Grow Your Own

How To: Cutting and Caring for Flowers

Cutting and caring for flowers correctly ensures that the hard work of your garden gets its best reception. Cutting flowers and caring for them is simple, but it helps to know what you’re going to do first. Here are our favorite steps to floral beauty and longevity — in the vase!

Cutting

Most flowers are best picked when they are just starting to show color, and will last longer at this stage than if collected in full bloom. However some flowers, such as dahlias and roses, may not fully open up if cut when the buds are tight.

Here are some tips for cutting flowers:

  • Generally, the best time to cut and collect flowers is in the morning when their stems are turgid and less likely to wilt. Ideally wait until the dew has dried because moisture on flowers in storage are prone to botrytis, a fungal disease that will ruin them.
  • If you wait until the evening to cut flowers, do so when the sun is low in the sky and the air has cooled. In a perfect world, flowers would be cut only in temperatures below 80 degrees.
  • Make sure your clippers are clean to prevent the spread of bacteria. A quick dip in a jar of alcohol in between harvests will also help reduce the spread of disease. Clippers should also be sharp in order to make a clean cut and not smash the stems. We recommend you invest in high quality clippers (pruners) and a sharpening stone. We like to use a strong pair of pruners for thick stems such as lilacs and other woody perennials. For thinner stems, we prefer these everyday garden scissors.
  • Cutting flowers quickly and efficiently is a skill you develop with experience. You need to cut the flower, stripping the foliage from the lower part of the stem, and get the stems into water as soon as possible.
  • Always be sure to use scrupulously clean buckets, or you’ll risk introducing bacteria that will quickly plug up the stems of your flowers and prevent them from taking up water. Without water, your flowers will quickly wilt.

Caring

Once cut, it’s important to condition flowers to prolong their longevity and keep them looking their best.

Condition the cut stems by following these easy steps:

  • After cutting, you need to remove the field heat from the plant material as soon as possible to ensure the longest life. For the home gardener, bringing the flowers into a cool house or garage is usually all you need to cool them off.
  • For best results, recut all stems using sharp pruners to avoid crushing the stems and reducing their ability to take up water through their stems.
  • Leave the prepared stems in a cool place for 2 to 3 hours or longer to allow the flowers to drink up water and become turgid again.
  • Some plants with weak stems and heavy heads are prone to bending. To help straighten the stems, wrap the bunch of flowers in newspaper and leave in water for at least two hours. As the stems take in water and stiffen, they will support the flower head in an upright position.

Grow Your Own

Caring for Cut Flowers

cut flowers

Now is the busy buzzy time when pollinators abound and flowers compete for their attention, using bright colors and glorious scents to bring butterflies, bees, and even bats to them in order to make new flowers for next spring.

We love the ranunculus, anemones, sweet peas, roses, hyacinth, tulips, jasmine, calla lilies, and abundant other cutting flowers that this season produces, but we also look to flowering limbs and pretty green branches when choosing flora for the home.

Here are a bevy of great tips for caring for cut flowers that we hope you’ll find useful. Have some great tips of your own? Leave them in the comments section! We adore finding new ways to care indoors for our favorite outdoor blooms.

Cut Flower Tips

  • Cut flowers as early in the morning as you can.
  • Generally, it’s wise to re-cut flowers that were harvested more than 30 minutes before arranging or are brought home from the store. Use sharp pruners. The bottom of the stem will have sealed a little bit and water won’t otherwise penetrate.
  • Clean and sanitize all buckets and vases before each use. Bacteria is one of the culprits that makes your cut flowers fade. A good rule of thumb is that these vessels should be clean enough to drink from.
  • After cutting, remove low leaves and place stems immediately into cool, clean water. This will minimize wilting, since there is less foliage to rehydrate. The easiest way to do this is to carry a bucket with you at harvest time.
  • Flowering trees and shrubs make more wonderful additions to arrangements, but getting their woody stems to take up water can be tricky. Immediately after harvesting, remove the lower half of their leaves and use heavy clippers to split woody stem ends vertically a few inches up.
  • For special cases such as basil, cerinthe, Iceland poppies, mint, and scented geranium, dip stem ends into boiling water, or hold them over an open flame for 7 to 10 seconds before placing in a cool vase of water.
  • Condition stems and branches in water for 24 hours before you do an arrangement to properly hydrate the stems and extend the flower’s freshness. Keep them in a place as cool as you can find.

Meet the Makers

SHED Floral Designer Sue Volkel

For a recent Taste of Place dinner honoring Preston Farm and Winery, SHED floral designer Sue Volkel decorated the tables by filling tall glass vases with pale grasses and stalks of flowering wild fennel.

She filled small glass vases with clutches of delicate feverfew flowers, wild sweet peas, and small strands of ripening strawberries, still hanging from the vine.

The effect was magical.

Varying the heights allowed diners to converse easily above the small vases, their faces visible below the tall ones. The strawberries leant an air of fantasy, as if to entice fairies to table. But perhaps this is all a bit prosaic.

What the flowers truly offered was their own very real sense of place, a perfect complement to the meal’s intent. And what made the effect so effortless?

Well, Sue’s ineffable talent, for one thing. But also: The plants grow together naturally in the fields and tidily in garden beds.

“You learn a lot about flower arranging from gardening,” Sue says. “With gardening, you identify everything. You learn what it is. With gardening, you learn that things that look beautiful together in the yard translate to looking really beautiful in a vase.”

Trained as a painter, Sue took jobs as a gardener to support herself through college. Working as an interior designer, Sue uses what she learned from her grandmother, a talented hostess, to arrange flowers.

But she stresses that there aren’t many rules. Now at summer solstice, the tall white Queen’s Anne Lace and singular blue chicory flowers that proliferate along Sonoma County roads have her entranced.

“The white with that light blue — how beautiful is that right now?” Sue says. “I really like being able to bring things that are unexpected to the table. It makes me feel so good when people say, ‘I have that in my yard, why didn’t I ever think about using it?'”

Having worked to help design the interior as it was being built, Sue has been with SHED since before the doors opened. She’s been in charge of the flowers for over three years now, bringing fresh farm and foraged bouquets in five days a week.

Offering flowers from our immediate area grown by the farmers, friends, and neighbors that surround us is an important ethos for SHED. Just as we support the Slow Food movement, so does SHED support Slow Flowers. It’s all about sense of place and recognizing graceful, unique beauty.

“Every season brings its own favorites,” Sue says. “Summer brings roses and hydrangeas and you wonder what are you going do when they’re gone.

“And then,” she laughs, “the crab apples come in.”

Sue’s Quick Tips

• Cut flowers as early in the morning as you can.

• Condition them in water for 24 hours before you do the arrangement to properly hydrate the stems and extend the flower’s freshness. Keep them in a place as cool as you can find.

• If you cut roses out in the field, you always want to give them a fresh cut before you put them in water. This isn’t as necessary if you’re coming right into the house.

• Generally, it’s wise to re-cut flowers that were harvested more than 30 minutes before or are brought home from the store. The bottom of the stem will have sealed a little bit and water won’t otherwise penetrate.

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