How to Care for Fresh Flowers

Fresh flowers make people happy. A behavioral research study conducted by Rutgers University found that flowers have an immediate impact on happiness, making people smile and express delight and gratitude. Plus, the study found that receiving flowers had a long-term positive impact on participants’ moods. That’s why a FruitFlowers® bundle like our Thinking of You Flowers & Chocolate-Covered Strawberries or our Just Joyful Gift Set makes an excellent gift for a friend or loved one, whether for a special occasion or just because you want to brighten their day or let them know you’re thinking of them.

Given the impact that fresh flowers have on many people, making them feel happier, loved, and appreciated, it’s no surprise that we’d like those feelings to last. So, if you’ve received fresh flowers from someone, given them to a friend or loved one as a gift, or picked or purchased fresh flowers to brighten up your home or office, you want them to enjoy them as long as possible. Unfortunately, fresh flowers tend to survive only a short period. In most cases, they’re drooping within a few days.

You can extend that period and enjoy your flowers for longer by following these steps that will help you learn how to care for fresh flowers.

1. Clean Your Vase

care for fresh flowers by selecting the proper vase

Whether you put the flowers in your own vase or get one from the flower shop, it’s a good idea to wash it before leaving the flowers in it. Vases can have bacteria in them that can cause your flowers to wilt faster than they normally would. Use warm dish soap and water, then rinse thoroughly before putting the flowers in. Ideally, allow it to air dry, as a towel can introduce new bacteria to the vase. If you don’t have time to let it dry, use a clean towel.

If your vase has residue from prior use, there are a few methods you can try:

  • Salt and vinegar
  • Alka Seltzer
  • Baking soda and vinegar

Tip: Use a container that will fit the flower arrangement. If it’s too small, it won’t hold enough water and the blooms will dry out faster. In general, bigger, heavier blooms (like peonies) should be cut short and put in a low vase where they can support each other. Lighter, more delicate flowers can be kept in a taller vase. Make sure you’re not crowding the vase. When in doubt, make two bouquets out of one.

Another tip: Unlike most cut flowers, tulips will continue to grow while they’re in the vase with the stems increasing in length. Prevent them from bending by choosing a vase that supports at least half of the stem length, then trim the stems regularly.

2. Trim the Stems

care for fresh flowers by trimming the stems

When flowers sit out of the water, the ends of the stems dry out and the cells die, making it difficult for the flowers to absorb water. Even if they come placed in water, trimming the stems when you get home can help the blooms last longer. Trimming exposes fresh tissue that can suck up the water more efficiently.

Before putting your flowers in a vase, trim the stems about one to two inches up from the bottom at a 45-degree angle. Use a sharp pair of cutting shears to get a clean cut. These work best for heartier, woody stems. For more fragile stems, a sharp knife may be better.

Never use ordinary household scissors as they can crush the stems when cutting, preventing water absorption. In addition, make sure your cutting tool is clean. Wash it first to be sure you’re not introducing bacteria to the stem when trimming.

Hold the stems under water while cutting. When the stems are exposed to the air they will immediately begin to seal up. Keeping the water on them while trimming can help prevent this. Finally, remove any leaves that will be below the waterline. If you leave them there, they will promote bacterial growth that will hasten deterioration.

Tip: Retrim the stems every couple of days. This allows them to better absorb the water (and food) in the vase.

Another tip: Use the stems to handle and hold your flowers rather than the heads. Human hands are warm and will dry out the blooms.

3. Dump the Dead Stuff

care for fresh flowers by dumping the dead leaves and stems

When you first get your flower arrangement, remove dead or wilting leaves and stems. Then every couple of days when you clean out your vase and refresh the water, remove any dead or dying flowers from the arrangement. If you don’t, these will sit in the water, decay, and rot, which will encourage bacterial growth.

Always be gentle when removing leaves. If you make gashes or breaks in the stem surface, you’ve wounded them. This gives bacteria an easy way to penetrate the stem and will hasten deterioration.

Tip: If the arrangement includes roses, you may notice some discolored outer petals. Remove 2-3 of these to reveal the fresher petals inside.

4. Use Room Temperature Water, Unless You Have Buds

care for fresh flowers by using room temperature water

Warm water encourages the buds and closed flowers to open. If you want your arrangement to open up faster, then, fill the vase with warm water.

Cool temperatures, on the other hand, slow down development, which will help your flowers last longer. Avoid using cold water, though, as this can shock delicate flowers.

Lukewarm or room temperature can sometimes be best, as it provides a happy medium—water that the flowers can easily absorb, but that’s not so warm that it hastens their decline. But if you notice the flowers dying faster than you’d like, make the water a little cooler.

Tip: The quality of the water itself can affect the life of the flowers. Soft water, for example, has higher levels of sodium, which can be toxic to many plants and flowers, including roses, carnations, geraniums and poinsettias. Fluoride, which is added to drinking water in many communities, can be harmful to gerbera, gladiolus, and freesia. Hard water contains high levels of minerals that can block the stems’ ability to hydrate properly.

