How to Revive Wilting Flowers

It’s so disappointing when your beautiful flower bouquet starts to wilt.

There are all kinds of occasions to give flowers to yourself or a friend or loved one. Maybe you got one of our best-selling FruitFlowers® combinations to lend a little elegance to a family dinner, add some life and color to your home, brighten someone’s day, or celebrate an event at the office, such as a gift for your favorite administrative assistant in honor of Administrative Professionals Day.

Perhaps you created a custom FruitFlowers® gift bundle for a friend, or you wanted it to liven up a birthday or graduation party. No matter the reason you purchased your stunning flower bouquet, you naturally want them to last and keep them looking fresh and lively just as they did when they arrived.

When fresh flowers start to wilt, you wonder what happened? Why are they wilting so fast? And is there any way to revive them?

Read on to find out how to care for your fresh flowers to keep them looking strong and beautiful for as long as possible.

What Causes Cut Flowers to Wilt?

what causes cut flowers to wilt?

We know that cut flowers in a bouquet, vase, wreath, or other arrangement are on borrowed time. They can be expected to live only a short while after being separated from the mother plant. Generally, you can expect fresh flowers to look perky for about three to five days, or seven to 12 days if you’re diligent about caring for them properly. Of course, some types of flowers last longer than others when cut.

But sometimes, wilting comes far too soon. Here are some of the reasons your cut flowers may be wilting a lot faster than you hoped.

1. They’re Not Getting Enough Water

This is one of the most common reasons for flower wilting. They’re simply not getting enough water to hold their shape and beauty.

“But they’re sitting in a vase full of water!” you may say. “What else can I do?”

Sometimes, the flowers may “have” water, but not be absorbing it very well. This may be because of two factors:

  1. The ducts in the stems are blocked with air bubbles so the flower can’t properly absorb water.
  2. The stem has become infected with bacteria at the location where it was cut. This can damage the tissues in the stem, leading to decay and destroying water absorption.

With both of these factors in place, the flower is still trying to drink water, but it can no longer bring it up through the stem. Air bubbles may be blocking the way, or it could be because of tissue damage caused by bacterial infection. This can happen easily as bacteria is always present. Without precautions on your part, unwanted microbes will infect the stems and block water absorption.

While all flowers are at risk for contamination, some flowers are particularly vulnerable. These include lilacs, roses, chrysanthemums, and some types of daisies. Roses are extra vulnerable to all issues that may affect water absorption.

You can solve all of these problems by making a clean cut in the stem. It’s best to do this while the stem is underwater or at least near the water, so as soon as you make the cut you can pop it right back into the water without delay.

Eventually, no matter what you do, cut flowers will stop taking in water. Because they have been separated from the plant itself, they will eventually run out of energy to absorb the water or the food that you provide. This is one of the main reasons cut flowers eventually die. You can extend their life by doing everything you can to make sure they can absorb the water and food they need to survive as long as possible.

2. They’re Too Hot!

wilting flowers may be too hot

If the vase or arrangement is placed in a location that is too warm, the flowers will likely wilt. Excess heat accelerates the wilting process for a couple of reasons.

First, warmth saps flowers of their energy, requiring a higher speed of respiration. Second, warmth accelerates development and “ripening,” shortening the lifespan of cut flowers.

Lower temperatures, on the other hand, can delay the aging process and extend life. It slows respiration and conserves energy. That’s why florists usually transport cut flowers under low temperatures whenever possible.

You can take advantage of this technique by making sure that the water you add to your cut flowers is not too warm. Room temperature is usually best to strike a balance between absorption (warmer is easier) and preservation (cooler is better).

Sometimes, though, you can use ice water for cut flowers in vase displays. It can dissolve air bubbles and actually improve water absorption while slowing aging. Tulips and hyacinths especially like colder water.

Warm or heated water may accelerate the opening of young buds, but be careful. If you have flower food in your vase, that food may fall to the bottom of the vase where it cannot be used. Cool the water down enough that you can dissolve the food within it.

One more tip: You can place your bouquet in the refrigerator after you first bring them home to preserve them while you find a vase or other container for them. Just be sure to keep them away from the fan or vent where cold air enters the refrigerator. That air is extra cold and can shock the flowers, leading to premature wilting.

You may also place your arrangement in the refrigerator overnight to make it last longer while taking the same precautions.

