Articles and tips about processing cut flowers....

Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

I ran across these articles that give some good pointers to extend the life of cut flowers:,1785,HGTV_3609_1397918,00.html

I find a lot of conflicting info out there about additives to the water, like aspirin, vinegar, corn syrup, mouth wash, sugar, and lemon-lime soda, but I cannot attest to the effectiveness of any of them. The idea is the sugars nourish the flowers and the acids to retard the growth of microbes (and some sources say lower ph-4.5, helps water uptake). Longer lasting flowers (zinnias,daisies,yarrow,gloriosa,statice,etc.), and stems of flowers that are expected to continue to develop in the vase (lilies,gladiolus,liatris,daylilies,bearded iris, and forced stems of blooming trees and shrubs) benefit more from providing nutrients than shorter lived flowers (like spring bulb flowers). With tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths I've found it best not to instigate further development by adding food; the warmth of the home speeds that up anyway.

The 2 main things I see to to extend their life are disinfection and recutting stems. I make sure the knife and container are clean, either with bleach or antibacterial dishwashing liquid, and re-wash the vase every couple of days when changing the water. At this point,especially with flowers with fleshy, watery stems (that get slimy fastest), or the ones that last an extra long time, I often rinse the stems with some soapy water or 10% bleach solution. The microbes that grow in there (and cause that horrid smell!) really diminish the life a cut flower, usually by infecting the cut end of the stem and stopping hydration. This is why along with disinfection, I re-cut the stems every other day or so, using a sharp knife (not scissors that can squeeze vascular tissues shut) and cutting at an angle, creating the largest openings in the vascular tissues for hydration. For really tough, long lasting flowers and greenery, just changing the water frequently is often enough to extend the life.

Everyone, feel free to post any articles or tips here :)


Mount Angel, OR(Zone 8a)

Great ideas, Neal. I find the hardest flower to keep looking nice is the rose. But I bet recutting every day is the key. I do use a bit of bleach like maybe a tablespoon in a gallon of water and the sugar too. I think it really helps. Also crushing woody stems seems to help increase the longevity of things like lilac. I have even burned the stems of hellebores and poppies and do question whether that does any good.

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Lenjo, I myself feel that burning the stems of poppies and dahlias does help them last longer, so I almost always either burn or put the stem ends in boiling water for 2 or 3 min. after cutting them and bringing in the house.

Here might be a good place to tell how I have the best luck with lilacs for long life. After cutting and before putting in at least lukewarm water, I use a hammer and smash the bottom inch or so of the stem, then put in a small container with 1" of rubbing alcohol for 3 minutes. They will hold up quite nicely after being treated that way. That is a trick I learned many years ago when going to flower arranging classes.


Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

Neal, my computer is extremely slow today. And I could not bring up either of your links.


Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

Lenjo, roses are the flowers that retail florists put the most care and attention into processing (well, good ones, that is). Roses are best cut under water, so that the initial suction that occurs when the stem is cut, draws up water, not air. An air embolism can cause droop neck. To dip the ends of the freshly cut stems into a 10% bleach solution before placing in the vase kills germs that inhibit water uptake.

I've always heard that about burning poppy, dahlia, and euphorbia (including poinsettia) when using as a cut flower. In my flower shop days, we would treat poinsettias that broke off the potted plants this way and use them in cut arrangements, and it truly did make a big difference. Although I understand the idea of sort of cauterizing the wound, it seems the vascular tissues would be closed off as well. With some flowers it is more a matter of retarding water loss than providing hydration, so it could be such a case.

Donna, crushing the stems of woodies like lilac is what I was always taught too, but I had not heard of the alcohol (and it makes good sense). I found it odd that one of the articles I linked above recommended against crushing stems. At the flower shop I cut lilac stems under water at an angle, placed in a commercial hydration solution, and then in lukewarm water with flower food. Yours sounds like a good home method of achieving the same results.

Mount Angel, OR(Zone 8a)

I always put dahlias in hot water. Burning the ends too! That is new to me.

Taft, TX(Zone 9a) are a wealth of information!!!!
since I have nothing to add right now to this forum, you keep it alive!!!! (LOL)

Lewisville, MN(Zone 4a)

I just found this forum. Looks like a great help for us wantabes.
Keep those tips coming.

Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

Thanks, gessiegail! Glad to be able to contribute :)

I thought of something else that pertains to the spring flowers many of us are cutting now. There are many flowers that are best cut just as the buds are opening. Iris, peonies, tulips and daffodils benefit from this treatment; adds a day or 2 to the vase life. I have no idea if there is any scientific support for this theory, but I believe harvesting the flower before it is pollinated by insects may slow down its natural inclination to mature (the cycle of pollination and seed production have been halted).

Cochise, AZ(Zone 8b)

Bernie, I'm with you. I know I can learn alot from this group!

Tonasket, WA(Zone 5a)

I was always told to take a container of warm water to the garden with me when cutting plant material. I have a really neat handled container with a flared bottom so doesn't tip easily. It is great to take out into the garden. I just cut about 3 doz. varied daffodils to make some bouquets for my tomorrows little bridge gathering. Nothing fancy just pretty daffodils in containers.


Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

Oh, please let us see when you do this tomorrow!!!

