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Caring for Cut Flowers
by Veronica Sliva
by Veronica Sliva


Veronica has been gardening for as long as she can remember. When other kids were reading comics, she was reading the Stokes Seed Catalog. In the past 25 years Veronica has written hundreds of articles about gardens and gardening for magazines and newspapers. She also develops online content for Internet websites. Her regular newspaper column, In the Garden is enjoyed by readers in Durham Region, and The Garden Party is read throughout the greater Toronto area. She is also a regular contributor to

When not consumed by her garden she enjoys photography, birding, spending time at the cottage and ballroom dancing.

Veronica makes presentations on gardening topics to a variety of groups including horticultural societies, garden clubs and service clubs.

Veronica owns Sliva Communications, a business that provides a full a range of writing services including business and marketing material, technical documentation and anything that requires a wordsmith. She is a seasoned technical writer with a post graduate diploma in Technical Communications.

Veronica is a Regional Director for Canada of the Garden Writers' Association, Chair of the Oshawa Valley Botanical Garden Task Force, and a past president of the Brooklin Horticultural Society.

February 14, 2016

February can be one of the dullest months of the year. Thank goodness for Valentine’s Day to perk things up. When buying flowers, consumers typically ask, "How long will they last?" and “How do I take care of them?" How long they last depends on the condition they are in at the time of purchase and how well they are looked after. Certain types of flowers last longer than others. Carnations or mums for example, can last a couple of weeks or more. Roses have a shorter vase life, but they are by far the most popular flower given for Valentine’s Day. Whatever you choose, a little TLC goes a long way in keeping your flowers looking fresh longer. Here are some tips to ensure your flowers stay beautiful as long as possible:

Vase Life

It all starts with the flowers you choose. Look for flowers with petals that are firm and buds that are beginning to open. Yellow, spotted or drooping leaves are signs of age.


Make sure your vase is squeaky clean. One way to be sure is to wash the container in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water, and rinse thoroughly before adding your flowers.

Remove Leaves

Remove leaves that will sit below the water level. Leaves sitting in water deteriorate and start to rot. The decaying leaves encourage bacteria that will block the vascular system and cause the flowers to die.

Re-cut the Stems

When flowers stems are cut they are separated from their root system and thus from their source of moisture and food. How long cut flowers last is directly related to their ability to take up water and compensate for the nutrient loss. Air or bacteria can block the small openings at the cut end causing the flowers respond by wilting because they can’t take up water as quickly as they use it. Cut the stem end on a slant to create a larger surface area for the stem to take up water. A slanted cut also prevents the stem from resting directly on the bottom of the vase and blocking the water uptake. If possible, hold the stem under warm water as you make the cut to prevent air from impeding the uptake of water.

Warm Water and Preservative

Flowers take up warm water more quickly and efficiently than cold water. Once you re-cut the stems, immediately place them into a vase of warm, (about 110° F or 44°C) clean water.

Be sure to use a floral preservative. Floral preservative helps to prevent bacterial and fungal growth and contains a nutrient to feed the flowers. Most florists include a package of floral preservative with the flowers, but there are solutions you can make yourself. For example:

• One cap of hydrogen peroxide every time the water is changed.

• One part lemon-lime soda to 3 parts of water.

• Two tablespoons lemon juice, one tablespoon sugar, one quarter teaspoon bleach in one vase of water.

• Two tablespoons of white vinegar, two tablespoons of sugar to one vase of water.

• Use 50% warm water, 50% Sprite or 7UP plus one and a half teaspoons of bleach.

Extending Floral Life

Flowers last longer if they are kept in a cool location away from direct sunlight, excessive heat, or drafts. Don’t put your flowers on top of heating or air conditioning vents, directly under a ceiling fan, or on top of a television. Avoid leaving your flowers in the car. If you can refrigerate your floral bouquet when it is not on display, it will last longer.

Do not store flowers and fruit together. Fruits, especially apples, release ethylene gas which shortens flower life. Remove any damaged flowers or leaves that are dying. They also emit ethylene gas and should be discarded as soon as you notice them.

Floral Arrangements

If your flowers are already arranged in a container with floral foam, check the water level shortly after you receive them. Top up the container with warm water if necessary.

Special Care


Roses sometimes suddenly appear to have “bent necks”. Rather than discarding them, you may be able to revive them by re-cutting the stem under water. Then, submerge the entire rose in warm water in a sink or bathtub. After 30 to 60 minutes the rose may have absorbed enough water to revive it. Rose buds that are tightly closed and which are severely wilted at the neck may not recover.

Daffodils and Narcissi

Bulb flowers generally do not like warm water and last longer in cool water. Split or remove the white stem end. Then, rinse the stem end to remove the sap. Keep them in cool water and separate from other flowers for 24 hours. The sap the stem exudes tends to clog the stems of other flowers. After that, you can include them with other flowers if the stem end is not re-cut.


Using a needle, prick through the stem just under the flower head to eliminate air bubbles. Even when arranged, tulips grow towards the strongest light in the room. You may need to turn them daily for symmetry.


Remove the flower’s anthers by pulling them off with a tissue. The pollen will stain the lily’s petals as well as your skin and clothing.

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