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Care of Cut Flowers

BouquetMost people simply put cut flowers in a vase of water after buying or cutting a bouquet from the garden. However, if you wish to have optimal life span of these cut flowers, there is more one can do to extend this life and to preserve the color of blossoms.

OSU has an excellent fact sheet with recommendations for preserving cut flowers entitled “The Care and Handling of Cut Flowers”.

There are many home concoctions which have been suggested, things such as adding aspirin, a penny or a few drops of bleach, but some are not based on fact and none are as effective as commercial preservatives.

It is important to understand the basics of what happens to flowers once cut, in order to preserve them.

After cutting, flowers are removed from their source of water and food. How long your cut flowers will last, then, depends on both the stems being able to absorb and transport both water and sugar and also how much water and sugar flowers consume after being cut.

When stems are cut, there is often a rapid movement of air into the stem’s water and sugar circulation, blocking their absorption. This is why it is recommended that all cut flowers which have been exposed to air be recut (preferably under water) to remove the blockage.

After stems are cut, they should be placed in tepid water (110° F) while the plant is in a cool area for a couple of hours. The warmth of the water speeds water and nutrient absorption and cooling the flowers will reduce water loss and nutrient usage. This process is called “hardening” of the flowers and will extend the vase life of the flowers.

Studies have shown that using a commercial cut flower preservative is the best choice over all the home concoctions. These preparations have some sugar, an acidifier, antimicrobial agent and a chemical which slows usage of water and sugar.
The sap in plant stems is acidic and making the water more acid will help overall absorption as well as helping to stabilize flower color. Most of our tap water is alkaline, so the acidifier is key.

The sugar used in these preparations is generally table sugar, (sucrose) and supplies an important need for the plants energy needs after it has been absorbed.
Most all water preparations will have both bacteria and fungi aplenty. If their growth is not prevented, they will reproduce and block the stem’s circulatory channels.
Another important compound in commercial preservatives is a chemical which blocks the production of ethylene gas (a ripening hormone). Blocking production of ethylene slows metabolism and nutrient usage.

Lastly, if you cut your own flowers do so in the early morning when the water stores in the plant are greatest. In addition, always use a very sharp utensil to cut the stems. Standard scissors will crush stems and block circulation.

For more information obtain OSU fact sheet, “Care and Handling of Cut Flowers” available online.