Cutting Fresh Flowers

By Kay DiVerde

Nothing can make your gardening efforts more worthwhile than being able to bring the beautiful colors from your flower gardens indoors. Plan the best time to cut, cut at the right location, condition stems before arranging and preserve the water to help them last longer.

When preparing for your cut flowers, choose a perfectly clean vase. If the vase has a stain, it probably has bacteria that will start blocking the water uptake to the stems of the flowers. If you have a stubborn stain that won’t come out with normal scrubbing, let the vase soak in bleach water for a couple of hours. Be sure to rinse it well.

After you have a clean vase ready, fill it with clean water. Change the water in the vase every day or so. Bacteria that develops in the vase and on the stems clogs pores on the stems, and slows down water uptake. Using a preservative can help keep the water free of bacteria when changed on a regular basis. Buy a commercial floral preservative or make your own. Here is a recipe to make your own: For an average-sized vase mix 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of sugar with the water. Mix thoroughly. The vinegar will slow the growth of the scum that develops on the surface of the water. The sugar will feed the flowers. You may also use a lemon-lime soda pop drink mixed into equal parts with water for a preservative. The sugar will feed the flowers, and the acid in the lemon-lime will help prevent bacteria from forming.

Once you have the vase and water ready, you can start cutting the flowers. One of the most important tasks when cutting flowers is the timing. Cut flowers early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Choose flowers with long stems, as they can be cut later to fit into the vase. Cut most flowers when they are fully open. Exceptions include Daffodils (cut when color shows in the bud), Gladiolus (cut when second floret opens), Dutchiris (cut as first bud opens), Lilies (cut as first bud opens), Roses (cut as second petal unfurls) and Tulips (cut when is budding to half open).

When it’s time to cut, use sharp floral scissors. With your scissors cut off a couple of inches of the stem between the nodes or joints—this will encourage new growth and reblooming. Also remove any leaves that would be below the water level of the vase. If leaves remain in the water level, they will quickly rot and pollute the water. Be careful not to crush the stems, as damaged stems do not absorb water well.

Now it’s time to condition the flower stems. Place the cut flowers in a bucket of water right away. You will want to separate different varieties of flowers for an hour or more to prevent their secretions from blocking the stems of other flowers. Daffodils, jonquils and tulips especially need to be separated from other arrangements. After a couple of hours of separation, you can seal the tips of the stems by dipping the tips in very hot water for about 20 seconds before you mix them with other flowers. Make sure you keep the heads of the flowers out of the steam. It is ideal to let cut flowers sit in a bucket of water in a cool location for eight hours or more before arranging. Do not store cut flowers in a refrigerator that has fruits and/or vegetables. These foods emit a gas that may shorten the life of your cut flowers.

When arranging flowers, place them loosely in the vase. This will allow air to circulate. Place the arranged flowers in luke warm water. Check the length of the stems in vase. You can recut the stems under water to obtain the right size. Eliminate bubbles that can prevent stems from taking up moisture by cutting the stems under water. Make your cuts on a slant to allow them to take in the most amount of water available. Store cut flower arrangements out of direct sunlight. At night, place in a cool location where the humidity is high, such as a porch.

Cutting flowers to take indoors takes more work than simply cutting off a flower and sticking it in a vase. You need to plan the timing of your cut, cut at the right location, condition and preserve the flower stems and store in an appropriate location. All of your efforts will be worthwhile when you enjoy the colors and scents from your flower gardens indoors.

Kay DiVerde is a freelance writer, horticultural researcher and consultant for Orchard's Edge. DiVerde also writes for a variety of newsletters and publications in the Midwest.

Back to Articles about General Pruning Advice