U.S. consumers are expected to spend about $2 billion on flowers for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. Even at premium prices, that accounts for a lot of roses, carnations, lilies, tulips and other flowers. To make a flower investment last as long as possible, both the giver and receiver play roles in selecting and caring for the flowers.
When selecting bouquets, look for flowers whose blooms are on the verge of opening rather than being fully open already. Flowers are like bananas in this way; you want them in that sweet spot just before they are ripe so they will last a few more days on the counter. Also avoid flowers that are still in tight buds, unless it is a special miniature arrangement meant to contain budded flowers. Otherwise, the buds may start to rot or dry out before they ever open into a flower.
Look beyond the flowers into the mass of greenery for healthy leaves and stems. Avoid bouquets with wilted leaves, slime or mold on the stems, or other signs of damage and age.
If handled properly by the florist, bouquets in vases and/or in a cooler will last longer than bouquets that are at room temperature and not in water.
Once flowers are home, partially fill a sink with room temperature water for most flowers, or slightly cooler water for tulips, daffodils and other cool-weather bloomers. Submerge the cut end of the flower and cut an additional inch or more from the stem while keeping the cut underwater. Use pruners or very sharp shears and cut on a diagonal to make more surface area for water to be absorbed. Keep the cut end submerged until it is moved into the vase with water.
Using warm water has been a long-standing recommendation. Within the first 24 to 36 hours after harvest, warm water may be beneficial in prolonging flower life. But after that (when you will most likely get them), the evidence is lacking that warm water does anything but inspire flowers to open (and fade) more quickly. Very hot or very cold water could be detrimental.
Fill a clean vase with room temperature water and add the flower food according to label directions. Place flowers, with fresh cuts on the ends, into the vase one at a time. Remove any foliage that will be at or below the water level in the vase.
Set the vase and flowers in a cool location out of direct sunlight.
If the arrangement will fit, move the vase and flowers into the refrigerator at night and take them back out each morning.
Check the water level daily and change it every two to three days or sooner if it becomes cloudy. Changing the water means removing the flowers, dumping what water is left in the vase, rinsing the vase and the flower stems, refilling the vase, adding new flower food, and replacing the flowers. The process only takes a few minutes but is probably the thing that people are most likely to skip. Changing the water can make a big difference in the life of the flowers.
There are many do-it-yourself recipes and old wives’ tales about things to add to the water to keep flowers fresh. The safer, easier way to prolong flower life is to use the free or inexpensive packets that are available anywhere cut flowers are sold. Other recommendations — including copper pennies, bleach, vinegar, soda, aspirin and others — may actually make the flowers fade more quickly.
— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show.”