If you’re serious about helping your flowers last, choose distilled water. It will also help the water stay crystal clear if you’re displaying your flowers in a clear vase. You can also use a water filter to improve your tap water.

Another tip: Check the stems of your flowers. If they are woody (like the stems of roses), they prefer more water, so fill the vase about two-thirds full. If the stems are softer (like tulips), fill the vase just under halfway as they prefer a more shallow drink.

Another tip: Once you’ve mixed the water and food, put the vase to one side and allow some of the larger air bubbles to escape and for the water to reach room temperature. Air bubbles can get stuck in the bottom of stems, which can interfere with water uptake. Be sure to keep your stems in water in the meantime so your flowers don’t dry out.

5. Feed the Flowers

care for fresh flowers by feeding them

Before you put the flowers in (or back in) the vase or other container, add the flower food or preservative provided by your florist. You can also get flower food from almost any nursery.

Fresh flower food has been developed to simulate the flower’s original environment and to allow it to fully develop. It contains not only nutrients but a bactericide that helps keep the water fresh for a longer period. Many also contain an acidifier to make the water slightly acidic. That helps the stems better absorb it.

Though prepared flower food is considered best, if you don’t have any, you can make your own. Try mixing about 1 teaspoon of sugar and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to your vase before adding about a quart of lukewarm tap water. Keep in mind that some flowers don’t like flower food. Examples include zinnias and sunflowers. Check with your florist to be sure.

Other possible homemade flower food recipes:

  • Dissolve aspirin in the vase water. It helps the water move up the stem more easily.
  • Mix one part of any lemon-lime soda (7-Up® or Sprite®) with three parts of water.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons white vinegar with 2 tablespoons sugar into one-quart water.
  • Put a penny in the water. The copper acts as a fungicide and prevents fungus growth. (Pennies minted after 1982 are mostly zinc with a thin copper coating, so look for one dated before 1982.)

Tip: Some suggest adding a little vodka (or other types of alcohol) to the water to help delay the aging process. The alcohol helps prevent the flowers from producing ethylene gas, which causes them to wilt.

Another tip: Try adding about one-quarter teaspoon of bleach to about a quart of water. It helps prevent the growth of bacteria, keeping the water cleaner and allowing the flowers to better absorb the water. Just don’t use too much.

6. Be Careful Where You Place the Flowers

care for fresh flowers by placing them in the proper spaces

While houseplants may thrive on a sunny windowsill, fresh flowers need a different location. Since they are already fully bloomed, sun and heat will only quicken their demise. Placing your flowers in an area that gets indirect sunlight is best.

First, make sure your flowers are kept away from drafts and extreme temperatures. An area that is too hot or too cold can quickly dry out the flowers and cause wilting. Most flowers will last longer if kept in a cool location with indirect light. It’s also best to keep flowers away from any smoke, particularly cigarette smoke and hairspray, which can be damaging to flowers.

Tip: Avoid setting your flowers beside ripening fruit or vegetables, particularly bananas or apples. These types of fruits give off an odorless gas that can be damaging or even deadly to flowers, causing them to drop their petals faster.

Another tip: Place your flower arrangement in the refrigerator at night to extend its life.

7. Refresh the Water Often

refresh the water frequently to extend the life of fresh flowers

Flowers tend to drink a lot of water. It’s not uncommon for a large vase full of flowers to consume all the water in the vase within the first day. Keep the vase full to make sure your flowers don’t dry out.

Changing the water is often considered the most effective thing you can do to keep your flowers looking fresh. Don’t just top off the water—remove the flowers and add new water and food.

When you refill the vase, clean it first. As mentioned above, bacteria can collect in the vase as the stems sit in the water. Take the flowers out, clean the vase or other container, then refill with fresh water every couple of days—every day is even better. Even if all the water hasn’t been used up, taking this action will help your flowers stay fresh longer.

8. Arrange Beautifully

arranging the flowers helps keep them fresh

If you’re arranging your own vase of flowers, keep these tips in mind:

  • Prep your flowers as recommended above.
  • Start by putting the longest flowers in the middle of the vase. Turn the vase as you place the flowers to make sure the arrangement looks symmetrical.
  • Cut the stems of the other flowers at different lengths to add interest to the arrangement. Then place them carefully while turning the vase to fill in the rest of the space.
  • To complete the arrangement, fill the remaining spaces with foliage. Hold the flowers in place with one hand while adding the foliage with the other.

9. Troubleshoot

troubleshooting flower care

Keep an eye on your flowers. How do they look? If you notice these issues, take action.

