The Science, Facts, Myths, and Essential Tips to Make Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer
Fresh-cut, seasonal flowers are such a treat for gifting and the home. Here we’ll share our essential tips for keeping these beauties looking immaculate for as long as possible. We’ll cover some common tips (and myths) as well as our tried and test process for ensuring your fresh-cut flowers last longer, every time!
- How to Make Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer – The Essentials
- Expectations – How Long Do Fresh Cut Flowers Typically Last?
- 6 Essential Things to Avoid With Fresh Cut Flowers
- What’s in the Packet of Flower Food That Florists Typically Include With an Arrangement?
- The Theory – The 10 Most Common Tips & Tricks to Make Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer and Do they Work?
- The Ultimate Guide to Making Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer
- Environmental Considerations for Fresh Cut Flowers
- Care of Fresh Cut Flower Arrangements
- Fresh Cut Flower Care FAQ
How to Make Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer – The Essentials
Keep your fresh-cut flowers out of the heat and direct light sources, cut an inch off the stems at a 45º angle with a sterile knife or scissors, remove past-prime petals and excess foliage before composing in a spotlessly clean vase. Mix 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon bleach. Add this to one quart of water. Replace the water every 2 days.
Expectations – How Long Do Fresh Cut Flowers Typically Last?
While we all wish cut flowers could last forever, this isn’t the case. The amount of time cut flowers last in your home depends on the type of flower, when the flowers were harvested, and where they’ve traveled from.
How Long Common Types of Flowers Last
Here’s how long you can expect some of the most popular and commonly gifted cut flowers to last. Remember that most flowers are cut a few days before you buy them, so you may have to knock a few days off these expectations.
You should also note that each type of flower has many different cultivars. The different cultivars may have large differences in vase life, which leads to the ranges you see below.
Popular Flower Varieties and Their Average Cut Flower Lifespan:
|Calla lilies:||Typically remaining pristine for 10-14 days|
Flowers That Don’t Last Long
Some types of flowers aren’t well suited for life in a vase. These include pansies and petunias.
How Harvest Affects How Long a Flower Lasts
Both how and where a flower was harvested impact how long a flower will last.
All varieties of flowers have a peak harvest window. When growers harvest flowers during this time period, the flowers will last as long as possible and also produce beautiful blooms.
The time when growers harvest flowers is known as the “cut point”.
The time of day that growers harvest flowers also plays a significant role in how long your flowers will last. Farmers should harvest flowers in the early morning or late at night while the air is cool. This ensures the flowers are as hydrated as possible.
While farmers should harvest the flowers when the air is cool, they should avoid picking wet flowers. If the flowers are damp, they are more likely to develop fungal issues.
The Science Behind Cut Flower Decline
After growers cut flower stems, the flowers continue to produce hormones and complete respiration.
However, flowers are no longer completing photosynthesis, so they cannot form the carbohydrates they need to complete plant processes. Therefore, they begin to decline.
If flowers are not placed in water, they will also quickly dehydrate. Not only will this cause the flowers to wilt, but it will also interfere with their abilities to complete essential processes.
Post Harvest Care
After growers harvest flowers, they have two main goals: to slow processes that lead to death and to encourage bud growth and flower development. Doing both at the same time is a tough task!
Once the flowers are cut, growers should place the stems in clean, cool water as soon as possible. This prevents dehydration and wilting. Growers should also place the flowers in a cool area within a few hours after harvest.
Placing flowers in water that has been treated with chlorine tablets or bleach can kill bacteria and help with flower decline. Lowering the pH with citric acid or aluminum sulfate can help the flower take up more water and therefore last longer. Growers should also supply carbohydrates via flower food or sugar.
Where Cut Flowers Come From
The majority of cut flowers sold in the United States are imported. In February 2021 alone, the US imported over $188 million of cut flowers. The majority of these flowers came from Columbia and Ecuador.
Some cut flowers are produced in the US. California produces about 75% of these cut flowers.
There are some small, local flower produces that can deliver flowers the same day they’re cut. However, these small farms make up a very small portion of the US cut flower market.
