space outside, etc- before placing them in their final spot. This allows them to recover from the shock of being picked, cut and arranged. I used to do cut flowers for a local farmer’s market. I would cut the flowers the night before and arrange the next day. Customers were always amazed at how long they lasted.

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