When caring for fresh cut flowers, diligence is key. Flowers require care and attention to ensure that they last long past the day they are brought home from the store or cut from an outdoor arrangement. Balanced, clean water and open stems are the most important factors to making fresh cut flowers last.
In order to understand how to care for freshly cut flowers, it is important to understand how flowers drink. Water is transported to the flower through the stem. The stem is filled with cells that function like an automatic drinking straw that will suck water as long as they stay submerged. If the stem is pulled out of the water, the stem forms an air bubble to keep air from getting sucked in. Once this air bubble is in place, the plant can no longer suck water and must be re-cut.
If cutting flowers from a home garden, choose early morning since this is when they have the most moisture in them and are most perky. Use a sharp knife, clippers or shears and cut cleanly, being sure not to bend the stems as this will prohibit water movement. Household scissors are not recommended since they can easily crush the stems. Place the stems immediately in a bucket of water. Some recommend to make a new cut below the water to prevent any chance that the air bubble will form.
Lukewarm water is best for fresh cut flowers since water molecules move faster when they are warm. The speed of the molecules allows it to be absorbed faster. Bulbs prefer cold water since these plants are used to cool ground temperatures.
When flowers are purchased from the store, their stems should be re-cut about an inch (2.5 cm) or so above the old cut line to remove the air bubble. Foliage below the water line needs to be removed because it contributed to bacteria buildup. When placing the arrangement in the home, avoid direct sunlight and areas subject to constant breezes like those in front of a heater vent or air conditioner. The water should be changed every two or three days and stems re-cut to avoid the buildup of bacteria.
To further contribute to the life of freshly cut flowers, a balancing agent can be added to the water. The small packets usually provided by florists contain three things. First is a biocide, or chemicals that kill bacteria. Bacteria is a common killer of fresh cut flowers, second only to the absence of water. Also included is an acidifier to create acid and increase water uptake, and sugar to feed the plant.
This chemical makeup can be copied by several homemade food and acid combinations. A popular one using a one to three solution of lemon lime soda and water in combination with 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 ml) of bleach. Another that most people can make with products in their home is a solution of lemon juice, sugar, and bleach. To one quart of water (.95 liter), add 2 tablespoons (29.6 ml) of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon (14.8 ml) of sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) of bleach. With a solution like this and regular maintenance, fresh cut flowers can have long and healthy lives in the home.