Portage, WI(Zone 4b)

Crushing woody stems pulverizes the plant and actually is more conducive to bacterial development than anything else. I would never do it nor recommend it to a customer. Many of these ideas are very outdated. If you read any floral books et cet more than a couple of years old you are getting old info. Commercial rose preparation needs only recutting of stems (does not need to be underwater) dipped in quick dip and placed in COLD floral solution. The longevity of cut flowers is greatly extended by keeping them COLD(except tropicals/orchids) Warm water=bacteria!! Refrigerate ASAP upon cutting/processing flowers. There is nothing I hate more than walking in a shop and seeing flowers sitting out all over. You are stealing the consumers enjoyment. Upon cutting flowers need to be conditioned for best vase life.Yes, you can enjoy them perfectly fine straight from the garden but they will benefit greatly from immediatly placing in cold water fairly deep, and refrigerating or placing next to a cool source like a/c. Leave them sit for a few hours before arranging. Recut and change water. You will see a difference. I have processed untold thousands of flowers this way for market with out even using preservative and my customers came back saying their flowers lasted all week or more. Buy preservative from a craft store,floral shop, et cet. Dont mess with homemade junk if you really want to enjoy your flowers. Use the liquid kind it won't cloud the water. Commercial formulas are ph balanced and already include bacterial inhibitors. You can also purchase food specifically for bulb flowers which will greatly help lilies survive. Just a few thoughtful tips. I have heard way too many of these old myths continually perpetuated and it drives me nuts!!!

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

thanks for the information....I have thought about keeping an extra refrigerator just for grandmother did...I am 65 and she died over 20 years ago at the age of 86.....

Winchester, KY(Zone 6a)

Most of the cut flowers I worked with came in dry packed from out of the country, and were usually in tight bud. We used warm water so that they would start showing color and become usable in design, then cooled them. Cutting under water is mostly helpful in dealing with dry packed flowers and does'nt usually apply to the home gardener who can immediately hydrate. I've seen an experiment with cutting 1 dry packed carnation under water, 1 with a knife at an angle, and one left uncut. All 3 were placed in colored water, and within 5 minutes the stem cut under water was showing color in the petals. Oddly the other 2 started showing color at about the same time, about 10-15 minutes later. That was a demonstration from some Teleflora representative at a wholesale company, and was fun to watch.

Portage, WI(Zone 4b)

If you live in a college town you can sometimes find those little fridges pretty cheap :)
I learned a long time ago wholesalers and wire companies will tell you whatever they want to sell their products lol. I have worked in shops that use warm water and those that use cold and the warm water was by far inferior. Yes it will cause flowers to open fast which if you need them fast for sympathy or wedding work is fine but for everyday use a cold conditioned flower will open slower and last longer for the consumer. That immediate warm treatment after potentially two weeks or more out of water can cause flowers to blow. I worked in a shop where we didn't even have warm water! warmth will make flowers age faster whcih means shorter vase life. Modern processes and improved chemicals as required by law in south america have greatly changed flower processing. Good farms have on site conditioning facilities and cold condition flowers before shipping which gives them an even better head start. 24 hours in water then off to miami. If you ever get a chance to tour a farm in south america it is really interesting!

Taft, TX(Zone 9a)

interesting info..thanks

Buffalo, WV(Zone 7a)

Very helpful and interesting info. Thanks.


Ashdown, AR(Zone 8a)

I don't have refrigeration but then I only do a small ammount of cuts,harvesting them the morning before the day I'll take them to the market so I have to make my boquets later that evening. I take my bucket of presevative with me so I can place the stems in a soon as I cut them. As soon as my buckets full,I put it in the master bedroom(I try to keep the lights off as much as possible) which is the coolest room in the house for several hours to draw out the field heat. That evening I make my bouquets,secure with a rubber band then cut all the stems off the same length,underwater,put them back in a fresh bucket or vase of presevative then back into the bedroom until ready to load the next morning for market.

I've read that zinnas and sunflowers need to be in plain water and that even sugar water can shorten their vase life but I've always treated them like I do my other cuts with no problems.


Eustis, FL(Zone 9a)

I have found a method that works well, especially for remontant hydrangea cultivars as well as garden flowers. I cut the stems and place them in a bucket of ice water or very cold water - around 40F. I never use vaselife solutions and have really good vaselife on the flowers.

london England, United Kingdom

Connie, this thread is very helpful for conditioning techniques with flowers, I always remove the
leaves,I find the flowers last longer and use other 'greenary'

This message was edited Aug 8, 2007 5:00 PM

Albany, NY

I see that this is on older and seemingly inactive thread, but as I happened upon it in a web search, I thought I might not be the only one...

When arranging with lilacs I have had the best luck, over and over again, by peeling the bark from the cut end of the stem about 1"-1.5". And, if the stem is thick enough I also split it up the center, again, about 1"-1.5".

My Mum, who arranged flowers throughout the UK and US never saw the practicality in smashing woody stems. A smashed stem draws very little water, harbours bacteria, and, is using floral foam, can be tricky to arrange and impact the structual integrity of the foam.

Laurel, DE(Zone 7a)

Thanks for the tip. I have made a lot of arrangements and don't believe in the "smashing" either, but do like the peeled bark idea!

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