The definitive guide to making cut flowers last longer

Cut flowers make your home beautiful. A vase of blooms really lifts a room and has a gorgeous fragrance too. But it’s frustrating when they wilt and die in a few days. Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to get two or even three weeks out of a bunch of flowers. Follow these tips for ensuring your Valentine’s flowers stay fresh and beautiful for as long as possible!

When you first get the cut flowers

Cut flowers have been removed from the plant that was their life support, so the most important thing is to get them into water as soon as possible. As soon as you get them, remove the plastic and cellophane wrapping as this will cause the leaves to sweat and start to wilt.

Are you cutting flowers from your own garden? Take them in the morning. This is when water reserves in the stem are highest, after a cooler night.

Alternatives to roses for Valentine’s

Prepare the flowers for the vase

  1. Clean the stems first – dirt will make the water go slimy. Remove the lower leaves and any visibly wilted leaves. This prevents the foliage rotting in the water.
  2. Trim the stems by at least two centimetres. Cells begin to grow over the end of flower stems when they are cut from the plant. They aim to seal the cut, meaning water cannot get up the stem. Trimming off the end removes this problem.
  3. Cutting at a 45 degree angle will keep the stem as open as possible. Some people say that cutting with scissors crushes the tip of the stem and to use a sharp knife instead. But scissors or garden secateurs are best for woody stems.

What to put in vase water

  • Always, always use a clean vase! Bacteria in dirty vases will make the water murky and make the flowers rot
  • Fill the vase with warm tap water rather than cold, then add the flower food. Sugar works just as well
  • Commercial flower food increases the acidity of the water to prevent bacteria growing. You can mimic the effects with a few drops of lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • Many people recommend using lemonade for sugar and acidity. Make sure you don’t use diet or sugarfree versions. Aim for a mix of one part lemonade to two parts water

There is also plenty of advice about adding bleach to keep the water clean and prevent the stems rotting. It does seem to work, but if you want to do this, only add a tiny amount (a few drops) or you will do more harm than good.

Vodka is sometimes added to vase water too. Some people think it prevents algae growth, but studies suggest it slows the production of ethylene, a ripening gas that flowers emit. Again, use no more than a few drops if you want to try this.

There are many tips online about putting aspirin in the water, but other trials have suggested that this can make the stems turn grey or rot. There is no evidence of any benefit.

Nor should you add a copper penny – this is an old wives’ tale and more likely to just add bacteria to the water. Copper may inhibit bacteria growth, but the copper in pennies is not water soluble.

Looking after your cut flowers

Keep flowers in a cool part of the room away from direct sunlight. Heat will dry out petals and wilt flowers.

Change the water regularly to stop it becoming dirty or green. Clean out the vase with hot, soapy water and fill it with fresh water.

Some plant food packets suggest simply topping up the water, but I find it’s better to replace it. This is especially important if the water starts to go grey or green. Some flower varieties need fresh water every day or every other day.

Always add more plant food when you change the water. You can trim the stems a little too to keep them open.

Remove any flowers that wilt, rather than leaving them in the vase. They release the ripening gas ethylene which may cause the other flowers to wilt prematurely.

Flowers with hollow stems like tulips sometimes flop over. They bend because an air bubble gets trapped in the stem. Release it by pushing a pin through the stem at the top. They should stand up straight again.

You can also mist your cut flowers regularly to keep them looking really fresh. Just put water into a spray bottle and give petals and leaves the once over.

For really long-lasting blooms, try carnations, alstroemeria and chrysanthemums.

Best flowers for Valentine’s Day

One Comment

  1. J Williams June 7, 2016 at 12:11 pm - Reply

    Thank you. I followed this advice and it was really useful.

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