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  • Writer's pictureJulia Watson

Four Rules for Cutting Flowers

pink rose bloom
Rose 'Pink Promise', one of the best garden roses for cutting.

If you already have a garden, you probably make the occasional bouquet. Have you ever been disappointed by how quickly they fade? If so, I have four rules that might help improve your cut flowers.

Rule number one is to cut flowers early in the morning, and the hotter your climate the earlier that should be. Evening is acceptable if it’s cool; the point is don’t cut flowers when it’s hot.

Rule number two is strip off lower leaves. Anything that will be below the water line of the vase you’re using needs to come off so it won’t rot, foul the water and shorten the flower’s vase life.

Rule number three is to put flowers into water immediately, then let them rest in a cool spot for a few hours. If you have flower food, add that in. As a professional, I buy a commercial product in bulk, but you can use supermarket products or simply add a little sugar and a drop of bleach.

Rule number four is to know your flowers. They’re all different, and although it takes a while to learn different tricks for different flowers, it will pay off (and you only need to learn about the flowers you use). Here are a few for starters.

Different flowers have different times for cutting. Some flowers can be cut while they’re still in tight buds. Ranunculus, tulips and peonies are examples. But roses have to be past the bud stage or they won’t open fully. Don’t cut budding roses until the sepals are folding back toward the stem, leaving the petals exposed, then you can cut it and watch it open in the vase.

Some flowers, like daffodils, exude sap after they’re cut and can shorten the vase life of any other flower you add. You can get around this by soaking the flowers in water for three or four hours to get the sap out, then arrange them in bouquets.

Some flowers last longer if you flame the end of the stem – strange but true. I always flame the stems of Iceland poppies, and sometimes tithonia (aka Mexican sunflower). Tithonia is one of my favorite summer annuals, but the stems can be fragile. If you cut carefully and don’t let them get bent as you’re arranging them, they’ll last beautifully. I even like them when the petals have dropped—the centers with exposed stamens are good filler interest in a summer arrangement.

bouquet of flowers
Bright orange Tithonia is featured in this late summer bouquet.

In a previous post I listed good flowers to grow for cutting (click here to read). Of course flowers are subjective and what I like may not work for you. I’m not a fan of messy flowers – the ones that shed pollen or stamens, but you may not care. It doesn't bother me that tulips and anemones keep growing while they’re in the vase, changing the look of a flower arrangement, but maybe that would drive you crazy. Fragrance is subjective too – I find lilies and tuberose to be too strong for a dining room, but you may like them.

I suppose the last trick is to arrange your flowers beautifully. It’s fine to stick things in a vase and call it good enough (a technique that one of my Instagram followers calls “chop and drop”). But if you want to get more serious about good floral design, starting with understanding the flowers you grow, then I recommend the blog and books by Erin Benzekein of Floret Flowers. She gives specific “vase life tricks” for all the different flowers she grows, and she probably grows more than you and I ever will.

One last thing about cutting flowers. This may shock you, but you don’t really have to cut stems at an angle. Everyone says that, and I still do it more often than not, but it doesn’t increase water uptake. This is because of the way plants transport water, using microscopic tubes called xylem. Xylem is like a bunch of straws bundled together, sucking up water from the roots and moving it through the stems and out to the leaves. Now imagine taking one of those straws and cutting the end. Will it suck up more water if you cut at an angle? No! Some might say the angled cut prevents the stem from getting stuck flat against the vase, but does this ever happen? I think not.

A simple bouquet of larkspur, Iceland poppies and snapdragons.

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