In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
April, 2008
Regional Report

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Properly conditioned cut flowers will brighten your home (or in my case, my boat) for a week or more.

Making Cut Flowers Last Longer

I recently received a lovely mixed bouquet of cut flowers from a well-known florist in San Francisco. It has been over a week since they arrived and the flowers are still fresh and fragrant. I don't know about you, but I don't usually have such good luck with the longevity of cut flowers, with the exception of lilies and carnations. Cut flowers are a luxury that I indulge myself in, as do many of my friends. We like to exchange flowers as gifts. I take pleasure from the vibrant beauty they bring into the boat, and I love the fragrance of stocks, carnations, roses, hyacinths, and, my personal favorite, lilies.

Keeping cut flowers fresh for the longest period of time is a matter of conditioning. The flowers I received for my birthday have been stripped of foliage below the water level in the vase. This is important because, like compost, green matter will begin to decompose once it has been removed from the plant. Decomposition results in the growth of bacteria which can clog stems and inhibit the uptake of water, resulting in dead or wilted flowers.

When my dad passed away back in 1977, my mom ordered a gigantic bouquet of red roses from her local florist in Alabama. The roses were to sit at the head of his casket as a token of love. Unfortunately, the roses had not been conditioned properly and within the day, the buds all drooped. During the funeral, the guests commented on what a shame it was that the roses were in such bad shape. It was like a bad omen. We called the florist and asked for a refund, but they refused, and we were in no position to argue.

The Conditioning Process
I believe that the first step in conditioning flowers begins with the actual cutting. The best time of day to cut flowers from the garden is in the morning, before the dew has dried from the leaves. Flowers have had all night to take up water, and they are plump and ready for the day ahead.

The second step in conditioning comes comes right after cutting. It is recommended that you plunge the freshly cut stems into a bucket filled with fresh, tepid water. The water should be deep enough so that the stems are entirely covered. That means you should carry a bucket full of water with you into the garden -- no Jane Austen flower baskets, please. No need to strip the stems just yet, save that for when you get back to the house.

Overnight Rest
Ideally, once your garden bouquet has been cut, you should strip the stems of foliage, leaving a few leaves near the flower if you desire. Make a new cut at the tip of the stem while holding it under water. Yes, this means that your clippers or scissors will be under water. If you look closely, you will notice a tiny air bubble escaping from the stem when you make the underwater cut.

The prepared flowers should ideally rest overnight in a bucket filled with tepid water and floral preservative. If you don't have a commercial preservative like the florists use, lemon/lime soda works just fine. The acid in the citrus keeps the bacteria at bay and the sugar feeds the flowers. The flowers should be kept in a cool, dark place overnight so they can drink up the tonic.

Now You're Ready
When you are ready to arrange the blooms, make yet another underwater cut and use floral preservative in the vase. If this whole process seems like a lot of fuss, remember that cut flowers are expensive to buy. The longer you are able to enjoy them, the more bang you will get for your buck!


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