When To Cut Flowers: The Right Time To Harvest Blooms

woman holding a mug full of flowers

When it comes to flowers, timing is everything. If you want to create beautiful, fresh bouquets that will last for a week or more, you need to know when to cut your flowers.

The best time to cut flowers is in the morning so the stem is well hydrated, resulting in the longest vase life. Most flowers should be cut when just starting to open, such as sunflowers and snapdragons. Some exceptions, such as zinnias, should be fully open before cutting for the best vase life.

In this article, you’ll learn the best time of day to cut your fresh flowers. I’ll also offer a few examples of specific popular flowers and when they should be cut, plus some tips to keep them lasting a long time in the vase.

So even if this is your first year growing flowers, read on for all the information you need to create stunning, fresh-picked bouquets!

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What time of day is best to cut flowers?

The best time to cut flowers for a fresh bouquet is early in the morning when the plants have spent the last several hours in the cool night air. The flowers will have had the chance to hydrate overnight, which means the flowers and stems will last longer when they’re separated from the plant.

If you can’t get to the flowers early in the morning, the next best option is to cut them in the late afternoon or early evening when the sun is going down. The flowers won’t be as fresh, and the stems won’t be as hydrated as in the morning, but they should still stand up to being cut.

The one time of day you don’t want to cut flowers is around midday when the sun is strongest. At that point, the flowers are under some stress from the heat of the day. They will almost always wilt quickly, lasting a couple of days in the vase, at most.

Cutting flowers at the right time means a longer vase life

Cutting, or harvesting, flowers from your garden at the right time can mean the difference between a bouquet that wilts overnight and one that lasts for a week or more.

Flowers harvested early in the morning, put into a bucket of water, and cared for properly in the vase will last much longer. After all the work you put into growing them, it’s nice to see them last as long as possible in the vase.

The right time to cut flowers refers to the time of day and the development stage of different types of flowers. In short, have the flowers started to open yet, or not?

If you end up harvesting a flower too soon or too late, it won’t last as long as it would if picked at the ideal time. For that reason, I made a chart with some of the most popular cut flowers and their optimal stage for cutting.

Popular cut flowers and their optimal cutting stage

In addition to the best time to pick, there is also the best time to harvest different types of flowers according to their stage of development.

Some flowers should be just starting to open when you cut them, while others should fully open blooms before you cut them.

The following chart will tell you at a glance when to cut your favorite flowers, and I’ll give you more details afterward.

FlowerCutting stageVase lifeFlower food?
Ammi (False Queen Anne’s Lace)Cut when fully open or setting seed6-8 daysYes
Bachelor Buttons (Cornflower) Cut when beginning to open6-8 daysYes
BasilCut when flower stalks have formed7-10 daysOptional
Bells of IrelandOnce the green bells form along the stalk10-14 daysOptional
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)Cut when beginning to open or fully open7-10 daysYes
CalendulaCut when beginning to open5-7 daysYes
CelosiaCut when fully open, but before seed sets10-14 daysYes
Cerinthe (Honeywort)Cut when beginning to open or fully open. Sear stems7-10 daysOptional
Chinese AsterCut when beginning to open or fully open5-7 daysYes
CosmosCut when beginning to open5-7 daysYes
DahliaCut when fully open but young5-7 daysYes
Daucus (Queen Anne’s Lace)Cut when fully open, before setting seed6-8 daysYes
DillCut when fully open or setting seed6-8 daysOptional
FeverfewCut when just starting to open or fully open6-8 daysYes
GomphrenaCut when fully open10-14 daysYes
MarigoldCut when just beginning to open or fully open7-10 daysYes
MintCut as foliage with firm stems or with developed flowers10-14 daysOptional
NasturtiumCut when beginning to open or fully open7-10 daysYes
Nigella (Love In A Mist)Cut when fully open or setting seed pods7 daysYes
PoppyCut when beginning open or set seed pods. Sear stem7 daysYes
SalviaCut when lower buds begin to open5 daysYes
Scabiosa (Pincusion flower)Cut when fully open with a stiff neck6-8 daysYes
SnapdragonCut when lower buds begin to open7-10 daysYes
StrawflowerCut when beginning to open to fully open10-14+ days Optional
StaticeCut when fully open10-14+ days Optional
SunflowerCut when beginning to open7-10 daysOptional 
Sweet PeaCut when lower buds begin to open4-6 daysYes
Sweet William (Dianthus)Cut when a few flowers begin to open1-2 weeksYes
YarrowCut when fully open6-8 daysYes
ZinniaCut when fully open, passes wiggle test6-8 daysYes
This table gives the general guidelines for when to harvest cut flowers, how long they’ll last, and if they’ll benefit from a floral preservative.

Cut these flowers when just starting to open

Most flowers will last the longest if cut as they’re just starting to open. These flowers are young, fresh, and haven’t been pollinated yet, which shortens vase life. Single-stem flowers such as sunflowers and spike flowers with blossoms along the stem fall under this category.

For example, on a snapdragon stem, the bottom few beds will have “cracked,” and you can see the petal color coming through. That’s when you want to harvest the stems. The rest of the buds will open in the vase.

Here are other flowers to harvest at this partially open stage:

  • Phlox
  • Lupine
  • Salvia
  • Stock
  • Mariold
  • Sweet peas
  • Cosmos
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Sunflower

Flowers that should be fully open when cut

Some flowers, such as zinnias, should be fully open when you cut them, so you get the strongest stems. These flowers can have weak necks that will let the flower droop over soon after harvest, meaning you’ll get an hour or two to enjoy your flower.

To check for a weak neck, try the “wiggle test” to know if they’re ready to harvest.

Hold the flower stem a few inches under the flower before you cut it to perform the test. Wiggle the stem back and forth. If the flower flops around, it’s not ready to cut. If the stem is sturdy and the flower moves as one with the stem, you can cut it.

Other flowers just won’t open much once you cut them, so you’ll be stuck with a half-open flower in your vase. Dahlias fall into this category.

These are some of the flowers that need to be fully open with a stiff neck before cutting:

  • Zinnia
  • Dahlia
  • Gomphrena
  • Ammi
  • Scabiosa
  • Nigella

Tips for keeping your cut flowers fresh and long-lasting

Make sure to use clean snips or scissors to cut the stems at harvest, and recut the stems right before you put them in the vase to maximize their ability to take up water. Remove any foliage that will be below the water line in the vase to avoid bacteria growth.

When arranging the flowers in the vase, make sure to layer blooms of different sizes and textures. You can also use different colors and types of flowers to create a beautiful bouquet. Experiment with different combinations until you find the arrangement that you like best.

If you take care of your fresh bouquet, the flowers will last for 5-7 days, if not more. Change the water in the vase every day, and trim the stems about an inch each time you change the water. Add a little bit of fresh water to the vase each time you change it, and make sure to keep the flowers out of direct sunlight.

For more tips on vase life, jump over to this article: How Long Do Cut Flowers Last? (30 Flower’s Vase Life).

Learn more

Now that you know when to cut your flowers, make sure your garden produces a steady flow of blooms all summer long by growing some cut and come again flowers.

Not sure what those are? Check out this article to discover and grow: Cut and Come Again Flowers: What Are They And Which Should You Grow?

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