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How-To Guide for Cut Flowers

Ramsey Press 3/22/2004
 
How-To Guide for Cut Flowers


Appreciation of flowers is associated with a high culture in society and we are heartened to see more Americans are buying and growing more plants and flowers. All the artificial flowers in the world can not equal the supreme beauty of a single rose bud unfurling its petals. That is all it takes to cheer up a drab room – a single blossom and a sprig of green. They are even more
meaningful if they were grown in your backyard or window, although your
florist has flowers that will fit into anyone's budget.

FLOWERS

Cut flowers are plants without roots. That means the only food they have is the sugar stored in the leaves and stems. This sugar is produced during the daylight hours. That means you make your flowers last longer if you supply them with extra food. In fact, a rose can be made to last longer in a vase in your living room, than if it were left on the bush!

CUT FLOWERS

 

 

If cut flowers are plants without roots, how does water get up the stem?Top of Page

The cells in the stem are like a handful of soda straws. As long as the
straw is in a glass of water you can draw water up through it. Take straws out of the water while sucking and you draw up air. The rose does the same thing because its demand for water is continuous even when severed from the mother plant. The big difference is that cells in the rose stem have "end plates" or small screens that allow water to pass, but block out the passage of air. A small bubble of air is formed and trapped at the end of the rose stem when it is cut from the plant. With the base of the stem blocked with air, water cannot get up the stem even if you replace that stem in water.

The solution? Make a new cut. Also use luke warm water in a vase arrangement because warm water is "thinner" (has fewer air
bubbles) and moves up the stem faster than cold water.

How about soft water for cut flowers and potted plants?Top of Page

This question comes up often. We know people who use softened water, and they say it doesn't affect plants. As you know, most water-softening systems work by replacing the calcium and magnesium ions (the "hard" ones)

STEM
with sodium ions (the "soft"ones). As the sodium builds up in the soil, it draws the soil particles together, making it drain poorly. If you use softened water on house plants, first thoroughly dissolve one half-teaspoon of gypsum (calcium sulfate) in a gallon of water and apply to your plants two or three times. Also, avoid distilled water because the lack of salt in the water pulls normal salts out of the plant cells.

A myth that needs debunking is that it is unwise to have cut flowers or plants in a bedroom or hospital room because they take oxygen out of the night air.Top of Page

During the day, plants give off oxygen necessary for human life. At night, in the absence of light, they do consume tiny amounts of oxygen, but you should not worry about it. It would be very difficult to pack enough plants into a room to lower the oxygen level significantly. It is a far greater worry to be in a room where several people are smoking, because smoking produces carbon monoxide.

CUT FLOWERS IN HOSPITAL ROOMS

 Another myth is that cut flowers should not be sent to hospital patients because of dangerousbacteria that may be in the vase water.

 

 


A short while ago a research team at the University of Miami Medical
School stated that it had found gram-negative bacteria in flower-vase
water. The researchers suggested that flowers be kept away from high-risk patients. Wire services picked this up and flashed it all over America. David Tapli, professor of epidemiology at the medical school said:

"I don't think there is any danger at all to the average patient in hospitals or at home. We've no clinical evidence that flowers ever caused an infection.”


Water and Preservatives:BOTTLE
Are fluoridated and chlorinated water harmful? Top of Page

It probably depends on how concentrated the chlorine is. Household bleach (Sodium hypochlorite) added to tap water until it's identical with drinking water, which is injected with chlorine gas, doesn't seem to harm most plants except violets. We do know that high concentrations of chlorine will show damage to geraniums, petunias, marigolds, and kalanchoes. Fortunately, it's easy to avoid chlorine burn. Simply draw off a pail of water at night and let it
stand until the next day. By that time, the chlorine gas will have disappeared.

This won't work with fluoridated water, since the fluorine is not volatile. To prevent injury, put a tablespoon of ground limestone (for a six-inch pot) around the plant and water it in. Calcium in the limestone ties up the fluorine, making it unavailable to plants. Just how damaging chlorine or fluorine are to cut flowers is not known, but a little of either doesn't seem to harm them.
SPOON

Best Temperature for Keeping Flowers LongerTop of Page

If you want to get more mileage from cut flowers, keep them as cool as
possible. Flowers at 85 degrees F. respire 45 times faster than at 32
degrees F., leading to premature aging. Florists know that rapid removal of heat after cutting is critical to maintain cut flower quality. They keep floral coolers at 35 degrees F. to 40 degrees F. You can move your cut flowers to a cool room each night.

