The Q&A Archives: Preserving Cut Flowers

Question: My zinnias, shasta daisies and blanket flowers wilt within one day in a vase even though I cut them early in the morning. They first droop directly below the blossom and then the stem weakens and they about tumble out of the vase - all by morning of the next day. When I cut from the garden I cut the stem on an angle and immediately put them in a bucket with tepid water. I let them rest inside the bucket in a dark spot in the kitchen. In an hour I recut them again on an angle under running water and then put in a vase. I remove any leaves on the stem that would rest in the water. I have tried vinegar and/or a penny in the water. Neither helps.

Answer: Flowers harvested during the cooler morning hours have longer vase lives. Knives and shears should be kept sharp to ensure that stems are cut evenly and not crushed. Crushed stems restrict the ability of flowers to take up water, thereby reducing their vase life. Knives, shears and harvesting containers should be routinely disinfected before each use with a mild chlorine bleach solution (one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water). This solution is highly corrosive; be sure to oil cutting tools after using.

Freshly harvested flowers should be placed in lukewarm water that has a floral preservative added. Floral preservatives enhance the flowers' vase life. If floral preservatives are used, put the flowers in plastic containers. Many floral preservatives will react with a metal container. Three to 4 inches of water and preservative mix in a pail works well. Floral preservative can be made from scratch; either 1 teaspoon bleach and 1 tablespoon sugar mixed into a gallon of water, or 1 cup 7-up in 1/2 gallon of water. Flowers should be cooled to less than 60 F within one hour of harvesting, preferably sooner, to prevent wilting.

Researchers at Arizona State University in Tempe have discovered the biology behind the old florist's trick of placing an aspirin tablet in a vase of water. When plants are injured -- like when their stems are cut -- they make something called jasmonic acid, which helps drive off predators. It also promotes aging of plant tissues. Aspirin inhibits jasmonic acid production, slowing down aging and keeping the flowers fresher longer.

Try one of these methods to see if your flowers will remain lovely for a longer period of time.

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