See 10 tips on how to cut flowers for a vase—whether you have your own cutting garden or picked up flowers from the market. These are easy tricks to extend the lives of your flower bouquets or cut flower arrangements. In the garden, remember that cutting encourages more blooms for many flowers!
When to Cut Fresh Flowers
Cut garden flowers in early in the morning or early evening, when temperatures are cool and the stalks are filled with water. Midday heat is stressful to plants, causing them to wither more readily when cut.
For most flowers, avoid picking when in full bloom or they won’t last as long; pick when they are just starting to show color. (Note: This isn’t true of roses, which do not continue to develop.)
How to Cut Flowers Outside in the Garden
Always use a sharp knife. Avoid scissors, which can pinch the water channels of the stalks.
Place the stems straight into a bucket of clean, tepid water (not cold water) as soon as possible after cutting.
If possible, leave the flowers in their bucket of water in a cool, dark spot for a few hours to let them stabilize before arranging. Even better, leave them overnight.
Keep flowers as cool as possible, but avoid putting them in your fridge, if you can. Florists’ coolers range from 33° to 40°F, so your fridge likely won’t be cool enough and any fruit or vegetables could emit ethylene gas, which shortens the life of cut flowers.
Selecting a Vase
Use a vase that’s large enough to provide plenty of room for all the stems, with a mouth that’s wide enough to allow for good air circulation.
Always use a thoroughly clean vase as bacteria can survive in dirty vases and your flowers may not last as long.
10 Tips on How to Cut Flowers for a Vase
Strip all the leaves from the bottom half to two-thirds of each stem. Do not leave any leaves below the water line, as they could rot and ruin the quality of the water.
Re-cut the stems. A slanted cut helps if you are using floral foam; a stem with a point is easier to insert. Cut flower stems at an angle also prevents the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also great a larger surface area for water uptake.
If you want to shorten the stems on cut flowers before arranging them, cut their stems underwater; otherwise, the stem can take in too much air, causing a blockage that keeps water from the flower. (This is especially true of roses.) Floral supply companies sell underwater cutters; or you can cut a flower in the garden, immediately submerge the stem in warm water, and cut it again in the house while holding it below the water line.
Poppies, milkweed, and other flowers with milky stems should be held in a flame for about 15 seconds immediately after cutting. This seals the latex in the stem but keeps the water-conducting vessels open. Without searing, the latex substance can leak into the water and cause it to spoil quickly. It can also affect the life of other flowers in the vase.
For years, florists kept mallets just for the purpose of pounding woody stems—on lilacs, for example—since they were always told that this would help. In fact, pounding the stems makes the stems rot faster in the water. If possible, cut above woody stems. If you can’t cut above the woody stem, submerge the entire stem in water for 20 minutes to an hour before cutting.
Don’t use cold water. Flowers like to be warm and prefer water that is 80° to 110°F. The water in the vase does not need to be maintained at that temperature, but always start cut flowers in warm, not cold, water. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception to this rule as they prefer to be placed in cold water.
Some florists will add a tablespoon of sugar to nourish flowers. Others use a splash of bleach to inhibit bacterial growth (just ¼ teaspoon per litre of water). Both extend the life of the flowers.
Display the bouquet away from full sun, heat, or hot and cold drafts. Also, position vase away from fruit bowls.
- Check the vase each day. Remove any dead or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers.
- Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed as well.
Which Flowers Are Best for Cutting
- Dianthus (including Carnations, Pinks and Sweet Williams) are some of the best known of all cut flowers. They last 14 to 21 days!
- True Lilies such as Oriental Lilies last 8 to 10 days and add dramatic flair. When cutting lilies in the garden, leave a third of the lower stem. Note: Daylilies (which not true lilies) are not cutting flowers; they don’t last more than one day.
- Sunflowers and gladiolus both have a vase life of 7 to 10 days, and both make great cut flowers.
- Chrysanthemums last for a week or more.
- Tulips have a vase life up to one week; they continue to grow after you arrange them. (Some flowers, such as daffodils, contain a type of sap that will shorten the vase life of other flowers. Tulips don’t mix with daffodils.)
- Peonies last 5 to 7 days. (Note: Take no more than a few blooms from each peony plant and avoid cutting stems from plants that are less than three years old.)
- Sweet peas last 3 to 7 days and add nice height to a flower arrangement. The more you cut your sweet peas in the garden, the more they will bloom!
Here are reader favorites from the flower cutting garden:
- In May to July: Narcissus, Tulips, Peony, Snapdragon, Butterfly Ranunculus, Salvia.
- July to September: Sunflowers, Zinnia, Cosmos, Rudbeckia, Dahlias, Stock, Asters, Statice, Amaranthus
We hope these tips help you extend the lives of your cut flower arrangements! Do you have any tips of your own? Please share in the comments below!