6 Essential Things to Avoid With Fresh Cut Flowers
After you bring your flowers home, it’s important to avoid these six things.
1) Direct Sunlight and Heat
While many flowers love full sun when they’re still in the ground, things change once they’ve been cut.
To help your flowers last as long as possible, keep the flowers out of direct sunlight. While they’ll be fine in a brightly lit room, avoid placing them right below a sunny window.
You should also do your best to keep cut flowers away from heat sources like vents.
2) Incompatible Flowers
Even if you love all flowers, not all flowers love each other!
Daffodils produce a sap that can cause flowers like tulips and roses to decline. If you wish to mix daffodils with these flowers, you’ll need to take the proper steps.
Place your daffodils in a vase for at least 12 hours before you add other flowers. Do not cut the daffodil stems right before you add the other blooms.
3) Excessive Foliage
While it’s fine to have leaves above the water level, wet leaves can lead to bacterial, viral, and fungal issues. Strip all leaves that will fall below water level before adding your flowers to the vase.
4) A Dirty Vase
Just like humans can spread diseases between each other, so can flowers. Before you add new cut flowers to a vase, make sure to clean it.
A good scrub with warm, soapy water will do the trick. If you want to be extra careful, you can sanitize the vase with a diluted bleach solution.
5) Inappropriate Vase
This is likely obvious, but you want to choose a vase that fits your flowers! A vase that is too big will lead to leaves and blooms sitting in water.
6) Storing Flowers with Fruits
Many fruits and flowers produce a gaseous hormone called ethylene. This natural gas helps with flower development in various ways, but excess ethylene can harm flowers.
Some ethylene-sensitive flowers include delphinium, snapdragons, and sweet peas. If exposed to excess ethylene, their buds may not open and the flowers may die.
Avoid placing cut flowers near ethylene-producing fruits like apples, bananas, melons, pears, and peaches.
What’s in the Packet of Flower Food That Florists Typically Include With an Arrangement?
While most everyone has seen that little packet of flower food, how many people actually know what’s in it? If you don’t, you’re not alone.
There are many different brands of flower food, but many of them contain similar ingredients. According to major flower food manufacturer Chrysal, flower food should regulate pH, increase water absorption, and provide nutrients.
Many types of flower food contain a special type of sugar, citric acid, and bleach. The sugar provides energy, the acid lowers the pH, and the bleach kills harmful bacteria and fungi.
The Theory – The 10 Most Common Tips & Tricks to Make Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer and Do they Work?
From old Victorian tips to some modern-day tricks, there are lots of recommendations out there regarding the best solutions and feeding cocktails to keep fresh flowers lasting longer. Here you’ll find 10 of the most commonly shared recommendations with some insight on the science and theory behind each.
1) Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a pH of 2 to 3, so it will lower the pH of vase water. Research has shown that water with a lower pH can more easily travel throughout a flower, leading to increased hydration.
To use this solution, mix two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into your vase of water. The science behind this method is sound, but citric acid is a preferred solution.
You can also use similar quantities of white vinegar or red wine vinegar. All of these will lower the pH.
This method started when pennies were still made from copper. People thought that the copper would act as an antibacterial agent and help keep flowers fresh.
Today, pennies are made from copper-plated zinc. While some copper might still enter the water, it’s not enough to warrant substantial antimicrobial properties.
After humans cut flowers, the plants can no longer produce carbohydrates via photosynthesis. Added sugars provide flowers with the energy they need.
While sugar will help flowers bloom, sugar also helps encourage the growth of bacteria and fungi. If you add sugar, add an antimicrobial agent like bleach.
Only add a small amount of sugar; 1 teaspoon per quart of water will suffice.
4) Soda Water
Certain types of soda water can help cut flowers last longer. Most soda is acidic and also contains sugar.
Flowers can absorb acidic solutions more easily than neutral or basic solutions. Therefore, they can remain hydrated.
The sugar in soda provides flowers with the energy they need.
Make sure to not use diet soda, as this does not contain real sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of soda water per quart of water.
