How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh: 7 Tips From The Pros

homegrown bouquet of cosmos, calendula, mint, black eyed susan in mason jar

It’s disappointing to put a fresh bouquet in a vase of water and the very next day see the stems already starting to droop and the water turning murky. Seeing your bouquet wilt in front of your eyes can be disheartening, especially if you’ve done the hard work of growing your own flowers.

That’s where some tips from flower farmers and florists come in handy. There are several best practices that you can easily do to maximize the life of your cut flowers and get at least a week to admire their beauty.

With a few smart steps, such as cutting fresh stems, keeping the flowers out of direct sunlight, and changing the water frequently, you can maximize the lifespan of your cut flowers. Add a little floral preservative, and your fresh bouquet should last at least a week.

With that, let’s dig into how the pros make their flowers last.

1. Harvest at the right time

Start your bouquet off on the right foot by harvesting your flowers at the right time. Any flower farmer will recommend cutting first thing in the morning. The flowers are fresh from a cool night, having had hours of respite from warm daytime temperatures to rehydrate and build up their energy stores.

Harvesting a flower at the right bloom stage is critical to getting the most life out of them. You don’t want to cut too early or too late in the flower’s maturity. As flower farmer Lisa Mason Ziegler of The Gardener’s Workshop says, “You cannot make a worn-out flower look good, or an immature bloom hold its head up in a vase.”

Here are examples of when to harvest some popular cut flowers:

  • Zinnias, black-eyed Susans, daisies, and cosmos should be fully open.
  • Calendulas will continue to open once cut.
  • Flowers with buds along the stem, such as snapdragons and salvia, will continue to open once cut.
  • Sunflowers should be harvested when they start to crack open and the petals lift from the center.
black eyed susan flowers and buds
This black-eyed Susan is prime for picking. You can also cut a few of the opening flower buds and see which ones last the longest in the vase.

Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden is an excellent resource to get inspired to grow your own flowers and to find tips on the best time to cut dozens of flowers in your garden.

2. Cut the stems at an angle

You’ve probably heard this one before, but it really does make a difference. Cut the stems of your flowers at an angle to help them take in more water and stay hydrated for longer. Better hydration equals flowers that stay fresh longer.

An angled cut also prevents the stems from resting flush against the bottom of the vase, which could block the water flow to the stem. Imagine trying to drink water from a straw flush against the bottom of your cup, and you’ll see the importance of an angled straw (or cut, in this case).

Use a sharp knife or gardening shears to make the cut and avoid crushing the stems. Damaged stems won’t draw water up as efficiently as a stem with a clean cut.

Here are my favorite clippers, one for delicate stems and one for the biggies, like sunflowers:

My favorite garden shears

These two clippers can handle all the tasks (and the red handles help me keep track of them). Corona Leaf & Stem Micro Snips: Perfect for cutting small stems, deadheading spent blooms, or keeping the mint plant from taking over my garden. FELCO Classic Manual Hand Pruners are better for heavier-duty pruning, such as dead sunflower stalks, tomato vines, and cutting old zip-ties off the trellises. 

You can also recut the stems and add fresh water every few days to help them last even longer, but more on that in a moment.

3. Add water and flower food

If you’ve just picked your flowers or bought them from a market, the first thing you should do is get them into water. The sooner they’re in water, the better their chance of staying fresh.

The water should be room temperature, not cold. This confused me until I looked up why. After all, cold water perks up us humans; why not flowers?

According to the caretakers at Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, warm water molecules move faster than cold molecules, so the flower stems can absorb them more quickly and avoid any gap in hydration that could cause wilting. Who knew?

Another tip is to ensure the bucket or vase you put them in is as clean as possible to avoid introducing bacteria that will shorten the flowers’ lifespan.

After adding the water, toss in a packet of flower food. This is usually provided in store-bought bouquets or is available for purchase at most grocery stores or online.

If you ever buy bouquets, save any extra flower food packets to use with your homegrown bouquets.

If you’re cutting fresh from your garden (if you’re on this blog, hopefully you have a blooming cutting garden going!) and don’t have a packet of floral preservative, you can easily make your own with a little sugar and bleach.

Just mix:

  • 1 quart of water
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice OR 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

The sugar will feed the flowers, and the acidity will help prevent bacteria growth. You can swap out the acid ingredient for a couple of drops of bleach if you have that on hand. Just be sure not to use too much.

4. Keep out of direct sunlight

Display your flowers in an area that doesn’t get direct sunlight. Strong sunlight will warm and wilt the flowers much quicker than cool temperatures and indirect sunlight.

Sunlight isn’t harmful in and of itself, but excessive exposure to it might dehydrate your cut flowers faster and cause them to fade, wilt, or droop due to the heat. Online florist Teleflora recommends 65-72 degrees Fahrenheit as an ideal holding temperature.

If you can’t avoid putting them in a sunny spot, at least make sure they’re not in direct sunlight for more than a couple of hours a day. After that, give the bouquet a break in a dimmer area. Or, to really perk them up, put them in the fridge.

Yep, that’s right.

5. Refrigerate overnight

I know this one is a little odd and not terribly practical. But, if you want your flowers to really last, put them in the fridge overnight!

The cooler temperature will help slow down water loss from the flowers and give you a few extra days of fresh blooms. That’s why florists keep their bouquets in the fridge overnight; cool temperatures significantly extend fresh flowers’ lifespan.

There are a few flowers that this technique won’t work for. It’ll have the opposite effect of shortening the lifespan of some flowers, such as basil, but for the vast majority, it’ll work wonders.

If your bouquet is too large to fit in the fridge, you can always pick out the flowers you want to last the longest and pop those in, adding them back into the bouquet in the morning when you change the water.

Speaking of which…

6. Top off or change the water every other day

This is probably the most important tip for keeping your flowers fresh. Flowers drink a lot of water and need a clean supply to stay healthy and hydrated.

When you pick a handful of flowers and put them in the vase, you’ll probably notice they absorb a lot of the water during the first day. That’s because the flowers are conditioning themselves.

They’re recovering from being separated from the plant, hydrating their tissues, and sometimes the blooms are even continuing to open.

Keep an eye on the water level of the vase or jar your bouquet is in. You’ll probably need to top off the water that first day.

Additionally, try to change the vase water every other day. Doing so will provide fresh, oxygenated air to the flowers and remove contaminated water, prolonging their life significantly.

Fresh water is especially important for some flowers known as “dirty flowers.” These blooms muck up the water faster than others, either by releasing a sap from the cut stem or because they have fuzzy stems that dirt and bacteria cling to more than smooth stems.

Some dirty flowers include:

  • Daffodil
  • Black eyed Susan
  • Zinnia
  • Marigold
  • Sunflower
  • Dahlia

If your bouquet includes these flowers, be extra vigilant about giving them fresh water frequently.

7. Recut the stems whenever you change the water

While you’re already getting the vase ready with fresh water, take a moment to recut the stems of your flowers.

Allowing them to sit in water for too long can cause bacteria to form and clog up the stem, making it difficult for the plant to absorb water.

By recutting the stems, you’re giving the flowers a fresh start and opening new channels for them to drink water.

You don’t need to cut off a ton; just snipping an inch off the bottom will do the trick, then pop them back into the vase.

Enjoy your flowers

Although no bouquet will last forever, with these tips, you’ll get a longer vase life out of your flowers. Once the bouquet is past its prime, toss the flowers in your compost, clean out the vase, and go pick yourself another fresh one to enjoy!

If keeping bugs out of your bouquets is a priority, read this article for some tips to help you: How To Bring Flowers In Without Bugs: 9 Tips For Clean Flowers.

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