Maximising the vase-life of your cut flowers

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So, a super-practical post here! A lot of people ask me how to increase the vase life of the flowers they cut from their gardens – and especially in the hot weather we have been having, the vase life can be disappointing but there are ways to ensure the perkiness of your flowers, and the length of time you can enjoy them once cut.

Flower arrangement

First up, (and apologies if this is stating the bleeding obvious!): the healthier your plants are in the garden, the longer they are likely to survive once cut. Plants that have wilted or half gone over are not going last long once cut. In the mini drought we have been having some plants are very stressed and weakened so the ones obviously struggling will be likely to have a shorter vase life than expected.

It is also worth bearing in mind that plants have very different reactions to cutting, some will naturally last longer than others, so it is worth learning what lasts for days and what lasts weeks, to avoid disappointment.

Yellow and orange flower arrangement

So is there a ‘right way’ to cut garden flowers to help them last? There are certainly some cardinal rules to follow to get the longest vase life possible.

One of the single most important things is to cut the vast majority of flowers when they are still in the early stages of flowering – beyond tight bud stage but before the flowers are wide open and pollen is displayed – the maturing of the flowers can take place in the vase instead, adding days of display. If, for example, you pick peonies when they are gloriously mature, all open ruffles and pollen displayed, as shown:

Peony

Then you will be lucky to get more than a couple of days in a vase before they collapse. If, however, you pick them in soft bud stage:

Soft bud peony

When they are softly showing colour but not properly open, all that glorious unfurling will happen over a far longer period in the vase. For flowers like delphiniums and snapdragons make sure that the majority of florets are still in half open bud stage. Common sense really, but those blowsy, showy blooms can be so tempting to pick! Another important aspect of flower cutting is to avoid picking in the middle of the day, flowers last significantly longer if picked in the cool of the very early morning or at dusk or later, when their cells are turgid.

It is also crucial to put the cut stems (cut on the angle to aid the stems being able to draw water freely), straight into cool water – take a bucket of water out with you and plonk them straight in. I have taken Sarah’s advice to take one bucket of water and one empty bucket to put the stripped leaves in and that works really well. In fact, the new buckets in the webshop, with separated sections, are brilliant as the bigger heavier blooms can be separated from the more delicate ones. Stripping the leaves off the part of the stem that will be under water is important as it is bacteria in the water that bungs up the stems and destroys the longevity of the flowers.

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Once you have cut the flowers you want, don’t immediately arrange them in a vase, put them in a cool place in their bucket of water and let them recover for at least a couple of hours – this is called ‘conditioning’, and it makes a real difference.  I use the chilly back of my carport. Overnight is fine, if you have cut in the evening. Bearing in mind that bacteria causes decay and death of cut flowers, it is common sense to keep all your equipment - florist's scissors, secateurs, buckets and vases - in a really clean state, scrubbed and free of dirt and grunge.

For the same reason, changing your vase water every couple of days will avoid the murkiness building up and keep the water fresh and topped up – this will make a big difference. If for some reason this is unlikely to happen, a tiny splash of Milton or the like in the water, or a prepared floral preservative, will help do the job of keeping the water clear for you, you will just need to top up the water levels if they get too low. Displays will look fresher if you remove blooms as they fade, and this stops petals falling into and therefore fouling the water. Diagonally snipping the ends of the stems after a few days can also help longevity if they are becoming clogged or slimey.

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Some plants require special treatment to last well once cut. Certain plants will flop unless the last inch of stem is put into boiling water for about 20 seconds after cutting. Plants that definitely require this are: Euphorbia oblongata, Corn (Shirley selection are so pretty) and California poppies, Dahlias

Poppies

If you cut huge delphiniums or foxgloves or other statuesque, hollow stemmed plants you might need to stake internally with a bamboo, even filling with water upside down and plugging with cotton wool. I have never gone to this effort and had no problems but perhaps if they are enormous it would be necessary. It is the idea of climbing on a chair to pour water into an upside down delphinium that seems a bit bonkers, but maybe it has worked for you, I’d love to know? Finally, keep your gorgeous vase of garden flowers in a cool place, out of direct sunlight. A hot and sunny window might seem like a pretty place for flowers, but they will hate it.

Away from other heat sources like radiators, tvs and lamps is also good, and away from ripening fruit is helpful as the gases released will affect the flowers and they will go over faster. Final tips? Don’t use anything in the water, (preservative, bleaches etc) if you are using zinc buckets or vases as there is a reaction with the metal that harms the flowers. Also drain the toxic saps from daffs and euphorbias by conditioning them separately before mixing with other plants as some can be adversely affected by said sap. Taking all the above into account, (phew), here is a selection of my favourite garden flowers and foliage that I have found to last really well  if cut and conditioned correctly: - euphorbia oblongata, dill, opium poppy seedheads, alchemilla mollis flowerheads, briza grasses, mint, rosemary, bupleurumviridiflora tulips, alliums, dahlias and peonies (if picked as just opening), anemones – coronaria and Japanese, astrantia, delphiniums, larkspur, hesperis, heleniums, achillea, campanula, annual and perennial scabious, gypsophila, eryngium, cosmos, phlox, nigella, ammi majus, orlaya grandiflora, cerinthe major, calendula and dianthus

Beautiful arrangements

Garden roses, sweetpeas and narcissi are worth growing and picking for their prettiness and amazing scent but I don’t regularly manage  more than about 3-4 days from them once cut. Any tips you can recommend for these? It might seem a lot to remember, but my thinking is, if you have gone to the bother of growing, cutting and arranging, why not give yourself the maximum time to enjoy them?

Perhaps you have some tips that work well for the flowers you pick, I’d love to hear them in the comments if you do? Have fun picking your summer flowers and thanks so much for reading.

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