Tips for getting the most out of your bouquet of fresh cut flowers
Back when my wife and I were graduate students in Illinois, we would get by on Saturday mornings with samples of Swedish IGA and Swedish meatballs and meat rolls for happy hour at the local pub. We could both make a beer last for three or four waves of free aperitif snacks. Disposable income was more of a concept at the time than a reality. Needless to say, a bouquet of cut flowers on the kitchen table was a bit rare.
True, freshly cut flowers do not pay the rent. They don’t cover the dentist’s bills and they certainly don’t pay for school supplies. But they’re doing something that other things can’t. They provide a daily dose of joy and a hamster wheel distraction from the brain. In short, cut flowers, whether bought on the way home from the office or freshly cut from your own garden, give you a boost that’s hard to replicate in other ways.
If you are buying your flowers, there are a few things you should know. First, in general, the bigger the store, the longer they’ve been sitting, waiting for you to buy them. Flowers from a big box store probably started at a commercial grower, then shipped to a processing facility, then to a wholesaler, and finally to the grocery store where it might take them a day or two to reach. ground. This probably means a shorter vase life when you bring them home.
Now there’s one more thing I need to touch on about grocery store cut flowers. The preferred flower type, color, and arrangement is certainly a very personal thing. Some like roses and others like lilies. To each his own. But when it comes to that nuclear, artificially dyed color jobs, I just can’t follow the golden rule. Personal preferences cannot go any further before they quantifiably diminish the value of the planet as a whole.
The glittering blue carnations covered in British blue and the red daisies covered in glitter are just plain wrong and you know it! (The soapbox’s public service announcement is now over.)
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If you buy your flowers from a local farm stall, farmers market, or other small-scale grower, you usually get a fresher product that will last longer at home. But even so, I recommend asking when the flowers were cut. I find in local farmers’ markets that the flowers offered for sale were usually cut the same morning or at most the day before. But you are the buyer, so keep in mind that it’s perfectly okay to ask. No good producer will be offended.
And then there are the cut flowers at home. If you have room I highly recommend it. There is nothing quite like slipping on your slippers and bathrobe in the morning and going out into the garden to cut a few bouquets for the breakfast table. (Ok … the same goes for blueberries, strawberries and tomatoes, but you know what I mean!)
Growing your own cut flowers gives you the freshest produce and the great satisfaction of knowing that you have grown them yourself. And don’t forget that growing cut flowers at home gives you a lot of flexibility. You are not limited to annuals alone. At home, everything is fine.
For cut annuals, the sky is the limit in terms of variety. And even if you have limited space, a single large container may suffice. In my own very shaded yard, I only have a few square feet of sun. And in this sunny spot is a 32 inch diameter container with just blooming zinnias. This pot is enough to provide us with one or two fresh bouquets per week while leaving enough to keep the pot in good condition in the garden.
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But don’t forget your perennials and woodlands either. Whether it’s a peony or hydrangea, dogwood or magnolia, most things can be cut and brought inside for everyday enjoyment. Of course, some things last longer than others. But you will learn over time what works and what doesn’t.
Whether you bring them home or cut them in the yard, most fresh cut flowers should give you a good week of quality presentation. But to get the most out of them, you need to treat your flowers with kindness.
To keep your flowers in the best condition, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Once cut, avoid the sun
The number one killer of cut flowers is the sun. Once a stem is separated from its roots, it struggles to provide enough water to the petals to keep them happy. Don’t leave them in a hot car for a few stops on the way back from the farmer’s market. And when you bring them home, keep them out of sunny windows. If it helps, think of your cut flowers as a nice bottle of champagne: keep them cool and out of the sun.
Cut your flowers at home underwater
The number two killer of cut flowers is air. Air? That’s right. Air. You have no doubt heard that you should make a new cut at the base of your cut flowers when you bring them home and that it is best to make this cut underwater. The reason for this recommendation is that the water in the rod is under tension. When you make a cut, water is sucked into the plumbing from the rod. When you then put the rod into the water, there is an air bubble stuck in the aqueduct and this bubble makes it difficult for the water to pass. Cutting the stem underwater ensures that only more water is sucked into the stem.
With cut woody stems (lilac, viburnum, and the like), here’s a good tip for getting rid of that air. Put a pot of water to boil before going out to cut your stems. Once the water boils, remove it from the heat and let it stop boiling. Then take your stems and put the bottom 2-3 inches in hot water and you will see tiny air bubbles coming out of the base of each stem. This hot water sanitizes your stem but also expels air so that you can have a continuous water column in your cut stem.
Isn’t science cool ?!
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Watch out for bacteria in your water
The number three killer of cut flowers is the bacteria that clogs the stem piping. That cut flower food that you get in little packets … that’s very good. But it’s really not that important as flower food. Of course, there is sugar in there. But the most important part of this little package is a preservative which slows down the growth of bacteria in the water. The unpleasant smell of water from weeklong cut flowers … is the growth of bacteria. And a lot of bacteria means a lot of clogged stems.
So it’s really very simple. Buy your fresh flowers or grow your own. Treat them like good champagne. And never – and I mean never – buy flowers covered in glitter!
Paul Cappiello is the Executive Director of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, 6220 Old Lagrange Road, yewdellgardens.org.