How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh

Keep Flower Bouquets and Arrangements Lasting Longer

Flowers in a Vase

Fresh cut flower arrangements, whether homegrown or purchased, look fabulous in a vase. Here’s how and when to cut your own flowers, as well as how to keep flower bouquets and arrangements for longer.

When to Cut Fresh Flowers

  • Cut garden flowers in the morning or early evening, when 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

  • 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 water or 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.
Flower bouquet

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.

Selecting Flowers

  • Chrysanthemums last for a week or more.
  • Daylilies are gone after 1 day.
  • Tulips 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.
  • A few flowers play tricks. Snapdragons have negative geotropism—their stems turn away from the light and the flowers can twist and turn. Stock is another flower that reacts to light when it is cut. It’s important to keep these flowers straight (upright): Stake them or put them in a tall florist’s bucket as soon as they are cut. 

Gerberas flowers

Preparing Cut Flowers

  • 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. Don’t worry about cutting flower stems at an angle if you’re simply arranging them in a vase. It doesn’t make much difference to the flower. But a slanted cut helps if you are using floral foam; a stem with a point is easier to insert.
  • 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.
  • Flowers like to be warm and prefer water that is 80° to 110°F. Even spring flowers like warm water. The water in the vase does not need to be maintained at that temperature, but always start cut flowers in warm, not cold, water. And check the water level every day.
  • Display the bouquet away from full sun and hot and cold drafts.

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!

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Change the water in the vase

Change the water in the vase frequently.

As I learned from a flower

As I learned from a flower shop owner back in the seventies, the best way to keep flowers fresh for long periods of time is to cut the stems at an angle and use Sevenup soda instead of water. We have used this successfully ever since then.