Care Guides

Caring for Your Cut Flower Arrangements


Water quality affects flower life. Both hard water (containing many dissolved materials) or

hard water that has been “softened” with a home water-softener are unsatisfactory for

keeping flowers fresh. Hard waters are often alkaline (pH 7 to 10) rather than acid (pH 4 to


The only satisfactory means of improving hard or softened waters is to distill or deionize

them, or you can buy water that has been so treated. Rainwater that is relatively clean is also


Floral preservatives contain some acidifying material that helps make water more

acid and desirable. However, hard alkaline waters may require twice the amount of

preservative as distilled, acid or naturally soft water.


Prevent wilting and improve water uptake. Extending from the roots through the stem and

out into every part of the leaves and flowers are water-conducting xylem cells through which

water moves to keep the whole plant turgid. This lifeline of xylem cells must continue to

work to prevent wilting and death.

For water to continue to circulate, some must be transpired (given off and lost) by the leaves

and flowers. If transpiration is too rapid, the plant wilts and dies. Thus, to keep the flowers,

leaves, and stem from wilting, water must be continuously taken up into all parts of the plant

but must not be lost too rapidly.

Enhance water uptake

. Since most of the water comes in through the cut end of the stem, this

surface must be kept functioning. The following steps encourage water uptake.

1. Cutting stems under warm water and immediately placing them into a

container of warm water prevents air bubbles from getting into the cut end

of the stem, plugging up the conducting cells, and preventing or slowing

down water uptake. Warm water forces out any bubbles that by chance get
into the end of the stem.
2. Bacteria attach and destroy the cut end of the stem and effectively plug up
the conducting tissues. This condition is the most frequent cause for short
flower life. All plant tissues in water will rot, but leaves do so more readily.
Use a bacteriacide (such as chlorine bleach) or a floral preservative to control
3. A sharp knife used to make a clean diagonal cut does minimal damage to
the stem end. The only practical way to cut a flower stem with a knife is
diagonally. The sharp stem end also penetrates floral foam more easily
when the flowers are arranged. Sharp shears can be substituted when a
knife is difficult to use, but avoid crushing the stems.
4. Use care not to bruise, cut, or damage the bark or stem surface, or to break
the stem when handling flowers.
5. Check the water level in the container daily, and add enough to keep all
stems in water. This is especially important if floral foams are used as stem
6. If the water becomes cloudy, change it. Wash the container thoroughly, and
recut the stems to get rid of bacteria and to expose a fresh stem end.
7. Use only clean, thoroughly washed or sterilized vases and containers.
Prevent water loss and wilting
. Once the leaves and stems are full of water, excessive water
loss can be minimized as follows:
1. Store flowers and finished arrangements not on display in a cold, humid place out
of the sun and away from other heat sources or drafts. A refrigerator set at 40
F. is satisfactory. Always wait to arrange your flowers until they are full of
water. A plastic bag or sheet placed over the blossoms will raise the humidity and
prevent drafts, either in or out of the refrigerator.
2. Keep the flower stems in the container of water until they are to be arranged.
Flowers out of the water will soon dry out and wilt. Avoid unnecessary handling.
Remember that your hands are warm and will dry out the flowers. Use the stem as
the flower’s ‘handle.’
Treat woody stems
. Branches of flowering or leafy shrubs or tree branches (i.e. forsythia,
privet, spirea, pear, and redbud) and some plants with woody stems (i.e. chrysanthemum)
sometimes require special treatment:
1. Prune the branch to remove all excess leaves and flowers, and remove any that will
be in water.
2. Split the cut end one to four inches with a strong knife or shears. Split the larger
branches in several planes. Then cut them an inch or so from the base under warm
water and place the stems in warm water containing a preservative. Allow them to
soak for several hours but preferably overnight.
3. If possible, cut the branch so it ends in the softer, new growth where the bark and
wood are not so thick and hard.

4. Cut more branches than you expect to use, for even with the best of care, not all
will take up water satisfactorily.
Treat stems that bleed milky sap.
Poppies, poinsettias, euphorbia, and some dahlias have
difficulty in absorbing water after being cut. Place the stems in hot water or dip the lower
ends in boiling water for 5 seconds. Another method is to sear the cut ends with a flame for a
few seconds and then to place the stems in warm water.
Conserve food stored in flowers, leaves, and stems
. A cut flower will die, even though it is
full of water, when its supply of food is used up. The best stage of development for cutting
each kind of flower is related to the amount of stored food in it. Young, immature flowers
have not accumulated much food, while old flowers that are past their prime have almost
exhausted their reserves. If the flower has been cut at the proper stage, the food supply can
be conserved or supplemented in the following ways:
Store flowers in the coldest place available that is above freezing. Most flowers keep longest
at 35
F. Temperatures of 40
to 50
F. are most likely to be available and are satisfactory
except for long-term storage. A few flowers, such as gladioli, keep best at 50
F. As
mentioned earlier, finished flower arrangements will stay fresher longer if kept in cold
storage when not on display. When displayed, the arrangements should be placed in a
relatively cool area if possible. Avoid radiators, sunny windows, the tops of television sets,
and other such places.
Use floral preservatives.
A number of commercial floral preservatives are available, and, if
used properly, can prolong the useful life of cut flowers by one to several days. Sometimes
the life span is even doubled. Carefully follow the directions for these brand-name products.
If you know that your water is quite alkaline (pH 8-10) or hard, or both, use up to twice the
recommended amount. You may also wish to experiment on your own.
Several homemade floral preservatives such as the following work quite well:
1. 2 teaspoonfuls (t.) sugar + 1/2 t. chlorox ) or similar material) + 1/4 t. alum + 1
quart water.
2. 2 tablespoonfuls (T.) white vinegar + 2 t. sugar = 1/2 t. chlorox + 1 quart water.
3. 1 pint non-diet (must contain sugar) non-cola drink (i.e. Sprite, 7-up, etc.) + 1/2 t.
chlorox + 1 pint water.
All floral preservatives prolog flower life best if used when the blooms are first cut from the
garden. Cut the stems under warm water and place them immediately into warm water
containing the preservative. Preservatives are worth using even later, for example, after the
flowers are received from a florist. If it usually necessary to change the water, but if it does
become cloudy (indicating unusual bacterial activity), the solution should be changed. In
addition, wash the stem ends and container and also recut the stems.