Cut Flower FoodTop of Page

When you cut a flower from the plant, you sever it from its life support
system. And as soon as the cut is made, the flower, like an astronaut

CUT FLOWER FOOD without a temporary life support system, is in trouble. The components of the life support system for the cut flower are: nutrients, sugar, and anti-aging
compound. All these ingredients are dependent on water because they are soluble. Therefore, you should consider using a floral preservative in
your vase water.

Floral preservatives ("fresh flower food") are supplied by many different manufacturers and can be powders, tablets, or liquid concentrates. They can extend vase life seven days or more. Nearly all contain similar ingredients - a biocide
(bi-oh-side), a sugar and an acidifier. Biocides are chemicals that kill the bacteria, yeasts, and fungi found naturally in vase water. When cut flowers are placed in plain water, bacteria and yeasts grow astronomically, feeding on the sap that bleeds from the cut flower stem. It has been shown that within three hours of placing a freshly cut flower stem in a clean vase containing water from your kitchen sink there will be 30 million bacteria in the vase! These bacteria plug the tiny stem tubes that conduct water to the flower. Buds fail to open, necks bend and leaves wilt as a result. Therefore, all good preservatives contain biocide. If you don't use a preservative, we recommend changing the water every two days.  


Cutting FlowersTop of Page
CUTTING FLOWERSFlowers keep best when cut with a sharp knife and put immediately in water. You may use florist shears but not scissors. Always make a cut on a slant, as it exposes more stem surface. Also, remove leaves that will be under water in the arrangement, but do not remove thorns from roses - it will shorten their life.

For best results, cut flowers in late afternoon or early evening when the plant is filled with stored food and flowers are most fragrant.

Keep in mind that maturity of flowers affects their keeping quality. Roses, glads, irises, poppies, etc. should be cut in bud stage, but flowers such as asters, dahlias, zinnias, marigolds, chrysanthemums, and delphiniums should be well opened.

When roses and other flowers wilt fast, blame it on air bubbles (embolism) in the stem. The bubbles prevent water from going up the
stem and reaching the head of the flower. Make a new stem-end cut under water in a bowl or large container. After the new cut is made, a small
droplet of water will cling to the stem end while the flower is being transferred to the vase. This prevents the bubble from forming.

KNIFE

If roses or other cut flowers wilt as soon as you arrange them, don't think the florist sold you stale roses. He wouldn't be in business long if he sold you stale flowers.

How Can I Make Flowers Last Longer?Top of Page

THERMOMETER Many things are used to prolong the life of cut flowers. All have acid. The acid or acidifier acts like a traffic cop. Getting water to move through the tiny tubes of cut flowers is not always easy, especially if the flower has been out of water for some time, or if water is very "hard" (loaded with lots of calcium and magnesium). Good "floral foods" have an acidifier to enable water to move more easily up the cut stem.Or try “hardening” (or conditioning) your flowers. Place flowers in warm 100° - 110°F. water for several hours in a dark room. Why does this work? Since warm water is “thinner” it travels more quickly up the stem. Warm water also contains more oxygen than cold water. Protect the heads from steam. Singeing the lower inch of stem with a candle also works.

Poinsettia blossoms, poppies and dahlias should have stems inserted in boiling water for 30 seconds, then in warm water.POT

The University of California came out with a recipe for homemade cut flower preservative.

Add one part of lemon-lime soda (not diet) to 3 parts of water and to each quart of this solution add 1/4 teaspoon of household bleach. Thereafter add 1/4 teaspoon of bleach after each four days of use.

Here is another similar homemade cut flower preservative: 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of white sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of household bleach (liquid). Add to 1 quart of water.


An agriculture professor in Texas recommends about two ounces of Listerine mouthwash per gallon of vase water to extend the life of cut roses and other cut flowers. Listerine contains, among other things, sucrose (food for flowers) and a bactericide. Its acidity promotes quicker uptake of water by the stems.

