10+ Pro Tricks to Make Flowers Last Longer
Bye-bye, browning bouquets! Here’s how to make flowers last longer with a few surprising household staples and expert tricks.
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Extend the life of any bouquet
Everyone loves a fresh flower delivery, whether someone is thinking of you on a random day or it’s a holiday like Mother’s Day. Fresh blooms are gorgeous, and flowers can convey so much meaning. But nothing is worse than seeing them fade too quickly. Of course, arrangements won’t live forever, but if you’re wondering how to make flowers last longer, there are plenty of pro tricks to do just that—and make those smiles last longer.
The first step? “Buy really fresh, hardy, good flowers,” says Michael Gaffney, director of the American School of Flower Design. “They could be from a wholesaler or direct from a farm.” Our favorite online flower-delivery services are also excellent choices.
Beyond that and some general best practices, flower pros say you can keep those stems in tip-top shape with a few household staples from your pantry, your laundry room and—get this—your liquor cabinet. Read on for the best tips to keep those Mother’s Day flowers and anniversary gifts gorgeous for longer.
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A little vodka goes a long way in floral care. This bar staple helps deter bacterial growth, and that’s a great thing for extending the life of cut flowers. The Garden Club of Brookfield in Connecticut offers this formula, among others, for keeping the water cleaner: Add 1 teaspoon of vodka to a quart of lukewarm water. After prepping your flowers according to the basic guidelines, put them in a vase filled with vodka-laced water. (Most flowers prefer room-temperature or lukewarm water, FYI.) While that bottle is still open, check out these other uses for vodka, from window cleaning to deodorizing to, of course, making a martini!
Pro tip: There’s a difference between types of alcohol. Rubbing alcohol should be avoided. Grain alcohol, however, could replace vodka and works nicely since it’s also clear.
Keep a supply of the good stuff on hand, just in case your bouquet doesn’t come with a packet and so you can add more when needed. “It’s very important to use flower food to extend the life of the blooms,” says Valerie Ghitelman, vice president of sourcing and design for 1-800-Flowers.com. She recommends dissolving floral food in lukewarm water, filling the vase three-quarters of the way to the top.
What makes floral food so effective? It offers a trifecta of goodness with three ingredients working together to help cut flowers: Sugar feeds them, citric acid balances the pH level for more effective drinking and bleach keeps the water cleaner.
Pro tip: Ghitelman recommends replacing the flower food and water every two to three days. Make sure it is completely dissolved for efficacy and water clarity. And another important note: While flower food can help cut flowers last longer, you shouldn’t use it on indoor flowering plants.
Sure, bleach is a household staple, but did you know that it’s also the ultimate water warrior for fresh flowers? Well, it is! This is Gaffney’s not-so-secret secret for how to make flowers last longer. Over time, debris builds in the water, and bacteria degrade the cut end of the stems. That closes the metaphorical drinking straw and can deflate flowers. Bleach fights the bacteria and ultimately helps keep those flowers hydrated. It also reduces the smell associated with plant deterioration.
Just don’t go overboard. Most floral experts agree that a few drops of bleach in room-temperature water for an average-sized vase will extend flower life.
Pro tip: To help flowers live longer, keep an eye on the water levels, adding more water as needed. Cloudy water needs complete replacement, and you should wash out the vase before refilling. Gaffney also suggests cutting an inch from the stems every four to five days to help facilitate your flowers’ ability to drink.
Skip the pair of scissors that’s been with you since college—they are not designed for floral work. If you want to learn how to make flowers last longer, the correct tool is essential. At the Bouqs Company, lead floral designer Kaylyn Hewitt says the best option would be a sharp knife or floral shears. That’s because “dull scissors or clippers can damage stems, making it harder for your flowers to drink.”
For hollow stems like daffodils and less-fussy mums, look for floral snips. Woody stems, including hydrangea and lilacs, work best with a floral shear that has a bypass blade. Think about giving shears and other gardening tools as a Mother’s Day gift that will last far longer than the flowers.
Pro tip: A clean vase is just as important as the correct cutting tool. Wash and rinse containers thoroughly before use to remove any dust or accumulated residue.