Most floral preservatives, including homemade ones, contain ingredients that do the
following things: (1) provide sugar to supply energy for the flower as its food supply is
exhausted; (2) contain a bacteriacide ton control the bacteria that decay the stem and prevent
water uptake; and (3) supply an acidifier that will increase acidity to a pH of 4.5. This pH
level slows down bacterial activity and approximates the acidity of plant sap, which
encourages better water uptake. Many commercial preservatives also contain ingredients
that, according to the manufacturers, may help retain flower color, increase water uptake,
and reduce the rate of food usage.
Repeated scientific testing has shown that aspirin or pennies (to supply copper to reduce
bacterial activity) in the water do
prolong the useful life of cut flowers.
Prevent injury from ethylene gas.
Ethylene gas will cause many flowers to close up or wilt
rapidly and die. The very small amounts of ethylene that will cause flowers to die cannot be
detected by smell. Certain plants are especially sensitive to this gas and are sometimes used
to detect its presence. For example, the leaves of tomato or marigold plants will turn down,
and snapdragon florets fall off when exposed to minute amounts of ethylene.
Ethylene gas is given off by most fruits and vegetables, especially apples. As these fruits and
vegetables decay, even more gas is produced. However, decaying and diseased flowers,
leaves, and stems also give off ethylene. Do not store your flowers with fruits, vegetables, or
decaying plant materials.
The rose is the favorite flower of many people. Roses, however, sometimes do not keep well,
possibly because they are cut too “tight,” allowed to open too much, or because they
somehow fail to take up water. The proper stage of development is all-important when
cutting roses from the garden. The best time is late in the afternoon when the rose is full of
water and has the most stored food.
When to cut a rose.
The proper stage of development depends on the number of petals. Rose
varieties with 30 to 40 petals have graceful, urn-shaped buds. Cut them when one or two
outer petals have loosened from the bud and the green sepals have turned down. Some roses
have many petals (60 to 90) and short, fat, rounded buds; delay cutting them until three or
four petals have separated from the bud. If cut too tight, they may never open. Roses with
few petals (20 or less) and long, slender buds should be cut “tight,” or just as the tips of the
petals show color. If cut when they are open, these roses will open fully very rapidly.
After cutting, remove leaves that will be in the water and remove the prickles carefully so as
not to injure the stem’s bark. Then recut the stem under warm water and place it
immediately into a container of warm water with preservative.
How to buy long-lasting roses
. Good florists can be trusted to supply fresh roses at the right
stage of development. Roses should have been in water with a floral preservative long

enough to be conditioned and firm so that they will open fully and remain attractive for

several days. The outer one or two petals should be loose, with the sepals turned down

around the stem. The flowers should have a rich, fresh color and a crisp feel. Look for the

following signs to recognize “poor buys.”

Old roses

: many petals loosened; little bud left in center; a dull, faded look; a soft,

flabby feel; and water-soaked foliage. These roses will open rapidly and be short-

lived, so avoid buying them.

Immature roses

: no petals loosened, and definitely cut too tight (if the bud is short and

fat, it may never open); the bud feels hard; and the sepals are tight against the bud.

Special care is required to get immature roses to open properly, so don’t take a chance

in buying them.

How to care for gift roses.

You may receive roses as a gift, packed in a box without water, or

arranged with their stems in a container of water or in wet floral foam. Here are some tips to

get the most enjoyment from them.

Boxed roses without water.

• Remove all foliage that will be in water.

• Cut the stems up about one inch from the ends while holding them under

warm water.

• Place the cut stem ends in warm water containing floral preservative. Keep

the roses in a cold, draft-free place while they soak up water.

• When arranging them, recut the stems and immediately place the roses in a

container of warm water with a preservative. Soak floral foams in a

preservative before use.

Roses arranged in a water-filled container.

• Check the water level in the container; fill it to the brim with water or a

preservative solution.

• Check the water level daily.

• Place the arrangement in the coolest place available for display; refrigerate it

when not on display. Avoid drafts, direct sun, or heat.

Reviving wilted roses.

If a rose wilts or is wilted upon receipt, try doing the following:

Remove it from the arrangement; recut the stem under water as above; submerge the

entire rose, including stem and foliage, by laying it out flat in a pan of warm water or

in the bathtub; and replace it in the arrangement after it has revived by becoming full

of water again (often after 20 minutes to an hour). Some immature roses, which have

been cut too tight and have wilted severely at the “neck” (the stem just below the

flower), can never be revived.

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