Henry Homeyer: Treat yourself, flowers in the winter

By Henry Homeyer
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

I’m planning to go pick some flowers today. Yes, we got a foot of snow recently and the temperature as I write this is well below zero with the wind chill. And no, I am not crazy. I’m going to go pick them out at my local florist, food coop and grocery stores. I will cruise the flowers, picking out things that will brighten the house – and my spirits. Buying flowers does not have to cost a fortune.

Cut flowers are among modern America’s true bargains. For the price of a bottle of wine – or a couple of cups of fancy coffee – you can buy a bouquet of flowers that will grace your table for up to three weeks. But there are some things you should know about getting good table-life for your investment.

A stem of Statice

There are advantages to buying flowers from a florist. Cut flowers need to take up water to stay fresh and healthy. Stems tend to scab over after a day or two, which means they cannot take up replacement water, or not much, so they suffer. A floral shop has trained personnel who trim each stem in the store every other day. And someone who regularly changes the water to keep to keep it fresh. Chain grocery stores probably count on you buying their flowers before the flowers need to be trimmed or their water changed, but that depends on the store.

And keep your arrangement cool if you can. Putting it near a radiator or woodstove will shorten its life. If you have invested in roses or tulips, you may wish to move the vase to the entryway or mudroom at bedtime to keep the flowers extra cool during the night.

Some flowers are better picks than others if you’re on a budget and can’t afford to buy new flowers every week. Here are my recommendations for pleasing, long-lasting cut flowers:

  1. Miniature carnations: Each stem has 2 to 4 blossoms. They come in a variety of colors. Mix dark red “minis” with red roses to make a bouquet of roses look fuller. And even after the roses go to Valhalla, the carnations will still be good!
  2. Chrysanthemums: These come in a variety of sizes and colors, from the huge spider mums to little guys. I love the scent of the flowers –it’s not overpowering, but it’s there if you sniff them.
  3. Statice: I grow these for use as dry flowers, which tells you that they really do last forever – even out of water. They come in blue, purple, pink and white.
  4. Ginestra: Less commonly known, this fragrant flower has tiny blossoms in white, yellow or light pink that are a little like forsythia blossoms. Good as filler.
  5. Spray roses: Instead of a single blossom per stem, these have 2 to 5 blossoms, giving you more bang for your buck. Will last about a week with proper care.
  6. Alstromeria: Each long stem has clusters of 2-inch lily-like blossoms in pinks and reds, with yellow throats. Very long-lived. Great value.

    Two stems of Ginestra

  7. Orchids: While not cheap, orchids can last up to a month. I love dendrobiums, though they are not common, even in floral shops. Cymbidiums have bigger blossoms but also last extremely well. And you can buy a Phalaenopsis orchid in a pot that will keep blooming for a couple of months if you pick one with lots of buds.
  8. Kangaroo paws: These Australian natives are fuzzy and cute. They come in pinks, reds and browns, and last very well. Not every florist will have them.
  9. Sea Holly or Eryngium: Light purple or green, these look a bit like thistles. They can be dried or used fresh.
    Baby’s breath: A single stem can have up to a hundred tiny white pompoms. Great for contrast with other flowers.

So what else do you need to know? Get the store to wrap up your flowers in paper or cellophane. Some are quite fragile when it comes to cold temperatures, so don’t shock them if you can avoid it. And if you have lots of errands to run, buy your flowers last so they spend less time in a cold car.

What about those little packets of powder they give away with flowers? Are they worth the bother? Absolutely, especially if you lead a busy life and don’t change the water every few days. The powder kills mold or fungus that can grow in the water, and clogs up the stems. A teaspoon of bleach in a quart of water will do the same thing.

A stem of Sea Holly

Cut off three quarters an inch of stem before placing your flowers in a clean, washed vase. Then, simply cut back the stems a little every couple of days, while also picking leaves off the lower stems. Leaves will rot in the water, clogging up the stems.

So yes, cut flowers are an extravagance, but can last well if handled properly. It’s still a long time till flowers bloom in our gardens, so treat yourself, it’s worth it.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeHenry Homeyer's Notes from the Garden

About the Author: Henry Homeyer is a lifetime organic gardener living in Cornish Flat, N.H. He is the author of four gardening books including The Vermont Gardener's Companion. You may reach him by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net or by snail mail at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H. 03746. Please include a SASE if you wish an answer to a question by mail.

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