Preserving Cut Flowers

Bringing fresh-cut flowers indoors is one of the many joys of gardening. Keep your arrangements beautiful with these step-by-step tips.

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Zinnia x  (02) Habit

Zinnia x (02) Habit

Zinnia x (02)

Materials Needed

  • stem-cutting shears or sharp pruners
  • pail
  • vase
  • 1 cup regular 7-Up
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon household bleach

Step 1: Cut Flowers

Some of the best and most widely adapted annual cut flowers with the longest vase life include alstroemeria, aster, celosia, cosmos, gypsophila, lavatera, rudbeckia, scabiosa, snapdragon, statice, sunflower, yarrow and zinnia (pictured). It's best to cut flowers in your garden in the morning, before the dew has dried, or in the early evening. With stem-cutting shears or sharp pruners, snip above a node or dormant bud to spur new blooms. Put stems in a pail of lukewarm water as you cut them. Tip: Flowers with hollow stems do not have a long vase life.

Step 2: Recut Stems

Once indoors, recut stems on a slant under water to eliminate air bubbles that block uptake of food and water. Certain types of flowers (including celosia, sunflower and zinnia) benefit from scalding the stem ends in boiling water for 20 seconds or over a candle flame to stop nutrient-rich sap from oozing. To prevent decay, remove bruised leaves and foliage below the water line.

Step 3: Condition Flowers

Condition flowers several hours before arranging. Rest stems in lukewarm water in a cool, dark place so they can absorb water.

Step 4: Arrange Flowers

Arrange conditioned flowers in a vase of warm (110 degrees F) water. To slow aging, place the vase in a well-ventilated cool place (as low as 38 degrees F). Don't store flowers near unsealed fruits and vegetables, which produce ethylene, a gas that hastens ripening, or in the case of flowers, aging.

Step 5: Add Water

Fresh-cut flowers have enough stored sugars to survive in a vase, but if you would like to add a preservative, try a homemade version. Tests have found commercial floral preservatives to be less effective than the following formula; the sugar in the 7-Up provides energy for the flowers, and the bleach controls bacteria. Simply mix together 1 cup regular 7-Up, 1 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon household bleach. If you need more liquid, just increase the amounts proportionately.

Step 6: Change Water

Change water in the vase every couple of days. In mixed bouquets, some of the flowers may give off sap that is toxic to other varieties, shortening their vase life. That process can be avoided by frequently refreshing the water.

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