3. The Vase is Dirty

If there are any bacteria in the vase itself, it can contaminate the water. This, in turn, can infect the cut flower stems and interfere with water absorption.

When you first prepare your vase or another container for your cut flowers, make sure that it’s clean and sanitized—clean enough that you would be comfortable drinking out of it. You can even use a little bit of household bleach when cleaning to make sure the container is completely free of bacteria. That will help prevent bacterial contamination that can lead to premature wilting.

Then, as the days go by, if you notice wilting, clean the vase again. When you remove the flowers to re-cut them, take that opportunity to clean and sanitize the vase so that you’re starting fresh. Just be sure to keep the flowers in water elsewhere until the vase is ready.

4. There is Extra Foliage in the Water

extra foliage in the vase may cause wilting flowers

If there are leaves and other extra foliage left sitting in the water, they can contaminate the water and accelerate the possibility of infection and blockage.

Often this is because the leaves and other foliage die before the blooms do, and their flesh contaminates the water. They essentially “rot” and deteriorate while they’re sitting in the water. Or they may have brought bacteria with them when they were first placed in the vase. That’s why it’s best to always trim away any extra foliage as you’re arranging the flowers.

After several days, it’s also likely that some flower petals will fall into the water or droop down into it. These items, too, can lead to bacteria build-up.

Amputation is necessary! Trim away these dead and dying parts of the flower to conserve the energy it has left and keep it looking nice for a little while longer.

5. The Water Hasn’t Been Changed

Just as the vase may become contaminated with bacteria after a few days, so too can the water. If you haven’t changed the water regularly, expect your flowers to wilt quickly. They need fresh water every day just like you do!

That means it’s best to dump out the old water, rinse (or clean) out the vase, and add fresh water to your arrangement every day. That way, your flowers will last as long as possible.

6. The Stems Weren’t Cut Correctly

Cutting the stems is an important job. Unfortunately, many people unknowingly use whatever scissors they have around. This can be a mistake, as if the scissors aren’t extra sharp, they may crush the stem rather than make a clean cut.

In most flowers, this leads to premature blockage and will interfere with the stem’s ability to absorb water.

It’s best, then, to use garden shears, pruners, or a sharp knife to make a clean cut. Then, make sure you cut at an angle—45 degrees or so is best. This will ensure the cuts are clean and smooth and will leave a surface on the stem that allows for optimal water absorption.

Also, consider cutting the stems while holding them underwater. If you don’t, when you cut the stem, it may instantly suck up an air bubble. This bubble then blocks the absorption of water. If you cut the stem while it’s underwater, though, the water will help prevent the absorption of any air bubbles.

7. The Vase is Sitting in Direct Sunlight

too much direct sunlight can cause flowers to wilt

The cooler and darker the environment, the longer your flowers will last. If you place them in direct sunlight—believing that the sun is good for plants—you’ll be accelerating wilting. That’s because the sun is hot and will overheat your flowers. It’s better to place them in an area of your home or office that doesn’t get direct light.

8. The Flowers are Placed Next to Ripening Fruit or Vegetables

Flowers may look nice sitting next to a bowl of fruit, but they will wilt and die a lot faster when placed there. Ripening fruit like bananas and apples or vegetables like tomatoes give off a gas called ethylene. Ethylene, in turn, can significantly shorten the lifespan of your flowers.

Ethylene is also generated by cut flowers as they decay, and can further promote the decay of the other flowers. This is another reason why it’s best to always remove any dead or dying petals, leaves, or flowers from your arrangement.

9. They’re Hungry!

Even though cut flowers are no longer connected to the plant, they still need nutrients to survive. Once they are cut, they depend on the nutrients stored in their stems for their metabolism. They may wither too quickly because of insufficient nutrients, which can also be affected by the flower food you use.

You can check this by feeling the stems. A stiff stem has more nutrients and water in it than a soft or squishy stem. If your flowers need more food, choose a quality commercial brand made for your type of cut flowers. This is usually the best option for long life.

If you don’t have access to commercial flower food, however, you can use some other ingredients to make your own. Plain sugar can work—add one to three teaspoons to a quart of water—though it may be better to combine it with some lemon or lime juice to make the water more acidic. (See #11 for why this helps.)

10. You’re Not Using Preservatives

preservatives help keep flowers from wilting

Keeping flowers fresh means battling bacteria however you can. In addition to freshening the water, cleaning the container, and re-cutting the flowers periodically, it also helps to use a preservative that keeps bacteria at bay.

