Care of fresh-cut flowers

URBANA, Ill. – Flowers are a great way to celebrate a special occasion, such as a holiday, birthday, anniversary, or a new baby. "Of course, you don't need a special occasion to enjoy fresh-cut flowers or a flowering potted plant," says Jennifer Fishburn, a University of Illinois horticulture educator. "Sending flowers shows thoughtfulness and is a good way to brighten a person's day."

So, how can you get the most life out of your cut flowers? Start by purchasing flowers with green, healthy-looking, and undamaged foliage. Look for well-formed flowers, and avoid wilted or discolored petals. Be sure to purchase tulips and daffodils in the bud stage.

A little care for your cut flowers will help them last the maximum time possible, Fishburn says. The basic needs of fresh-cut flowers are water, food, sanitation, and cool temperatures. Keep in mind certain types of cut flowers last longer than others. For example, carnations can remain vibrant for one to two weeks, while roses have a shorter vase lifespan.

Flowers are 90 percent water, Fishburn notes. As a flower transpires (breathes), it gives off water, therefore, water is needed to supplement the loss. When receiving loose wrapped flowers, cut the stems with a clean, sharp knife, clippers, or shears, and remove about 1 inch of the stem. Roses need to be cut under water. Avoid using household scissors, as they will crush the stems rather than cut. Remove any foliage that will be under the water level to discourage bacterial growth. Place stems in a clean, sanitized container with warm water and a floral preservative. Avoid overcrowding flowers in a container.

Keep the water fresh and clean at all times; cloudy water indicates bacterial growth. Bacteria can clog stems and shorten the life of flowers. Consider replacing the water every 2 to 3 days. When replacing water, re-cut the flower stems. Flowers that go limp are not taking up enough water and need to be re-cut. Always discard wilted blooms.

A commercial floral food (preservative) is a combination of ingredients. Most preservative solutions contain sugar for nutrition, bleach to discourage bacterial growth, and citric acid to gently acidify the water. Be sure to follow packet directions, as too much preservative can do more harm than good. For arrangements in floral foam, keep the foam soaked with water containing floral food.

Flowers are sensitive to heat and drafts, so avoid placing near heat sources such as registers, radiators, appliances, or in the full sun. Most fresh-cut flowers prefer cool temperatures, 65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Don't wait for a special occasion," Fishburn says, "brighten someone's day with flowers."