University of Illinois Extension


Barbara Larson
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Boone and Winnebago counties

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Cut-Flower Care

February is the month for Valentine’s Day and although chocolate is a great gift, flowers are just as enjoyable, don’t add calories, and may last longer. If your Valentine gives you fresh cut flowers, you will want to keep them beautiful as long as possible.

The life of fresh flowers is primarily affected by a limited ability to take up water and loss of food supply. Air or bacteria can easily block the small openings in the vascular (water conducting) system. Plants continually lose water through their stems, leaves, and flowers. Wilting occurs when the flowers do not take in water as fast as it is used or lost.

If your bouquet arrives in a box or sleeve instead of a vase of water, the following several steps will improve the lifespan of the flowers and foliage.

Leaves that will be below the water line in the container should be removed. Leaves in water will deteriorate and rot. Decaying leaves make a good medium for bacteria and fungi, which will plug the vascular system causing death.

Make sure the vase is clean. If in doubt, wash the container in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water. Rinse thoroughly before adding flowers.

Re-cut the flower and foliage stems at an angle with a sharp knife. Remove at least one-inch of the stem. If possible the stem should be held under warm running water when making the cut. This is especially important in roses. Avoid crushing the stem and therefore the vascular system. The slanted cut opens more stem area for water absorption and prevents the end of the stem from resting directly on the bottom of the vase impeding water flow.

Immediately place stems into a container of warm (100 – 110 degree) clean water containing a floral preservative. Most flowers take in warm water more efficiently than cold. Most florists include a package of preservative with the flowers. Follow the package directions. Preservatives prevent bacterial and fungal growth and contain sugar to feed the flowers. Home remedies, such as adding aspirin or copper pennies to the water, do not prolong flower life.

If your flowers come in a formal arrangement or vase of water, check the water level shortly after they are delivered and add warm water if needed.

Wilted roses may be revived by re-cutting the stem under water. Then submerge the entire rose in warm water by laying it in a sink or bathtub. After 20-60 minutes the rose should have absorbed enough water to reinvigorate it. Roses in tight bud, which are severely wilted at the neck, may not revive.

Flowers last longer if kept in a cool location away from direct sunlight, excessive heat, and drafts. You may wish to refrigerate your bouquet when not on display to extend its life.

Do not store flowers and fruit together. Fruits, especially apples, release ethylene gas that shortens flower life. Likewise, dying and damaged flowers and leaves emit ethylene and should be discarded as you notice them.

Check the water level daily and replenish as needed. If the water becomes cloudy, it should be completely exchanged for fresh.

A little care will keep your Valentine flowers beautiful for many days.

Past Issues

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