Lemonade does double duty for cut flowers. It provides energy in the form of sugar and also lowers the pH so the flowers can take up more water.
Natural lemonade (just lemon juice, water, and sugar) is best. Only add a tablespoon per quart of water.
People use bleach to kill all kinds of harmful microorganisms. When you add it to water, it gets to work killing bacteria.
This method will prevent diseases from entering your plant, but it won’t help your plant take up water nor will it provide food.
If you do use bleach, make sure to only add a small amount. Add 1/4 teaspoon per quart of water.
The alcohol in vodka can help slow plant processes and make cut flowers last longer. People think that alcohol inhibits the effect of ethylene to slow the decline of cut flowers.
You should be aware that alcohol can inhibit flower buds from opening. If you do add vodka, only add one teaspoon per quart of water.
8) Hair Spray
Since hairspray keeps your hair looking nice, some people think it does the same thing for flowers. To put it simply, they’re wrong.
You should not spray your flowers with hairspray. Not only will it not make them last longer, but it will also decrease the amount of time they last.
Some people say that aspirin can lower water pH and therefore increase water uptake. While aspirin lowers the pH a bit, it’s not the best option.
Instead of using aspirin, use lemon juice or vinegar.
Refrigeration does help cut flowers last longer. It slows down physiological processes that contribute to flower decline. A temperature around 40ºF is best.
Of course, you want to enjoy your flowers! Therefore, a good practice is to pop them in the fridge at night to help stop their decline.
The Ultimate Guide to Making Fresh Cut Flowers Last Longer
If you want flowers that last as long as possible, you need to consider the whole process!
Ordering Fresh Cut Flowers
When you order flowers, you want to look at a variety of factors including where the flowers came from, how they were stored, and what stage they’re in.
Where Flowers Are Grown
Local flowers are often harvested a day or two before you buy them. This short time between harvest and purchase means the flowers have had less time to decline.
About 70% of the cut flowers sold in the US are imported from countries like Ecuador, Columbia, and the Netherlands. As you might expect, some of these flowers spend days sitting in storage and transport before they arrive in your hands.
The remaining 30% of cut flowers are produced domestically with California accounting for the majority of the production. Domestic flowers may be shipped across the country, or they may be grown in your town.
No rule says flowers from further away will last a shorter period of time. However, you may be able to speak with a producer of local flowers to learn when they were harvested and how long you can expect them to last.
How and Where to Store Fresh Cut Flowers:
No matter where flowers come from, proper storage plays a big role in how long they last. If a bouquet was out in the sun for half a day, its storage would drastically decrease.
Before you buy flowers, look at how they are stored. A refrigerator and vases filled with water are both good signs.
If you can’t tell, ask about the practices! If the florist or flower shop doesn’t know how their flowers are stored, this typically isn’t a good sign.
You can also ask if the florists use any products to increase vase life. Some commonly used hydrating substances include aluminum sulfate and citric acid.
When farmers harvest flowers in their bud stage, they will have a longer life. While fully open flowers may appear gorgeous, they will likely only last a few days before they drop petals and decline.
Generally, less open flowers will tend to last longer.
Preparing Fresh Cut Flowers
Once you get your flowers home, complete the following steps to help them last as long as possible.
Finding a Suitable Vase for Fresh Cut Flowers
Once you’ve got your bouquet home, it’s time to find an appropriate vase. You want the vase to be large enough to hold all the stems but not so large that your flowers are almost underwater.
If you are using a previously used vase, make sure to clean it using soap and hot water. This will prevent any disease from spreading to your new flowers.
How to Cut Fresh Flower Stems
Even though someone has already cut the stems, it’s a good idea to give them a fresh trim. This allows the flowers to take in as much water as possible.
Using a sharp and clean pair of scissors to cut the stem at a 45º angle. While you can take off as much of the stem as you like, you only need to remove 1/4”.
It’s a good idea to give your stems a fresh cut every few days. This ensures that your flowers will be able to take up the water they need.
