Sometimes you don’t want to spoil your garden’s beauty by cutting all of the best flowers to fill a vase. Or perhaps your garden is in a lull, with not much blooming at the moment, and you don’t have enough flowers to make an interesting arrangement. You needn't spend a fortune to have a lovely bouquet if you use a little creativity, combining inexpensive grocery store flowers with resources from your own yard.

Because florist flowers generally have sturdy, thick stems, they work well as the foundation of a floral arrangement, offering lots of places to anchor more lightweight flowers cut from the home garden. I purchase 3 to 5 stems of one type and color of flower, then fill out the vase with a few touches from my own garden. The result is a lush, one-of-a-kind bouquet.

My favorite florist flowers to use for this strategy are long-lasting roses, daisies, chrysanthemums or alstroemeria. By cutting the stems frequently, changing the water completely every 5 to 7 days, snipping off all spent flowers and adding my own garden flowers and foliage as needed, I can keep a beautiful arrangement going for nearly a month--all for a few dollars.


From the store: 3 stalks of small pink roses, $3.34

From the garden: 'Plum Pudding' heuchera leaves; Japanese painted fern leaves; dark red snapdragon; branch with dried flowers from white spirea; white boltonia


From the store: 3 stalks of dark red chrysanthemums, $3.34

From the garden: flower head from ravenna grass; fern leaves; bronze fennel; rudbeckia; perovskia; sedum 'Matrona'; white boltonia


From the store: 3 stalks of small peach roses, $3.34

From the garden: dried hydrangea flowers; 'Magic Carpet' spirea; 'Sunkist' arborvitae; 'Creme Brulee' heuchera leaves; sedum 'Vera Jameson'

Tips For Cutting Flowers From Your Garden:

• Carry a glass or bucket of lukewarm water with you into the garden if you are planning to cut a lot of flowers. If you don’t want to bother with water and are cutting just a few stems, take them inside right away to place in a vase. Carrying the flowers heads-down keeps the stems straight and unbroken.

• Cut flowers early in the morning or late in the evening. If you cut them as they sit in the sun at mid-day, they are likely to wilt.

• Choose flowers at the best stage for cutting. You will find some flowers, such as daisies, zinnias and marigolds, are better cut when the flower is fully open. Others, such as peonies, iris and roses, do best when they are cut when the bud is just starting to open. If you are cutting a plant such as phlox or aster that blooms in clusters, choose stems on which 1/2 to 2/3 of the buds have opened.

• Use sharp pruning shears to cut flowers from woody-stemmed shrubs such as lilac, forsythia and hydrangea. Look for stems on which at least 2/3 of the flowers have opened.

• Use foliage from hosta, heuchera and ferns to offer contrast and fill out an otherwise sparse bunch of flowers. Grasses and cuttings from shrubs such as arborvitae or spirea are unexpected and add texture to a flower bouquet.

Tips for Purchasing Cut Flowers:

• Choose the freshest-looking bunch you can find, with buds just beginning to open. The condition of the leaves is just as important as the flowers--pass over any that are droopy or soft.

• Check the flowers’ stem ends. They should look bright green or white, and freshly cut, otherwise they will take up little water and will not last long.

• Pass up the flowers on display just inside the store’s entrance--in the winter there is a good chance they have already been exposed to blasts of cold and wind that may shorten their vase life. Keep your bouquet well-wrapped on the way home to protect it from the weather.

Tips For Preserving Cut Flowers:

• Fill a clean vase with lukewarm water to which some floral preservative has been added. (see note below).

• Remove any leaves below the level of the water to prevent the growth of bacteria in the water. This can be tedious, especially if you have a big bunch of flowers--or a thorny bunch of roses--but it makes a huge difference in the life of your bouquet.

• Use a sharp knife or scissors to make an angled cut at least an inch from the ends of the stems. This is especially important with store-bought flowers since their first cut may have been days ago, but you should also make a second cut even if you have just carried the flowers in from the garden. This encourages them to take up more water, increasing their freshness.

• Don’t forget to add water to the vase daily--if you have prepared your cut flowers properly they will take up a lot of water. Give them a fresh stem cut every day or two to make them last as long as possible.

For tips on planting a garden especially for cutting, see Jacqueline Cross’ article Plant a Perennial Cutting Garden.

For the best way to care for a bouquet of roses from the florist, see Carrie Lamont’s article What To Do If You Get Sent A Bouquet of Roses.

Floral Preservative

Cut flowers last much longer when kept in water that contains a floral preservative. You can use the commercial preparation that comes with florist flowers, or you can try these suggestions from David J. Robson of the University of Illinois Extension for a home-made floral preservative:

• 2 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. bleach, 1/4 tsp. alum to 1 quart of water

• 1 tsp. sugar, 1/2 tsp. bleach, 2 Tbsp. white vinegar to 1 quart of water

• 1 pint Sprite (not diet), 1/2 tsp. bleach to 1 pint water

University of Illinois Extension: Proper Care of Cut Flowers