University of Illinois Extension

Prolonging Fresh Cut Garden Flowers

Do flowers from your garden seem to wilt almost immediately? Floral scientists have learned secrets to prolong their life that you can use at home, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

"Cut your treasured flowers early in the morning while it is cool," said Nancy Pollard. "Take a vase to the garden with you. It should be very clean and filled warm (110 degrees F) water.

"With a clean knife or scissors, strip off any leaves that will be below the waterline. Leaves in the water promote bacterial growth decreasing water uptake, which causes early wilting. Put the leaf-stripped stems in water immediately."

The stems, she added, should be re-cut before placing them in their final clean vase. Again be sure there are no leaves in the water. To add foliage to the arrangement, cut foliage stems, like ferns, and strip the leaves that will be in the water from these stems too.

Pollard said a commercial floral preservative should be added to the water.

"Preservatives contains a mix of ingredients including sucrose and acidifiers," she said. "Sucrose feeds the flowers. Acidifiers inhibit microorganisms which reduce water uptake. Acidifiers also stabilize colors and slow respiration, preserving their freshness."

She noted that she has often picked flowers the day before an event and then prepped them this way.

"Then after an hour or two in the warm water, I put the flowers in a refrigerator, as a florist would," Pollard said. "This can take planning to make enough space in the family fridge, but is worth the effort. This will slow water loss, and slow respiration, making the flowers appear to "perk up." Do not put the flowers near ripening fruit or in a refrigerator with fruit. Fruits, like apples, give off ethylene gases which hastens decay of flowers."

Flowers picked the day before and handled this way, often appear fresher than flowers picked on the same day as a special event, and will often last several days, like they would from a florist.

"Rinse the stems, and change the water if it becomes cloudy," she said. "Also, keep the flowers away from drafts and heat which remove critical moisture, and speed respiration."