How about a penny or aspirin in the water to keep flowers fresh?
Top of Page

Theoretically, they should work. Copper in a penny is a good fungicide and the aspirin should make the water a bit more acidic. But most florists say to keep the penny in your pocket and save the aspirin for the headache you will develop if you fail to use clean water and scrub the containers.
CAUTION

Can flower gas cause aging?Top of Page

Flowers produce ethylene gas (a hormone). Just a small amount of it will
trigger more gas, causing the flower to age very quickly. You also find
ethylene in smoke and exhaust fumes. Ripening fruits and vegetables
produce a lot of ethylene, which shortens the life of cut flowers. That is why we caution against putting flowers near fruits or vegetables. Carnations and orchids can be ruined by the tiniest amount of gas liberated by vegetables or fruits. As little as one part in 500 million is harmful. Potatoes have the same effect as fruit in releasing gas harmful to flowers. Cut flowers also detect coal gas and artificial gas, even in the tiniest amounts. Carnations will go to "sleep" (droop) if your gas burner leaks.

Is it possible to get a rash handling flowers?GLOVES
Some people suffer skin rashes from handling flowers. A glycosidic
substance found in tulips and alstroemeria causes a skin problem known as "tulip fingers". A skin rash, sporotrichosis, can be contracted from handling sphagnum moss, or even a fungus that thrives in wet floral storage areas. Some people are allergic to Queen Ann's lace.Top of Page


If you want to be safe, wear surgical gloves, or coat hands with a
good sealant that provides a protective barrier. Don't let that scare
you! Some people are allergic to milk, strawberries, bread and a dozen
other things.

Can florist flowers be used in salads?Top of Page

If you grow your own, yes, but if they are purchased I wouldn't try it. In order to produce perfect blooms, for florists, the flower crop is treated with pesticides that aren't safe to eat. Some flowers may also be conditioned in water that contains a preservative or sprayed with dye. Keep florist flowers in a vase, not in your salad bowl.

Is there any way to salvage a "sleeping pompon" mum?Top of Page

MUMThe cause of a flower going to sleep is the lack of oxygen. Try to salvage it this way. Heat a 5% solution of soda water to 110 degree F. and put the "poms" in it for four hours. Then replace with room temperature water. If they don't respond in 24 hours, discard.

Why do tulips often droop after arranging?Top of Page

TULIPTulip stems grow after they are cut. The stems of cut tulips may grow as much as 3 inches in the vase. Therefore, when putting tulips into arrangements, place them a bit deeper into the vase than other flowers. You can straighten out drooping tulips this way: roll them quite strongly in paper, put them in water and place them in a cool spot for a few hours.

Using Floral FoamsTop of Page

Years ago florists used to "stuff" containers with chicken wire or evergreen branches to hold flowers in place. With the floral foams, flowers could be held in place, allowing good water uptake, thus promoting longevity. But with evergreen "stuffing", decay would often set in, shortening the life of flowers.

BUCKET Before use, always soak the floral "blocks" by letting them float in a bucket of water. Do not try to speed up the soaking process by holding the foam under water. This creates air pockets, resulting in poor water retention.

When arranging flowers, make sure the stem bases or ends are in contact with the foam. If the flower is inserted too deeply, remove it completely and reinsert the stem, making sure there is no gap between the foam (or block) and the base of the stem.

Not all floral foams or blocks are the same. Some may cause a reduction in vase life, although many excellent brands of floral foams are on the market. Always use a floral preservative. You can even soak one of the floral foams (or blocks) in water containing a preservative for longer life of cut flowers.
ARTIFICAL FLOWERS

Ten Tips For Arranging FlowersTop of Page

ARRANGING FLOWERS

  1. Know your friendly florist. He or she can make your life more pleasant.
    These people have prices and flowers to fit your needs.
  2. To arrange, don’t get bogged down by a set of rules.
  3. Be daring. Today’s trends is to use flowers in new and innovative ways. Everything old is new again.
  4. The shabby (and chic style) that’s so popular today is easy. Try a few stems of fresh cut flowers in an old porcelain pitcher, mason jar or ceramic vase.
  5. Cut stems to various heights. It’s more interesting. Remember, just one or two sprigs can brighten up a room.
  6. Arrangers mix colors. Put brilliant yellows, crimson reds, azure blues, tangerine, lemon, lime, etc. together.
  7. Have a focal point for your arrangement. Usually the brightest flowers are centered with lighter and smaller flowers added on the outside.
  8. Don’t cram flowers in a container. Leave space between each stem. Combine flowers with fruits and vegetables.
  9. Add a piece of green or “filler” to some of the holes to soften the arrangement.
  10. Plain and simple...flowers can bring a smile or dry a tear...for you and your friend. Get the flower habit.

Corsage CareTop of Page

Slip the corsage into a covered refrigerator dish or cellophane bag (tightly fold over to seal in the moisture) and place the flowers in the warmest part of the refrigerator. The important thing is to keep out the air. If you are traveling and there is no refrigerator, sprinkle cold water on the flowers or place moist cotton over the corsage, and keep it in the coolest part of the room.


