How to Get the Longest Vase Life from Fresh Cut Flowers
Have you ever picked a beautiful, fresh flower bouquet only to have the blooms wilt within hours? Was your smile turned upside down as you watched the petals of your delphinium shatter in the blink of an eye? Has murky, stinky or slimy vase water sent you running with your bouquet from the dining room table to the compost pile after just a few short days? You’re not alone.
Freshly cut flowers need proper harvesting, handling, and conditioning in order to give us a long vase life. It may sound romantic to go out mid-day with the sun on your face, a wicker basket in tow, and rusty old snips in hand. But these practices will only result in stressed out flowers that are unable to properly hydrate themselves.
With the following tips, you can be harvesting and conditioning freshly cut blooms like a pro. Your hard work will be rewarded with bouquets that look great and go the distance.
Cut Only When Flowers are Cool and Fully Hydrated
Flowers cut in the early morning or late evening don’t have to contend with the harsh heat stress of the day, and will always last longer in the vase. Be sure to bring your harvest bucket (filled with water) along with you so the flowers are never without water.
Always Use Clean Tools and Clean Buckets
Bacteria is the enemy because it clogs the stems and makes it harder for your flowers to absorb water. We never want to harvest flowers with snips that have pruned diseased plants or put them into buckets that have not been well scrubbed. Take care to always keep your tools clean and sharp. I like to say that you should be able to take a drink from your harvesting bucket and cut a steak with your snips. If you’re not willing to eat and drink from these tools then they’re not clean enough.
Know the Proper Harvest Stage
Flowers have different requirements as to the best stage for harvest. While a zinnia shouldn’t be picked until it has a stiff neck and is fully opened, a sunflower should be picked just as the petals are lifting from the center. A hydrangea should not be picked until it is fully colored and mature, while a snapdragon should be picked when only a few florets on the stem are open.
This degree of specificity may be intimidating, but as you start to learn each flower’s particular needs, I think you’ll find that it’s a fun and rewarding endeavor. If you grow annual flowers, you can search the Johnny’s Selected Seeds website and find the exact harvest stage for all their annual flower seeds. Just search for the flower in question and scroll down to the “growing information” tab. Plant specific harvesting instructions may also be found HERE .
For perennials, bulbs, and woodies, you can do an internet search using the plant name and the words harvest/production/fact sheet/edu. Many universities have produced information sheets for growers. I prefer the University of Maryland. A quick search with the words UMD Lily Production will take me right to the UMD Lily Fact Sheet. If you’re interested in purchasing a book on cut flower harvesting, I recommend “The Flower Farmer” by Lynn Byczynski. For a more in-depth encyclopedia on cut flower production check out “Specialty Cut Flowers” by Alan M. Armitage and Judy M. Laushman.
When it comes to foliage, the age of what you are cutting is key. The more mature the foliage, the less chance of it flopping in the vase. So look for darker colored, older, more leathery stems and always make a vertical cut up any woody stem to help it drink water.
Remove All Leaves That Fall Below the Water Line
As leaves break down, they introduce bacteria into the water and this is always what we’re trying to avoid. I prefer to strip all the leaves as I am harvesting and before I put the stems in the harvest bucket.
Cut the Stems at an Angle
This makes it less likely for the stems to get clogged as they are not sitting flush on the bottom of the vase. Cutting stems at an angle also creates more surface area and increases water uptake.
Condition the Flowers
Conditioning is the process where we let freshly cut flowers rest in a cool location so they can rehydrate and recuperate before arranging. Giving the stems a long soak in a deep bucket of clean water will work wonders for the vase life of your blooms. I prefer to condition all my flowers overnight but recommend giving them at least 4 hours.
Re-Cut the Stems
When you’re ready to arrange the flowers in a vase, recut the stems. This encourages the flowers to take another drink.
Add Flower Food to the Vase Water
Flower food provides some nourishment in the form of sugars. It also acidifies the water, which helps with water absorption, and includes a biocide to fend off bacteria. Adding flower food will extend the vase life of almost every type of flower.
Keep Flowers Cool
Once arranged, keep your flowers in a cool location away from direct sunlight and heat sources. An arrangement placed on a radiator with the sun shining on it through a window will fade much faster than one kept in a cool place away from the sun’s rays.
Change the Water to Keep it Clean
Refresh the water in your vase as often as necessary. The type of flowers you pick will determine how quickly the water becomes murky. Flowers, such as yarrow, chrysanthemums and zinnias are known to be “dirty” flowers. This means they contaminate vase water more quickly than others.
Strive to always have fresh, clear, clean water in the vase. For a simple bouquet of flowers with no mechanics, pour out all the water, recut the stems, wash the vase, and place the bouquet back into the clean vessel with fresh water. For more elaborate arrangements created in a floral frog or chicken wire, either top up the vessel with fresh water as needed or do what I call “flushing the vase.” Take the arrangement to the sink and allow running water to push the old water out while at the same time allowing the steady stream of water to add new clean water to the vase.
Pick Often and Enjoy the Process
Now that you have all the necessary tips to create a long lasting fresh cut flower bouquet, it’s time to head out into the garden and pick something beautiful. Take a minute to enjoy the peace and pleasure that comes with harvesting flowers from your own garden. The stillness in the morning, the bird song in the distance, the crunch of gravel underfoot and the…wait…what was that…a bee buzzing? If so, it’s time to stop harvesting! Wait for the beauty of the setting sun at dusk and then head back to your little piece of Eden with clean snips and a freshly scrubbed bucket in hand. Your flowers will thank you for it.
Even if you do everything right, some flowers are just wimpy drinkers. These hard to hydrate blooms include lilac, Orlaya, Dara, poppy, scented geranium, hellebore, and lambada. For them, I like to use a hydration product called Quick Dip. This opens the capillaries in the stem and encourages the flow of water up to the bloom head. Here’s a short video on how to use Quick Dip.
For more information about cut flowers, visit my YouTube channel: Northlawn Flower Farm.