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How to make fresh flowers last longer

Tiffany Daneff / 31 January 2018

Find out how to cut, store and feed flowers to keep them fresher for longer.

Cut flowers in vases

Whether you’re giving or receiving flowers, knowing how to treat them can make the difference as to whether they’ll last a few days or a week.

If you are lucky enough to be given flowers the very first thing to do if they don’t come in a container (after saying thank you) is to put them in water.

It doesn’t matter if there’s no time to do anything else except put them in a basin or bucket of water. The rest can wait till later.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

Picking your own flowers

When to cut flowers

Try not to pick flowers in the heat of the day. Early morning on evening are the best times to pick as this is when transpiration is slowed down thus the plants will suffer less shock.

How to cut flowers

Use sharp secateurs or scissors.

Choose flowers that are just opening up but watch out because roses, dahlias and zinnias will not open from tight buds.

Always cut as long stems as possible and cut carefully to the next bud and from the back of the plant or from several plants so as not to mess up the look of the remaining plant.

When picking flowers from bulbs ensure you leave the foliage to grow on as the bulb needs this to be able to photosynthesize and build up energy stores for next year.

Storing cut flowers

Immediately plunge stems into water so, ideally, pick with a bucket of water at your side and positioned somewhere shady. If picking a lot you might want to have buckets for long and short stems.

Keep the cut flowers in cool shade until you’re ready to prepare the stems for arranging.

Find out about growing a flower cutting garden

Vases for flowers
As soon as you pick or receive a bunch of flowers plunge them into water.

Preparing cut flower stems

You can prepare stems, both bought ones and those freshly cut from the garden, so that they’ll last as long as possible.

Prevent stems rotting

Cut the stems at an angle so as to expose as much stem as possible to the water and also to prevent the stems sitting flat on the base of the vase making it harder to draw up water. Do use a sharp blade so as to cause minimal damage to plant tissue which can otherwise rot.

Strip away all foliage that will be sitting in water (usually the lower third of leaves) as this will rot quickly causing smells and encouraging decay. You can save time and do this while picking and then chuck on the compost heap.

Strip rose thorns

Roses usually need thorn stripping. There are neat tools you can buy for under a tenner that do this job. Otherwise snip at the points with sharp secateurs.

Straighten curvy tulips

Wrap tulip stems around with string and then in sturdy paper (or a few layers of newspaper) and leave in water overnight.

Dealing with droopy heads

Heavy headed blooms on weedy stems often bow down. Examples include poppies, hydrangeas, hellebores and euphorbias. To help prevent this, immediately after cutting the stem plunge the bottom of the stems into an inch of boiling water for twenty seconds making sure to keep the rest of the flower out of the steam. Next put the stems straight into lukewarm water.

Sometimes you can use this trick to fix the floppy heads of shop bought roses, remembering to cut off an inch of the stem first to encourage the drawing up of water.

Cutting rose stems

Rose stems should be cut on the diagonal with a sharp knife or secateurs. Next make a cut about an inch long vertically into the stem.

Cutting woody stems

Traditional advice was to bash woody stems of plants like hazel or ribes but it is now thought that this can lead to bacterial infection. Instead treat like roses, above.

Leave to stand

Stand prepared stems in a bucket of cold water somewhere cool for a few hours or best of all over night before putting in a vase. This gives flowers a chance to have a drink.

How to get rid of pollen beetles

Roses often seem affected and the simple solution is to stand the conditioned stems in a cool dark garage, outhouse or barn that has an open door or window.

The insects will fly towards the light.

Why do people suggest putting lemonade in the vase?

Bought cut flowers often come with sachets of conditioning food which contains sugar to feed and something to stop the water going smelly and some people suggest adding lemonade as a homemade alternative.

Personally, I’d rather make my own (see how below) but you can do without all of the above if you wash vases to clear any bacteria and keep them out of direct light, then check daily and top up with clean water when needed.

Make your own vase conditioner

Yes, easily. The RHS recommend these quantities per litre of water:

One tablespoon of vinegar
One teaspoon sugar
Three to five drops household bleach

Important: Stir well before adding stems.

How can you perk up tired vases?

Recut plant stems a little higher up
Snip off any tired or dying material
Tip away all the old water and wash out the vase making sure to clear out any debris or gunk before filling with fresh water.

No flower frogs, oasis or pin holders?

Flower frogs, usually made from ceramics, glass or metal, sit at the bottom of the vase and hold the stems in place. If you don't have one scrunch up chicken wire and use this inside the vase instead.

Where to place vases

The key is to avoid putting vases in to hot places so ideally you don’t want them on sunny windowsills or by radiators. Heat makes the plants wilt and the water turn foul.

Look out for interesting vases in junk shops, car boot sales and charity shops.

What kind of vase to use

Pottery will keep stems cooler than glass but if you want to use glass vases just ensure they are out of the sun.

All sorts of things make wonderful vases and part of the fun is finding your own.

Junkshops, car boot sales and charity shops are all great sources of pots, glasses, jugs and vases.

Pewter sets off petals perfectly as do many metals.

Enamel is another great material to use and comes in all colours and shapes.

How to make your floral display stand out

Contrast bright petals with bright vases. Try tangerine petals with a turquoise vase, or pink with green

Collect a range of shapes all in the same colour.

Collect one shape in a variety of colours.

Put little blooms in a row of tiny vases all the way along the mantelpiece or down a dining table.

Don’t run scared of kitsch. Logs, swans, fairings and teapots can all work wonderfully as vases. The secret is to go bold and have several all out at the same time.

Milk bottles and vintage bottles generally make nice vases.

Further reading

The Cutting Garden by Sarah Raven
Vintage Flowers by Vic Brotherson
The Cut Flower Patch by Louise Curley

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.