It’s a harsh reality of the circle of life: Flowers aren’t meant to last.
However, thanks to chemistry, you can help them live just a bit longer.
To keep cut flowers fresh, you’ve got to fight the flower’s healthy aging processes.
Plants have a straw-like system called xylem to transport water using surface tension. When the stems are cut, air rushes into the xylem, blocking the water system.
But more on that later.
When you’re ready to put your beautiful bouquet in a vase, follow these steps.
Step 1: Clean vase
It sounds simple, but a little soap and water can go a long way to preventing bacteria and fungi from invading your bouquet.
If you’re motivated, you can even clean the vase and refill the water every day, for maximum disinfection.
Step 2: Flowers need water.
So fill up the vase.
Flowers need water, duh. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
It’s best to use warm water (110 dF) and slightly degassed, meaning entrapped air has been allowed to escape.
The simplest way of doing this is to fill up a vase with warm water and let it sit for a few minutes. The quality of the water also affects the life of the flowers. Plants prefer slightly acidic water (pH 3).
Step 3: Feed your flowers next, add the little packet of “flower food” from the florist.
- It has bleach or some other microbe killer.
The bleach helps the disinfecting process by killing any microorganisms that are trying to eat away at your flowers and make it harder for them to thrive.
- It has citric acid.
This lemony goodness reduces the water’s pH, which in turn helps water travel up the xylem faster and reduce wilting.
- It has sugar! When carbohydrates are low, flowers wilt and petals become paler. To prevent this, sucrose or glucose can be added from the packet to help the flowers regain strength and beauty.
That’s what candy bars do for us, right? But be careful, microorganisms and bacteria LOVE sugar, so that’s why you shouldn’t just dump table sugar into your vase — you need everything in that little packet.
Step 4: Cut the stems Run the stems under water and cut off a bit from the bottom of the stem at a 45-degree angle.
This ensures a wide opening to the xylem and keeps air bubbles to a minimum.
Also, try not to cut the leaves.
The leaves are how the plant gets energy — photosynthesis, remember?! Once you made your snips, put them those bad boys in the vase.
Step 5: Keep them away from ripe fruit produces ethylene, which tells a plant to ripen.
Faster ripening = faster aging = dead flowers.
Step 6: Keep them cool Finally, try to keep your cut flowers cool.If you’re going to leave the house for a day or two, stick them in the fridge (just not too close to any ripe fruits or veggies).
This reduces microbial growth and decreases the plant’s metabolic rate, slowing the aging process.
Kind of like that futuristic cryogenics stuff we’re trying to people, but not quite as sci-fi or expensive.
There, you’ve done it! Congrats! Smell those roses (or lilies or tulips or whatever) while you can.
Tell us your favorite plant in the comments, and of course let us know about future episodes you want to see.