Remove Unnecessary Material and Foliage
After you unpack and separate your flowers, check out each bloom. Remove any dead, dying, or discolored flowers.
You should also remove any leaves that will sit below the waterline. These leaves would otherwise deteriorate and possibly cause disease.
The Best Water to Use for Fresh Cut Flowers
Most flowers aren’t picky about the type of water they receive. If you drink your tap water, it’s fine for your flowers. With that said, flowers won’t complain if you use distilled water or rainwater.
No matter what type of water you’re using, make sure it’s room temperature or cold. Don’t use hot water.
Fill you so only the bottom few inches of the stems are underwater. Make sure that no leaves are sitting in the water.
Aim to change your water every other day.
The Best Flower Food to Use
It’s generally fine to use the flower food that comes with your flowers. However, you should add half of the packet when you first fill your vase and the other half when you change the water.
If you didn’t receive any flower food with your flowers, don’t worry! You can make your own flower food at home.
To make homemade flower food, mix 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon bleach. Add this to one quart of water.
Environmental Considerations for Fresh Cut Flowers
Where you place your flowers is just as important as what you add to them.
Keep the flowers out of direct light such as that which comes in through a south-facing window. It’s fine if your flowers are in a bright room, but they should not receive direct rays.
While flowers hold best at a temperature around 40ºF, this isn’t practical for most households.
Keep your flowers in as cool of an area as possible. Be extra careful to avoid placing the flowers near a heating vent or hot appliance.
If you want your flowers to last as long as possible, stick them in the refrigerator at night.
Cut flowers do best at humidity levels between 80-90%. This high humidity decreases the amount of water flowers lose through evaporation.
However, this level is quite uncomfortable for humans! Therefore, our advice is to avoid keeping your flowers in very dry areas.
Make sure to avoid placing your flowers near fans, air vents, or drafts.
Other Factors to Consider
As we’ve mentioned above, a gas known as ethylene can help speed up flower blooms. While this may sound nice if you have flowers in bud form, it will also decrease the amount of time you can enjoy your bouquet.
We recommend keeping flowers away from objects that produce lots of ethylene. These include fruits like apples, bananas, and pears as well as combustion exhaust engines.
Care of Fresh Cut Flower Arrangements
Once you’ve placed your flowers in the proper locations, they won’t need too much care. Spending just a few minutes a day with your flowers can drastically increase their vase life.
Watering & Feeding Fresh Cut Flowers
You should aim to keep your water fresh by changing it every other day. Do not top off the water, but change it completely.
Avoid getting the petals and leaves wet when changing the water.
You should add flower food each time you change the water.
Removing Dead Tissue
Even if you take all the right steps to make your flowers last, parts of the plants will eventually start to decline.
As flowers and leaves wilt and become discolored, remove them using a sharp pair of scissors. This will help prevent issues with disease.
Know that you know how to choose, prepare, and store flowers, you can enjoy your cut flowers for as long as possible! Remember that not all flowers last the same amount of time, so don’t fret if some of your blooms die before others.
Fresh Cut Flower Care FAQ
What do cut flowers need to survive?
Once the flowers are cut they need cool water as soon as possible. This prevents dehydration and wilting. Placing flowers in water that has been treated with chlorine tablets or bleach can kill bacteria and help with flower decline. Lowering the pH with citric acid or aluminum sulfate can also help the flower take up more water and therefore last longer. Supply essential carbohydrates via flower food or sugar.
How long do fresh cut flowers typically last?
Depending on the particular flower variety, fresh cut flowers can last anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks typically.
Which cut flowers last the longest?
Carnations and Calla Lilies are two of the longest lasting cut flowers.
Where do fresh cut flowers come from?
About 70% of all fresh cut flowers sold in the United States are imported from South American and European flower farms.
How do you take care of fresh flowers in a vase?
Fresh cut flowers should be composed a clean, sterile vase. Remove excess foliage and leaf matter and cut the stems at a 45 degree angel to allow great water absorption. Fill the vase with cool water mixed with 2 teaspoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon white sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon bleach. Replace the water every other day.