It’s usually best to use a commercial flower preservative that is made for cut flowers. These products are nutritionally balanced to provide what the flowers need in terms of food as well as ingredients that will fight off the accumulation of bacteria. Simply follow the instructions on the package. You want to be sure that the solution is balanced—don’t use too much water with too little food, for instance, or your flowers will go hungry.

In a pinch, however, you can also make your own preservative. While there are several ingredient combinations that can help, the most common substance to use is bleach. You simply add about 1/4 teaspoon (it doesn’t take much!) to your quart of water. This is enough to keep the water from getting cloudy and inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Another option is white vinegar. Use about two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of water.

11. You’re Using Low-Quality Water

Believe it or not, the type and quality of water you’re using can affect the life of your cut flowers. Generally speaking, hard water or alkaline water accelerates wilting and dying. Fresh water or moderately acidic water works better.

It could also be that the tap water you used was full of bubbles when you added to the arrangement. It’s best to let the tap water sit for a few minutes before adding it to the flowers—that will give the bubbles time to disappear.

Some experts suggest dissolving an aspirin in the water, as it creates a more acidic solution that your flowers may like. Or try mixing one part of any of the common lemon-lime sodas with three parts water to accomplish the same thing. Try combining two cups of soda (not diet—the flowers will like the sugar) with two cups of water. Add your teaspoon (or less) of bleach and mix well.

You can also use two tablespoons of lemon juice and one tablespoon of sugar instead of two cups of soda.

Quick Tips for Bringing Wilted Flowers Back To Life

tips to bring wilted flowers back to life

You can use all of the tips above to make sure that your cut flowers last as long as possible. Prevention is the best medicine! But if you notice that your flowers are wilting, here are some quick tips to bring them back to life.

1. Remove the Dead Stuff

Cut away and remove any wilting petals, dying flowers, drooping leaves, and other foliage that may be contaminating the water. Keep your water as clean as possible.

2. Re-cut the Stems

Re-cut the stems with sharp shears at a 45-degree angle. Apply the cut about an inch up from the current base. For best results, keep the stems underwater as you do so (place them under running water). Then when you’ve finished, be sure to place the flowers immediately back into the water.

Note: If you have water-loving flowers like hydrangeas or irises, take the stems out and crush them! This doesn’t work for most flowers, but with these, it can help. It increases the amount of water they can absorb and improves their chances of coming back to life.

3. Dump the Water Out

Dump the old water out of the vase or container.

4. Clean the Container

Using a teaspoon or less of bleach and a little dish soap, clean out your vase or other container and rinse thoroughly. Remember—you want the container to be clean enough to drink out of.

5. Refill with Fresh Water and Food

continue to refill with fresh water and food to prevent flowers from wilting

Refill the vase or other container with fresh water and flower food. Consider adding soda or aspirin to help increase the acidity of the solution.

Note for Roses: If you are caring for roses and they’re wilting, put them back in lukewarm water. They will be able to absorb it more quickly and it may help revive them. You can also immerse the entire flower in lukewarm water in the sink or tub for about 30 minutes to an hour before transferring it back to the vase. Make sure to re-cut the stem before returning it to the container.

6. Add Preservatives

If you’re using commercially available flower food, it will have a preservative in it. But if you’re not using that, be sure to add some vinegar or bleach to keep bacteria away.

7. Place in a Cool, Dark Place

flowers like a cool, dark space to help prevent wilting

Place your refreshed arrangement somewhere it’s cool and out of direct light. Make sure it’s away from heating or cooling vents, as well, and don’t place it on anything that may give off heat like TVs and radiators. If you live in a warm area or it’s a particularly warm time of year, keep your flowers in the refrigerator overnight.

One Last Note

For optimal shelf-life, repeat these steps every day with your flower arrangement, or as often as you can. Your flowers will reward you by remaining happy and spry for a little bit longer.

Now, when you build your own FruitFlowers® gift bundle or choose from our best-selling FruitFlowers® combinations, you’ll be able to keep them looking fresh and full of life as long as possible. Whether you’re treating yourself to a gorgeous FruitFlowers® bouquet and a box of decadent chocolate covered fruits or giving a flower-related gift to someone special, you can be sure that they’ll arrive at the peak of perfection – and that you can make them last.

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