Keep Your Flowers Going Strong

Combine their multitude of fragrances with their abundant wealth of colors that range from vivid to pale, and few people can resist the beauty of flowers. Throughout history, people have used flowers for many occasions, from joyous to mournful. For everyday use, the right flowers can bring a pop of color to the most plain or dreary of locations. Unfortunately, cut flowers won't last forever: Cut flowers die from a host of problems and conditions. Naturally, when they are cut from the plant, they no longer receive the nutrients that come from the root of the plant. Additionally, photosynthesis no longer occurs when flowers are separated from the plant and moved indoors out of natural sunlight.

The life expectancy of flowers varies from one type of flower to another. Many cut flowers live for roughly 14 to 15 days in a vase of plain water; however, this may be longer or shorter depending on the type of flower, as well as the original condition of the plant itself. For example, some flowers will die faster than others due to factors affecting it prior to being cut, such as disease. An inadequate food supply may hasten the death of a cut flower, as will improper hydration. Poor hydration can be the result of bacteria in the water, air bubbles that enter the stem and restrict water uptake, or a lack of clean water. Damaging the flower stem or petals will also make them more susceptible to organisms that can infect them and further their decline.

The needs of cut flowers vary from one type of flower to the next; however, there are general steps that people can take to preserve the life of their cut flowers. Preserving the life of these flowers typically begins before the first flower has ever been cut.

  • Cut the flowers at the right time of day. When personally cutting flowers, always do so early in the morning, as the plant is filled with stored water.

  • Cut them at the right stage. People who are cutting flowers themselves should select ones that haven't reached full bloom. The correct stage actually varies according to the type of flower; however, a good rule of thumb is to cut them if the blooms are only beginning to open or are only partially open. If the flowers are more fully opened, only cut those with petals pointing upward.

  • Make sure to cut the flower stems at an angle and with the right tools. Sharp, clean shears should be used, as they will make clean cuts. Clean cuts allow for better water uptake and longer-lasting flowers.

  • Upon receiving a bouquet of commercially cut flowers, cut off approximately half an inch to an inch of the stem. This should be done even if it has been previously cut. Make certain that the stem is submerged in water when cutting it to prevent the ends from drying and sealing up.

  • Condition flowers before arranging them. The life of cut flowers can be significantly extended when they are hydrated and fully conditioned. To condition, place freshly cut, or re-cut if commercially purchased, flowers in a clean bucket of water that is bath-water warm. The flowers and bucket then need to sit in a cool, dark location for no less than two hours.

  • Keep flowers in a clean vase or container. Dirty containers can contain bacteria that can prevent the flower from properly taking in water. Bacteria cause harm by plugging up the tubes that are necessary for bringing water into the flower.

  • Keep foliage above the water line. Leaves, petals, etc., contribute to the growth of bacteria in the water and cause beautifully cut flowers to die faster than necessary.

  • Use preservatives in the water. Most flowers that are purchased come with some form of preservative that should be added to the water. With garden-cut flowers, create a mixture that is made up of one part carbonated lemon-lime soda, three parts warm water, and a quarter-teaspoon of chlorine bleach. When adding the soda, avoid diet sodas. This mixture may be used in place of packaged preservatives. Another homemade preservative that will help to prolong the lives of cut flowers is made of one tablespoon of sugar, two tablespoons of lemon juice, and a quarter-teaspoon of bleach mixed into a quart of warm water.

  • Place the cut flower arrangement in a cool location. The best locations are away from any appliance that generates heat, out of direct sunlight, and out of the path of drafts of any type. Ideally, refrigerate them at night.

  • Freshen up the water every three days. This will involve changing the water and adding fresh preservatives.

The following links include information about how to ensure the prolonged life of cut flowers:

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