How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh Longer

Photo by EVG Photos from Pexels

Some people say put a penny in the vase. Others say mix into the water that powdery stuff that comes with store-bought flowers. Yet others say add a little sugar. Or just make sure the water in the vase is fresh by changing it often. There are tons of tips that claim they will keep cut flowers fresh in a vase longer, but I know of one easy way that, at least in my informal experience, keeps them fresh the longest.

The Method

This method works best for flowers with woody stems like roses. Flowers with herbaceous stems really won’t need much maintenance to stay fresh, except that water should be changed every couple of days.

If you have store-bought flowers, first trim an inch or two off the stems, at an angle of about 45 degrees. This is to get rid of parts of the stem that might already be decomposing and to prevent the rot from fouling the water in the vase. This is nothing new. Often, cut flowers from stores come with this direction before they tell you to dump the packet “flower food” into the vase. If you have flowers freshly cut (with a 45 degrees cut) from your garden, you can of course skip this step.

Next—and this is the step that’s not usually discussed—slightly crush the cut end of the stem with something heavy like a small hammer, the back end of a kitchen knife, the flat end of a garden shear, or similar. Don’t completely destroy the stem. Just crush it enough to break open the stem, at the tip and upwards to about an inch or a little less. Then, run the stem under running water and squeeze the crushed area slightly to take out any air bubbles. After that, place the stem into the water in the vase. Thereafter, just change the water every couple of days and if you see a little rot at the tip of the stem, cut that off (no need to crush the stem again).

By informal observations, this method seems to keep the flower fresh longer by 3-4 days. I’ve had roses from my garden wilt and fall apart by the third day, and this method extends their life to almost a week.

The Science

There is a scientific reason for why crushing the tip of the stems will keep the flower fresh longer. Even though flowers have been cut, they still need to draw water up the stem to stay alive. The more we can help the water to be drawn up the stem, the longer the flower will last. This is why florists make a 45 degree cut at the tip of the stem—it gives a larger surface area for the stem to take in water.

However, often air bubbles get into the cut tip of the stem, and the bubbles prevent water from being pulled up the stem. To create even more surface area and to take out air bubbles, we crush the tip of the stem slightly and squeeze the crushed part under running water. (Bonus tip for roses—strip the thorns and run your hand over the entire stem under running water to take out the layer of air that might be clinging to the stem. Same reasoning: creates more ways for the stem to draw water to the flower.)

I’ve used this method for many years, with and without the commercial “flower food.” For me, the packets do not always extend the life of the flowers because I suspect you have to get the ratio of powder-to-water right or you might be pulling nutrients out of the flower due to osmosis. Any self-respecting lazy person won’t want to measure that carefully.

It is much easier, therefore, to just make sure to keep the water in the vase fresh and cut away any rot at the tip of the stem. A few years ago and by chance, I saw Martha Stewart on a talk show offhandedly crush the stems before putting some flowers into a vase, so it’s good to know that this technique is Martha-approved.

Laziness Scale

I rate this method Lazy Worthy. It doesn’t take too much extra time to crush the stem a bit, and the method keeps flowers fresh longer, thereby prolonging the enjoyment of the flowers without you having to spend more money. This method, therefore, is Lazy Worthy.

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