How to Choose and Prepare Flowers for Arranging

Gorgeous floral design starts with good flowers. Find out how to choose the best ones, and prepare them for your arrangement.
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Select the best quality flowers available from your local florist or grower; stay as seasonal as possible with your choices. As a general rule, buy a maximum of four to five types of flower in three or four harmonious - or two complementary - colors. If scent is important, ask your florist for advice before you buy. Whether a flower has a lighter or stronger scent may impact where you place the flowers, as some scents can be overpowering in small rooms.

Buy and Conditioning Flowers

For arrangements that will last longer at home, buy flowers such as lilies, amaryllis, roses, ranunculas and tulips while they are still in bud or just starting to open; they shouldn't all be completely closed and neither should they all be almost open. If you need flowers as a short-term decoration for a special occasion such as a wedding, buy flowers that are already beginning to open up so they will look their best on the day.

It's important to condition your flowers and foliage as soon as you have bought them so that they remain in peak condition for as long as possible. Strip the excess leaves from the stems and split the ends of any woody stems. Place all the flower and foliage stems in a deep bucket of cold water for about an hour before you start to trim the stems and arrange the flowers. This will help to hydrate the flowers and ensure that they will bloom while they are still fresh. If the flowers have enough to drink at this stage, they shouldn't need quite so much water once they have been arranged in a display.

Choose Flowers with Blooms in Various Stages

Choose Flowers with Blooms in Various Stages

Photo by: DK - Fresh Flower Arranging © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Fresh Flower Arranging, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Healthy Roses

To check whether the roses you want to buy are really fresh and likely to last, gently squeeze a few of the flower heads near the base where the petals meet the sepals. An older rose has a soft base and tired-looking petals, while a fresh rose has a firm base and tighter, crisp-looking petals; choose the fresh roses, which have a longer life span.

Choose Healthy Fresh Roses for Arrangements

Choose Healthy Fresh Roses for Arrangements

Photo by: DK - Fresh Flower Arranging © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Fresh Flower Arranging, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stripping Stems

Lay the flowers and foliage out on a table. Take one stem, stand it upright on a table and run a craft knife down the sides of the stem to remove any thorns and unwanted leaves.

Leave a few leaves near the top of each stem, but remove any leaves that might stand in water. Foliage often has shorter stems than flowers, so cut off lower side shoots to create longer stems.

Stripping Leaves From Roses Prolongs Their Life

Stripping Leaves From Roses Prolongs Their Life

Photo by: DK - Fresh Flower Arranging © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Fresh Flower Arranging, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Splitting Stems

Make a diagonal cut about 1 inch from the base of each stem to encourage the stems to absorb more water and hydrate the flower heads.

Split the ends of woody stems such as roses, lilac and cultivated guelder rose with florist's scissors. This increases the surface area of the plant cells in these thicker foliage and flower stems so they take in more water.

Cut and Split Stems of Flowers to Keep Fresh

Cut and Split Stems of Flowers to Keep Fresh

Photo by: DK - Fresh Flower Arranging © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Fresh Flower Arranging, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Insider Tips

- If you use a clear vase, add a sterilizing tablet or stir flower food into the water and dissolve before adding flowers. This will keep the water clear and kill any bacteria.

- To encourage buds to open, take off more leaves. With fewer leaves on the stems, more water and nutrients pass to the flower head. To encourage lilies to open, put the stems in warm water, let the water cool and repeat.

- Remove pollen from flowers such as lilies to prevent stains on petals or clothing, and prevent allergy sufferers from experiencing any symptoms. Lily pollen is poisonous to cats and dogs so be sure to remove it if you have a pet. To do so: Gently pull the pollen-laden stamens from the center of the flower with your thumb and forefinger. If you miss a flower and the stamens become powdery, pinch the stamens out in the same way and dust off any stray pollen with a paintbrush.

Remove Pollen Laden Stamen from Lilies

Remove Pollen Laden Stamen from Lilies

Photo by: DK - Fresh Flower Arranging © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Fresh Flower Arranging, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Next Up

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