Water spots some flowers, such as sweet peas, orchids, delphiniums and lily blossoms. Nor should water be sprinkled on camellias. Cold water hardens the petals pf peonies, roses and gardenias. It is always safe to place moist cotton over flowers. Don’t expect all corsages to last the same length of time.

Preserving FoliageTop of Page

PRESERVING FOLIAGE

One of the best ways is with glycerine, known chemically as glycerol, a
by-product of the soap industry. It comes in both a synthetic and natural form. Natural glycerine comes from animal fat (tallow) and vegetable oil. Most of the tallow glycerine comes from Mexico, and most vegetable glycerine has no odor and is a “water white” clear liquid. Occasionally, tallow glycerine has a yellow or brown discoloration and often has an odor because it is almost impossible to remove particles of animal fat during the refining process. Remove dust from leaves, pound lower ends of stems with a hammer to split bark and loosen wood. Stand material in a jar containing a solution of 2/3 water and 1/2 glycerine, so it reaches 3 or 4 inches up the stems. Allow a week or so for the solution to be absorbed. Leaves and low-growing plants may be laid in the solution so they are covered. Glycerine will change the foliage to a darker color, and it will last indefinitely.


Making Lilac Blooms LastLILAC BLOOMTop of Page

Few things are more disappointing than a vase of lilac blossoms that do
not hold up. A reader writes: “We’ve run a flower shop for many years
and have found that lilacs hold up much longer if you remove the leaves,
crush the stems ends, and place them in a container of wood alcohol. Let
them stand in a cool place, out of drafts, for about an hour (or a little longer if branches are large). Remove and put them in cold water in a refrigerator overnight.

One of the finest weddings we ever did was with lilacs (white) handled
this way the day before. Even the bride’s bouquet was made of lilac
blossoms and not a single spray of flowers wilted. The ways these lilacs
inhaled alcohol was unbelievable. The branches absorbed almost all the
alcohol. We’ve handled blossoms of mock orange, weigela, and apples this
same way and with success.”

DryingTop of Page

Microwaves can dry flowers quickly and easily. You need scissors, a
delicate brush, an ice pick (or knitting needle or toothpick), and shoe
boxes or small glass mixing bowls.


From florist or hobby shops, you can get silica gel, florist wire, floral tape, and plastic spray or artist protective spray. (When silica gel crystals turn pink, heat them in the oven a few minutes until blue color returns.)

FRAME


The flowers that usually work best are brightly colored, half open, firm and thin petaled. Yellow retains color well, white may become dull, dark colors may turn darker. Flowers generally should have 1 inch to 2 inch stems; be kept in a cool place or refrigerator until use; and be used as soon as possible.

Place flowers in 2 inches of silica gel in a metal-free container. Leave 3/4 inch free around each flower. Make sure gel has complete contact with all areas of the flower by lifting petals with a toothpick while gently sifting silica gel over them. Cover completely. Place uncovered container in the (microwave) oven. Set timer and heat for specified minutes. If flowers do not seem completely dry, return to oven for one minute. Remove container and let set, still covered, at least one half hour, preferably overnight.

Fresh Flowers... No CostTop of Page

Homeowners who don’t want to wait until spring brings out blossoms on
trees and shrubs can enjoy fresh flowers during the winter, without spending a cent. Anyone can cut twigs of various flowering shrubs and make these “dry sticks” burst into masses of flowers long before their normal blooming time. This is the simplest form of gardening and pays dividends in beauty and enjoyment. All you have to do is put the twigs in a jar of water and place the jar in indirect sunlight at ordinary room temperature. Usually, sprays cut a week or two after Christmas will bloom two or three weeks later under proper conditions.

 

When do I need flowers?Top of Page

  • A Thank You
  • Anniversaries
  • Birthdays
  • Births
  • Cheer Me Ups
  • Christmas
  • Every Day (why not?)
  • Funerals
  • Get Well Wishes
  • Graduations
  • Grandparent’s Day
  • Hanukkah
  • Homecomings
  • Hospitality Events
  • House Warmings
  • Memorials
  • Mother’s Day
  • Parties
  • Patriotic Days
  • Proms
  • Resurrection Sunday
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Secretary’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Valentine’s Day

 Some facts may vary by region. Please check with your local lawn and garden dealer if concerned about possible variations.