Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2002
Regional Report

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Proper care can extend the beauty of cut flowers.

Care for Cut Flowers

With Valentine's Day approaching, it's a good time to chat about caring for fresh cut flowers.

Thank goodness roses aren't nearly as expensive this year as they were in 2001. Because most roses are grown in heated greenhouses, the price of the flowers directly reflects the heating bill of the grower. Even though energy costs are down this year, around Valentine's Day roses command top dollar. Below are a few tips to protect your investment and keep flowers looking fresh for as long as possible. These techniques work equally well for flowers bought from the florist and for those you cut from your garden.

The First Cut

Upon delivery, remove the roses from the vase and make a fresh cut at the base of the stem. It's best to cut the stems under water: Fill a sink or bucket with warm water, plunge the rose stems into the bucket, then immerse your clippers or scissors into the water and trim an inch or two off the bottom of the stems. Trimming underwater prevents air from entering the stem -- air in the stem inhibits water uptake and can cause buds to droop.

Drooping Buds

If despite this step the buds droop, it's possible that the roses were left out of water at the florist, or were otherwise mishandled. You have two options. You can call the florist and ask that he deliver fresh roses. Or you can make a fresh cut on each stem, then roll the droopy flowers tightly in newspaper and submerse the package completely in a basin filled with lukewarm water for an hour or two, or even overnight.

Long-lasting Flowers

With any flower, always start with fresh, clear water in the vase. The floral preservative I like best is very simple to make. A solution of 1 part 7-Up or lemon/lime soda mixed with 2 parts warm water gives the blooms all they need to do their very best. The sugar in the soda nourishes the flowers and the acid from the lemon flavoring helps prevent bacteria from growing in the water. (Therefore, don't use sugar-free soda.) The little packets of floral preservatives that come with cut flowers contain similar substances.

Extend your Enjoyment

Once your roses are finished blooming, you can extend the pleasure they give you by saving the petals to make potpourri. Place individual petals on a cookie sheet or any flat surface in a warm, dry area, then mix them with some dried lavender, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla beans or stick cinnamon. Add a few drops of scented oil and then wrap the mixture in handkerchiefs and tie with a pretty ribbon.

Rose Alternatives

Contrary to the popular opinion, there are flowers other than red roses to give to your true love on Valentine's Day. I think white tulips displayed in a glass vase make the most elegant arrangement in the world. To make tulips last longer, I've found that it's helpful to add an ounce of vodka to the water. Some people say to use gin, but I think it's just a personal preference. Note that daffodils should not be used in an arrangement with any other flower. The juicy sap from their stems fouls the water and plugs up the plumbing of other flowers so they can't take up water. Instead, enjoy daffodils in their own sunny bouquet.

Cut Flowers from the Garden

If you cut flowers from your own garden, here are a few tips to keep them looking their best. Harvest flowers in the early morning before the dew has dried from the leaves. The blossoms have had all night to take a refreshing drink from the soil. Take a deep bucket filled with tepid water with you into the garden. As soon as you cut your flowers, plunge them into the deep water. It doesn't make any difference if the blooms get wet, the key is to immerse as much of the stem as possible.

Although it can seem harsh to cut newly opened flowers, you're actually doing the plant a service. By removing flowers you remove the developing seeds. Since the purpose of the flower is procreation, the plant will attempt to produce more seeds, and to do so it must produce more flowers. This means that you get more blooms than you would have if you left the original blooms on the plant.

One more tip about cut flowers that I had to learn the hard way. Although its' not quite the season for them, zinnias prefer cold water only. No preservatives, no lemon/lime soda, no vodka, nothing -- just plain water. They must be the teetotalers of the flower world. Happy Valentine's Day!

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