Henry Homeyer: How to make your cut flowers last

By Henry Homeyer
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Snow is finally here in Cornish Flat. The cardinals and blue jays are providing a little color to an otherwise unremarkable world. The sun is lurking behind gray clouds, and on a good day we get nine hours of light. I really do miss the colors of summer. I still keep fresh cut flowers on our table – just not flowers from my garden.

Cut flowers are among modern America’s true bargains. For the price of a bottle of wine – or a few of cups of fancy coffee – you can buy 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.

Alstromeria is a long lasting inexpensive cut flower.

Where you buy your flowers may affect how well they last. A floral shop or a good food co-op 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.

In either case, you should cut off half to three quarters of an inch from each stem before you put them in a vase, and change the water regularly. Never let leaves sit in the water. Leaves will rot, promoting growth of bacteria, which will impede water take-up. Ask for the little packets of powder that florists provide, and add that to the water to prolong the life of your flowers. A couple of drops of chlorine bleach may work, too.

Keep your arrangement cool if you can. Putting it near a radiator or woodstove will shorten its life. If you’ve 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.

Baby’s Breath is a good filler or by itself.

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 good cut flowers:

  1. Alstromeria: Each long stem has clusters of 2-inch lily-like blossoms in pinks and reds, with yellow throats. Very long-lived. Great value. Most grocery stores sell them inexpensively.
  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. Lisianthus: These look like silk flowers to me, with perfect white, pink or lavender-colored bell-shaped flowers on long stems. Tough to grow in the garden, they are perfect in a vase – I’ve kept them for up to 3 weeks.
  4. Miniature carnations: Each stem has 2-4 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!
  5. Baby’s Breath: Tiny white pompoms are great on their own, or mixed with colorful flowers. I have kept them in a dry vase for months.
  6. 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. You can put them in a dry vase and they will last all winter.
  7. Spray Roses: Instead of a single blossom per stem, these have 2-5 blossoms, giving you more bang for your buck. Will last about a week with proper care.
  8. 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 of course you can buy potted ones, which bloom even longer and can be coaxed to re-bloom next year if you put in the effort to keep them happy.
  9. 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. I grew then in a pot on the deck one year and love them – like Teddy bears on a stem!

I grew Kangaroo Paws in a pot last year and they are fabulous.

It’s possible to change the colors of cut chrysanthemums. Here is what has worked for me: leave a few stems of a white mum out of water for 12 hours, then cut off 2-3 inches and put it in water with food coloring. Try it with a few stems, to see if you like the results. Put 8 drops of food coloring in a glass with just an inch of water.

When I tried it with blue food coloring, my white mums had turned color – but not the true blue I wanted, more of a ghastly greenish blue. Still, if you want to have some fun with your kids, this is an easy way to show how water and dye move up a flower’s stem.

Everyone loves to receive the gift of cut flowers, even guys. So treat your loved one – or yourself- to fresh flowers this winter. They’re cheerful, and can make winter less oppressive for gardeners.

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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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