Making Flowers Last

I love cut flowers. I love red tulips or pink peonies for the dining room, I love anything yellow for the bathroom, and if I find something that seems to go in the bedroom, that’s just gravy.

But they seem to wilt so quickly. I thought this was inevitable, until I worked for a photography workshop that had its own cutting garden. It just made more sense to hire an intern to run a garden than it did to constantly buy flowers for the dining hall, for the rooms where the teachers stayed, and for still lives.

When I was motivated to see what I could do to make my cut flowers last the longest, I realized that my roses and peonies, and even tulips, might not be the best choices. For longer lasting blooms, here are some better bets:

Lillies These can last up to two weeks, especially if you deadhead the old blooms to help the new ones along. I love that just a few stems can look so dramatic. Don’t forget alstroemeria, or so-called Peruvian lilies, which are inexpensive and come in all sorts of colors. Check carefully to make sure the leaves are crisp before you buy them.

Orchids Expensive, but they last up to three weeks. Trim the stems twice a week and keep the water fresh. Carnations, gladiolas, and mums also can last about two weeks.

Flowering Branches In spring, dogwood, cherries, and rhododendra can all last two weeks. Split the bottom of the woody stems for about three or four inches to help the water get in.

Delphiniums Delphiniums are another long-lasting variety, although you’ll hardly ever find them at the supermarket or florist. If you find or grow delphiniums, keep them away from produce. They’re very sensitive to the ethylene gas emitted by some fruits and vegetables.

Sunflowers These also can last up to two weeks. Just keep the water clear, and keep trimming the stems.

Roses Roses are tough, and very often they’re not fresh when you buy them. Squeeze the base of the bulb a bit to check – if it’s mushy, try a different bouquet. These roses, from Organic Bouquet, are my all-time favorite. Pricey, but they’ve always lasted well over a week. (No one is paying me to say this.)

Once you’ve got your flowers home, your job is simple: keep them watered, fed, and free of bacteria.

Water

Start by trimming the stems. Cut off an inch or two, at a 45 degree angle (this will keep the stems from sitting flat on the bottom of the vase and not sucking up any water). Hold the stems underwater as you do this, to prevent an air bubble from forming in the stems. A knife works better than a pair of scissors, since it won’t squish the stems.

Change the water regularly. Flowers, especially tulips and hydrangeas, will drink up more of it than you might suspect.

Food

Now that your blooms aren’t getting nutrients from the larger plant, it’s up to you to feed them. Ask for a few extra packets of plant food, since you’ll be changing the water regularly and each packet is only good for a quart of water. If you don’t have plant food, try adding a teaspoon of sugar or even putting the flowers in a clear soda like Sprite.

Icky stuff

If you want your flowers to last for the longest possible time, you’ve got to get rid of microorganisms that can live in the water. Changing the water frequently is one easy way to do this. You can also add a drop of two of bleach, which will kill the microorganisms and keep the water clear.

For this reason, it’s also important to wash your vases with hot soapy water and a little bleach. Bacteria can live for months—months!-- in a dry vase, and then perk up to make life difficult for your flowers. Which is sort of the opposite of what summer's supposed to be about, right? -- Kimberly Weisul, One Thing New

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