Have you ever watched a floral designer spray “water” on a finished arrangement? That liquid is most likely FloraLife Crowning Glory. Gaffney says every hobbyist and floral designer should use it. When sprayed on foliage or cut flowers, it works as an anti-desiccant, reducing water loss. Just shake the bottle before use, and apply an even mist on a floral arrangement. One important note: If you’re planning to put the flowers into a refrigerator, allow Crowning Glory to dry first. The product’s instructions recommend using the formula as is, but Gaffney dilutes his Crowning Glory by half with water.
Pro tip: Water alone can help rehydrate flowers, especially hydrangea. For recently wilted stems, submerge them in room-temperature water—yup, even the flowers. (A damp towel to hold them underwater can help.) Assuming they revive after a couple of hours, re-cut the stems and put them back in the container. On a related topic, here’s how to revive a dead or dying plant.
If you’re out of flower-food packets but need to arrange flowers, check the fridge. A hit of lemon-lime soda can help extend the blooms. And yes, the soda flavor matters. The sugar helps feed the flowers, and the citrus works as the acid to make a more hospitable water pH level, allowing the flowers to drink more efficiently. Add 1/4 cup or 1 part soda to 3 parts room-temperature (or slightly warmer) water. Don’t worry if the soda has lost its fizz—flowers aren’t looking for effervescence! This is also a great way to upcycle instead of just tossing that flat soda.
Pro tip: No soda? No worries. Ghitelman recommends the following formula as well, depending on what you have handy: Mix 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/4 tablespoon of bleach into a quart of lukewarm water. Adding the bleach helps keep the water clean on top of the other elements.
Of course, flowers don’t get a headache, but aspirin could be part of the cure for longevity. That’s because aspirin changes the acidity of water just like the ingredients in floral food and the lemon in a citrus-based soda. Remember: A better-balanced pH makes it easier for flowers to drink.
This trick works best in combination with food and a biocide like bleach (the latter of which staves off bacteria and keeps water cleaner), says Ghitelman. Mix 2 crushed aspirin with 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3 drops of bleach in a quart of room-temperature water. Add to any container to make even a supermarket bouquet shine.
Pro tip: For tulips, skip the sugar and just use a crushed aspirin alone. (Tulips also prefer cooler water.) For households that don’t have bleach or soda, try vinegar. Ghitelman says 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, plus 2 tablespoons of sugar and a quart of lukewarm water will do the trick.
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Here’s some common “cents” when it comes to keeping to keep flowers fresher longer—literally. Just toss a penny into your vase, and its natural antimicrobial properties can help keep bacteria at bay. However, there is a catch. Not all pennies are created equal, and in this case, age matters. Pennies made prior to 1982 have plenty of copper. Those minted afterward do not. So even if you find a penny and pick it up, it’s only lucky for flowers if it has an older date. And if you’re wondering how that lucky penny expression started, we have the details!
Pro tip: Keep the vase as clean as possible and the water as deep as possible. Hydration is the single most important element to make flowers last longer.
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Flower prep tips and tricks
While the above tricks are certainly handy (and fascinating) when it comes to learning how to make flowers last longer, the pros know that preparation is the real key. According to Hewitt, the best thing you can do is get your flowers drinking as soon as possible before arranging them. Here’s how to do just that:
- Cut stems at a 45-degree angle to create a wide drinking straw.
- Remove at least a couple of inches from the bottom of each stem. Stems dry during transit, whether from a distant farm or a nearby grocery store.
- Remove all foliage that might wind up below the water line, decomposing in the water. Cleaner water equals a longer life for flowers.
- For extra insurance, cut stems under water. Roses and hydrangea are notorious for creating a “scab” during trimming that prevents them from drinking well.
- Leave stems in the processing container while you’re arranging rather than on the table to eliminate gaps in drinking.
- Add water every two to three days and replace it every three to five, depending on cloudiness. Re-cut stems by an inch to let them drink more fully when replacing water.
- Keep flowers away from direct heat and air sources. They prefer cooler and darker spots, if possible.
As for one last tip, don’t forget to attach a Mother’s Day card, anniversary card or birthday card to the floral arrangements you’re sharing. Even if flowers can’t last forever, those words and sentiments certainly can.
- Michael Gaffney, director of the American School of Flower Design
- Valerie Ghitelman, vice president of sourcing and design at 1-800-Flowers.com
- Kaylyn Hewitt, lead floral designer at The Bouqs Company
- UMass Extension Greenhouse Crops and Floriculture Program: “Sugar and Acidity in Preservative Solutions for Field-Grown Cut Flowers”