COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Keep your cut flowers fresh

As we near the end of July, gardeners need to think about pinching back or pruning the hanging baskets, petunias and long and lanky annuals like coleus, dusty miller and even geraniums. If your flowering plants are showing too much leg, give them a pinch by nipping out the top one-fourth of the plant this week. Yes, it hurts to remove healthy, blooming plant parts but soothe the pain by placing the top cuttings of your petunias and coleus in a vase of water. Many of the petunia varieties even smell great – especially the white and light lavender varieties. You may also be surprised to find that your cut coleus will grow roots if the bottom part of a cut stem is placed in water. Always remove the foliage that sits below the water line as this is where the new roots will form.

You don’t need to grow your own to enjoy the bounty of summer blooms here in western Washington. Farmer’s markets and pick-your-own fields of flowers offer up dahlias, lavender and lovely lilies or you can just bring home a bouquet of fresh color from the grocery store or florist.

Top tips for

extending freshness

1. Cut flowers need to be recut.

Even the freshest blooms will try to reseal the end of their stem and this prevents them from taking up maximum moisture in the vase. Recut the stems of blooms you bring home, recut the stems of flowers you bring in from the garden and then recut the stems every day of flowers in a vase if you want maximum freshness.

Roses are particularly fond of being recut and purists will pamper their cut roses by holding the stem of the flower under water and cutting with a sharp knife at an angle. This way the newly cut stem instantly draws more moisture. Keep in mind that some roses just have a longer vase life than others. The hybrid teas hold up longer than the old-fashioned or heritage roses. When buying cut roses, gently pinch the buds. They should feel firm not mushy for maximum vase life.

2. Clean water is key.

Professional florists use a flower preservative in the water and this white powder helps keep the water from growing stem-plugging bacteria and also adds some sugars to provide nutrients for the cut blooms. A proven kitchen cupboard remedy is to use a cup of nondiet citrus pop (7-Up works great) added to your vase water. The citric acid in the lemon flavoring kills bacteria while the sugar – remember, use non-diet –provides food for the cut stems.

3. Keep them cool.

Simply placing your cut flowers in a cool, dark room can double their vase life. Moving your centerpiece from where the summer sun shines and keeping cut flowers out of the breeze from a fan will help them conserve moisture and live longer. Fill a bucket with ice and water before you pick up cut flowers from the farmers market or florist. Place the cut stems of your wrapped bouquets into this cool water for the car ride home, especially on warm days.

4. Learn to condition your flowers.

Conditioning cut flowers means you cut the stems and then plunge the cut flowers up to their necks in tepid luke warm water and place the flowers in a cool dark spot for a few hours. This allows them to absorb moisture through their leaves as well as the stem and the darkness helps them adjust to the trauma of the cutting. Conditioning your cut flowers overnight is a good way to prepare them for a special occasion. Just be sure you don’t submerge the buds or flowers under water.

Use these tips to extend the vase life of cut flowers and you’ll be surrounded with the beautiful bounty of summer in the Pacific Northwest.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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