Keep Your Cut Flowers Fresher for Longer

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/aterkel/">aterkel</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>
Photo by aterkel/Flickr/Creative Commons

One of my favorite things about spring? The abundance of beautiful flowers at farmers' markets everywhere, varieties you don't often see in winter or even at the supermarket. Farmers' markets flowers are special: Your bouquet didn't have to travel thousands of miles to grace your living room vase. Did you know the U.S. imports 85% of its cut flowers from South America? And that roses are the #1 imported flower, often coming from Colombia or Ecuador? In fact, if you purchased roses from a supermarket or big-box store, it most likely came from a savanna in Bogotà.

Luckily, California is the center of the U.S. flower market and produces 75% of all the cut flowers grown and sold in this country. As you're shopping for flowers to adorn your home this spring, consider buying California-grown flowers, which were probably just in the field one or two days ago! They might cost a little more than the bargain bundle at the local grocer, but they support a domestic industry and you're more likely to find fun and interesting varieties beyond the typical roses and tulips.

So once you bring them home, how do you keep them alive? There are a lot of old wives' tales floating around the Internet on how to keep your cut flowers looking fresher and lasting longer — everything from vodka to 7-Up, aspirin to pennies. And while a few anecdotes here and there may prove these tricks to be true, for the most part, they're just that: tricks. That often don't work.

You don't need any folk tricks up your sleeve to give your blooms a boost. You just need to know these five simple steps for prolonging the life of your cut flowers:

Tip #1: At the florist, cut flowers are often kept in refrigerated rooms in buckets of water. Emulate that when you get home. Unless you're heading home immediately to dunk your flowers in water, you'll have a better chance of keeping them fresh if you store them in water in your fridge for a few hours — after you get home from your errands, and before you start arranging them. The cooler temperature is kinder to cut flowers.

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Tip #2: Trim and tidy up your bouquet before it goes in water. Florists regularly change the water for their bouquets, but they leave the trimming job up to you. Before you put your blooms in a vase, inspect the stems for any heavily damaged or wilted leaves and petals, and discard them. Remove all the lower leaves along the stem that will be submerged in water; this helps keep the water clear and inhibit early rotting. Then, slice off the bottom of each stem with a clean blade, under running water or in a bowl of water, at a 45-degree angle. The fresh, angled cut gives greater surface area and allows for higher water uptake. Cut flowers, of course, need water to survive.

Tip #3: Always start with a clean container. Don't just dunk your flowers in that old vase you found around the house and call it good. Vessels that previously held other flowers might harbor bacteria that could infect your new bouquet. Thoroughly wash them with soap and water before you use them, and wash them again once your flowers have expired.

Tip #4: Check the water daily and add flower food when needed. You don't have to change the water every day, but you should definitely top off the water level when it gets low. Stems don't need to be submerged more than 6 inches in water, and they need cold water (not lukewarm, not room temperature) to do their best. If you want to extend the life of your flowers, the only thing you should be putting in the water is the little packet of flower food that came with them. Commercial flower food contains bactericides that kill bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that may linger in the water. Any other home additive you may have read about (such as sugar, aspirin, or vinegar) is just taking a chance.

Tip #5: Re-cut the stems every couple of days. Periodically cut the bottom 1/2 inch to 1 inch off the stems every two to three days, at an angle, to revive and increase their water uptake. Remove dead or wilted leaves right away, and change the water if it looks slimy or murky.

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