  • Wilting flowers: They’re probably not getting enough water. Try re-trimming the stems with a sharp knife or clipper. Then change the water and food, using lukewarm water to help rejuvenate the flowers.
  • Cloudy water: Take the flowers out of the vase. Dump out the water and wash the vase. Dry with a clean towel. Then refill with fresh water and food. You may also want to add one-quarter teaspoon of bleach to the water. Retrim the stems and replace the flowers.
  • Flowers dying too soon: They may need more food. Clean out the vase and add new water and food. Or they may be exposed to too much heat. Try putting the bouquet in the refrigerator at night.
  • Some flowers are dead: Remove them immediately from the arrangement, then refresh the vase and the water, retrim the stems, and set the bouquet in a cool place.
  • The bouquet is nearing the end of its life: You’ve done everything right, and you’ve enjoyed the bouquet for a week or two. Now it’s time to cut the stems to within a half-inch of the flower, then float them in a bowl of water until they’re done.

10. Choose Lasting Flowers

some flowers last longer than others

The more you know about the flowers in your bouquet, the better you’ll be able to help them last. If you can choose the flowers in your vase, select those that are more likely to last a long time.

It also helps to choose flowers that are young and haven’t yet fully opened their petals. Look for flower selections with as many closed petals as possible. They’ll continue to develop after you cut them, so you can enjoy them for longer.

Roses are an exception. They don’t continue to develop, so it’s best to pay attention to the color of the buds. The richer the color, the more likely the flower will last.

Longer lasting flowers include:

  • Alstroemeria
  • Bird of Paradise
  • Carnations
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Clematis
  • Gerberas
  • Hypericum

Flowers lasting one to one-and-a-half weeks:

  • Gladiolas
  • Hydrangeas
  • Freesia
  • Lilies
  • Roses
  • Solidago
  • Peonies
  • Dahlia
  • Sunflowers

Flowers likely to die off faster:

  • Daisies
  • Iris
  • Lilacs
  • Peonies
  • Poppies
  • Sweet Peas
  • Tulips

11. Individualize Your Flower Care

individual flower care helps fresh flowers last

Certain flowers require a specific type of care. These tips may help yours last longer.

  • Amaryllis blooms need some extra TLC. The stems must stay filled with water at all times, so when you refresh the water, turn them upside down, fill them with water, then plug the bottom of the stem with a cotton ball or your finger until you place it back into the vase. As new blooms open, carefully pinch off older, wilting blooms.
  • Bird of paradise flowers like to be kept warm, so use warm water and display them in a warm spot. When one exposed flower withers, remove it so another can emerge from the flower’s boat-shaped bract. If it doesn’t emerge on its own, you can gently ease it out by hand.
  • Over time, the small tips (the curly-Qs) of the calla lilies will turn brown. When this happens, trim the tip at an angle right below where it begins to change color. These flowers can also bruise easily, so handle them gently.
  • Chrysanthemums have foliage that tends to deteriorate more quickly than the flowers. Make sure to remove any drooping or wilting foliage to extend the life of the flower.
  • Daffodils last longer in shallow water, so when you change their water fill the vase only partway. Remember that daffodil stems release sap that can shorten the life of other flowers. After cutting their stems, place them in a bucket of water for at least 12 hours on their own before mixing them with other blooms.
  • Daisies need a lot of water. Check their water level often.
  • Gerbera stems are highly sensitive to bacterial blockage. Change the water often and keep it clean. If you see the heads drooping, change the water.
  • Hyacinths, irises, and daffodils, for instance, produce toxic chemicals that can kill other plants that are sharing the same water source. Keep these flowers in a different container for a day before combining them with the others.
  • Hydrangeas are very water-sensitive flowers. They must be kept in water, even when trimming the stems. If you fail to run water while trimming, the flower will show signs of fatigue quickly. If you notice the bloom starting to shrivel, re-trim the stem and submerge the entire flower in the water. It will rehydrate soon.
  • Oriental lilies have little pollen sacks (stamens) in the center of each flower. This is the part of the flower that makes seeds or pollen. As the blooms open, you can remove the stamens so they don’t stain the flower, furniture, or clothes.
  • Peonies are very fragile. Handle them carefully and place them in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
  • Roses last longer if you remove any loose or discolored outer petals. Keep doing this throughout the life of the bouquet. As each rose opens, carefully remove any wilted or unsightly petals. Be gentle! If your rose starts to wilt, trim about an inch off the stem and then submerge the entire flower in water for about 20-60 minutes before returning it to the vase.

Fresh flowers make any environment more beautiful. Whether you have a vase filled with gorgeous fresh-cut blooms as your dining room table centerpiece, you display them on your desk or kitchen counter regularly, or you’ve received a stunning flower bouquet as a gift, you want them to last as long as possible, and that means caring for them properly. The tips and best practices in this guide will help you keep your fresh flowers vibrant and full of life longer.

Want to give someone the gift of gorgeous fresh flowers? Build your own FruitFlowers® gift bundle or choose from one of our best-selling FruitFlowers® combinations to find the perfect gift for a friend or loved one. And of course, you’ll want to pass on these helpful tips so they can enjoy them as long as possible.

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