Picking Your Own Flowers – If you are picking your own flowers it is best to do this in the morning or the late evening. Sugar reserves in the stems are at their highest in the mornings or evenings. Ideally the best time is early morning when flower stems are filled with water after the cool night air. You should never pick flowers in the middle of the day when the sun is at it’s hottest.
The heat of the sun lowers the water content in the stems and the flowers will not last nearly as long. If it has been raining and the flowers are wet, shake them gently to remove the excess water. Too much water will often damage flowers – especially delicately petalled flowers.
When to Pick Flowers – Most flowers should be picked when they are in bud or half open. You will then have the pleasure of seeing them slowly open up. The colour of the petals should be starting to show. If picked too tightly in bud, they may never open. This is especially true of tulips and roses. The green pointed sepals around the base of the rose should be starting to turn downwards. Irises and daffodils should be half opened. Gladioli should be picked when the bottom three or four florets are open and the top florets are still in bud. Carnations, dahlias, marigolds, hydrangeas, camellias, gerberas and chrysanthemums should be picked when they are fully opened.
Fill a plastic bucket a third to half way with warm water. Warm water should be used as flowers take up warm water more readily than cold. Its preferable to add preservative to the water. (The use of preservatives is fully explained further on). Flowers only drink through the ends of the stems and not through the sides of the stems, and for this reason buckets should not be filled right up to the top with water, as foliage left on stems below the water line will rot and pollute the water. This will cause bacteria and the flowers will die more quickly. The foliage of marigolds, chrysanthemums, stock and daisies send off a particularly strong odour when left standing under water over a period of time.
Take the bucket of water into the garden with you. Use a sharp pair of secateurs and cut the flower stems on an angle – a slanted cut allows a better intake of water. Remove all foliage from the lower portion of the stems which would stand under the water line. Place the flowers immediately in the water.
Never overcrowd flowers. Allow enough air to circulate between each flower. Too many flowers crowded together in a bucket may cause the petals to become squashed and bruised. Place the bucket in a cool dark place and allow the flowers to have a long drink before being arranged. When picking short-stemmed flowers, use a smaller container.
Conditioning Flowers and Foliage – Allow flowers to have a good drink for four to five hours, preferably overnight before arranging. This step is called conditioning. It allows the stems to fill up with water and the flowers will become crisp. These flowers will last twice as long as those that have not been conditioned properly.
Bought Flowers – Bought flowers should be placed in warm water as soon as possible. Remove the wrapping paper, as paper can bruise the flowers and cellophane can cause them to sweat. When cut flowers have been left out of water for any length of time, cells start to form over the cut ends of the stems, which will prevent the stems taking up water readily. To remove this sealed portion, snip off about 2.5cm (1″) from the stem ends and then place in water preferably with preservative added, and allow the flowers to have a long drink before arranging.
You may be given flowers when you are away from home. It may well be several hours before you are able to place them in water. The best way to keep flowers fresh is to place them in a strong plastic bag with some water in the bottom. Secure the bag with a rubber band. Another method is to wrap flowers in damp newspaper. If travelling by car, place the flowers in the coolest spot. As soon as you get home, recut the ends of the stems, place them in water and allow them to condition overnight before arranging.
Preservatives – A flower preservative helps destroy bacteria in the water. Flower preservatives are available in garden centres or supermarkets. Another alternative is to use a capful of household bleach in the water. If a preservative is not used, the water needs to be changed and the stems cut on an angle daily. If a preservative is used, the stems do not require recutting and water needs changing only about twice a week. Flowers like freesias, spray carnations and liliums have lots of buds. By using a preservative in the water, it helps develop the buds to open.
Special Treatment – Special treatment should be given to certain flowers to give them the longest life possible. Flowers with woody stems do not take up water readily. Woody-stemmed flowers include lilac, hydrangea, and rhododendrons. To help break down the thick fibres, you can split the ends of the stems upwards for about 5 cm. (2″) After this treatment, place the stems in a container filled with warm water and give the flowers a long drink before arranging.
Flowers with Milky Stems – Poppies, poinsettias and dahlias have a milky liquid flowing through their stems. To seal this liquid in and make the flowers last, the ends of the stems should be held over a flame like a candle, gas jet or cigarette lighter. Hold the end of the stem over the flame for about thirty seconds until the end of the stem turns black. The flowers should be held on an angle to protect the delicate petals. Another method is to dip the stems in boiling water for about thirty seconds. Hold the flower heads away on an angle and protect the petals from steam by holding newspaper around the flowers. Place stems immediately in warm water and give flowers a long drink before arranging. If stems need to be recut later on when arranging flowers, you will need to repeat the above steps. To avoid this you could cut the stems to different lengths before sealing the ends of the stems.
Bulb Flowers – Certain flowers grow from a bulb. These include tulips, daffodils, jonquils, narcissus, irises and hyacinths. These flowers often have a white portion at the ends of the stems. Cut this white portion off before conditioning as only the green part of the stem can take up water. Daffodils, jonquils and narcissus have a thick sap which oozes from the end of the stems when they are cut. Wipe it off before placing the stems in water. Keep these flowers separate from other flowers when they are being conditioned as the sap can affect other flowers. The thick sap can clog the ends of stems and prevent the uptake of water. Stand the stems in about 7.5 cm. (3″) of water and allow to stand at least six hours before arranging. Bulb flowers prefer shallow water. If daffodils, jonquils and narcissus are placed in deep water, the thick stems can become water logged and the stems shrivel up and the petals go papery.
Wilted Flowers – Wilted flowers can often be revived by standing the stems in fairly hot water right up to the flower heads. After the water has cooled, allow the flowers to stand in the water for a few hours before arranging. Roses can often be perked up by floating the whole stem, head and all, in warm water for half an hour.
Copyright 2002 by Fay Chamoun I grant permission to publish this article, electronically or in print, as long as the resource box are included with a live link.