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How to Make Cut Flowers Last Longer

There's no better pick-me-up for a room than a casual bouquet plucked straight from your yard or garden. Follow these simple tips to make sure the beauty you bring indoors isn't short-lived.

Fresh flowers are mood lifters—for a room, as well as for the people in it. When the flowers come from your garden or yard, they're even more special. The only downside: Those pretty and fragrant bouquets never last as long as we'd like. So until some horticultural genius invents a variety that lasts weeks and weeks, do your part to extend the life of your cut beauties.

Time Your Cuttings

The early bird gets…in this case, the prettiest and healthiest flowers. Head outdoors early in the morning while the dew is still fresh and the flower stems are filled with water. Cutting in the midday heat stresses plants, so if you miss the morning slot it's better to wait until early evening.

Angle your cut, and carry the flowers in a heads-down position, especially with heavy blooms. If you really want to do it right or you like to linger in your garden, bring a bucket of water to place the flowers in as soon as they're cut. Flowers, especially roses, can start to lose their vitality just minutes after being cut—especially on extremely hot days—if they aren't plunged into water almost immediately. Time permitting, let the flowers sit in lukewarm water for at least three hours or overnight to condition them.

Tip: Don't overlook foliage for your bouquets. Hosta leaves, for example, provide interesting texture and color. They also make great filler.

Get Ready to Arrange

Flowers straight from the garden are naturals for casual, no-fuss bouquets. Put them in a vase—which can be as simple as a Mason jar—and you're good. There's really not much more to the arranging than making sure you don't crowd them and squish the stems.

The prep work for helping to extend your bouquet is simple:

1. Clean the vase. As tempting as it may be to skip this step, it's important to helping prevent bacteria.

2. Cut stems with a sharp knife or pruner, making a long slanted cut to expose more drinking cells.

3. Strip leaves and thorns from sections that will fall below water. This prevents foliage (which will decay when wet) from contaminating the water and getting bacteria into the stems.

4. Add enough lukewarm water to the vase to ensure all the stems are submerged, but you don't need to fill to the top. A packet of flower food can be added to the water to help prevent bacteria and also give the flowers extra energy.

Tip: To avoid a mess later, it's a good idea to cut off pollen-bearing stamens, those dangling brownish/orangeish attachments in the centers of flowers such as lilies. The stamens can stain when they fall off—and also while you're cutting them, so be careful.

Enjoy!

We're all for putting bouquets wherever you'll see and enjoy them most. Some places are better than others, though. Avoid bright sunlight, intense heat (including from appliances), or drafts from vents, fans, or open windows. Another bouquet buzzkill: fruit. The ethylene gas released by apples and other fruits can shorten the life of nearby flowers.

For best results, plan on a bit of maintenance. Flowers need clean water to keep stems healthy and blooms lasting, so change the water daily—or at least every other day. When you do, cut a bit off stem ends (on an angle) to give a fresh drinking surface. To extend the life further, try to give the flowers some time to chill. Before you head to bed, pop the bouquet in the fridge, away from fruit. (There's a reason supermarkets and flower shops have refrigerated cases.)

As the days go by, be prepared to downsize. Remove faded or wilted flowers that are dragging down the look and potentially contaminating the bouquet. Your arrangement will seem to perk up, even though the stems may be getting shorter and the vase smaller. Enjoy it right down to the single-stem stage!

Throwback: Three Tricks From Our Archive

(From "Cut Flowers" story, Better Homes & Gardens May 1979) Above left: Revive wilting flowers by snipping off a half inch of stem at an angle under water. Leave the entire stem under water for several hours or longer. Above middle: To improve water intake of woody-stemmed flowers, such as lilacs, mash the bottom two inches of the stems with a hammer before plunging them into water. Above right: Straighten the bent stem of a heavy-headed bloom by inserting a toothpick through the center of the bloom and into the stem.

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