10 January 2014

Friday Five: Making the most of Cut Flowers

Conditioning is the process of preparing cut flowers prior to arranging them. Remove the bottom half to two-thirds of the foliage - at minimum ensure that no foliage is below the water line where it will begin to rot. Cut the flower stem at a 45-degree angle rather than a straight cut. A straight cut will stop the flower absorbing water if the stem is resting on the bottom of the vase. Additionally, an angled cut provides a larger surface area for water absorption. Finally the longevity of cut flowers can be increased if they are left to rest in a cool, dark place in a bucket of tepid water for a few hours.

Searing brings droopy flowers back to life. Searing is the process of dipping the end of the stem into boiling water and can make even flowers that have already drooped make a full recovery. Sear woody plants for up to a minute, but fleshy and short stemmed plants for around 10 seconds. You'll know if it wasn't for long enough as the plant will droop or if it had already drooped won't stand back up.Using boiling water in a container is easier than using a flame and causes less damage than hammering the stem. Plants that need searing include: bluebells, poppies, lilacs, roses - the list goes on!

Additives are essential for the longevity of your cut flower. If you buy at the supermarket, your flowers will probably come with a sachet, but you can also make your own. For each litre of water:
  • Add a teaspoon of sugar to the vase water to act as food. 
  • Add tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice (a great use for that bottle of lemon juice bought for Shrove Tuesday and never used again!). This lowers the pH of the water enabling the food conducting system within the stems to work efficiently.
  • Also add a few drops of household bleach to inhibit the spread of bacteria. It's the bacteria that create the gunk around plant stems and make the water smell.

Some stems need support. Plants with hollow stems can require some help as holding up the weight of the flower can snap the stem in two. Some achieve this by filling the stem with water, plugging the bottom of the stem with cotton wool and keeping it in place with a rubber band. I prefer the idea of using a small cane, which can be held in place at the bottom with a rubber band. Plants that need support include: lupins, delphiniums, and amaryllis.

It's essential to keep your kit in good order. As mentioned in number 3, we need to inhibit the spread of bacteria. We can do this by using additives into the vase water, but it's also important to keep your vase and cutting tools as clean as possible - bleach and water can be used as a disinfectant. It's also important to keep knives and scissors sharp to reduce any damage to your cut flowers during preparation.


Here's a short video from BBC Gardener's World on arranging cut flowers.

Raven, S. (2002) Grow Your Own Cut Flowers, London, BBC Worldwide Ltd
Cut flowers: cutting and conditioning / Royal Horticultural Society . [ONLINE] Available at: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/Profile.aspx?pid=668. [Accessed 03 January 2014].


  1. What a great post. I had never heard of searing before! And I think of all the flowers I've tossed out just when they got droop and I could have enjoyed them a lit'l while longer.. I love flowers, wild flowers picked fresh from the fields are my favorite but I've never had much luck picking them and keeping them indoors, are there some flowers that just should not find their way into a vase inside? - Now I have all kinds of flower questions! Definitely passing this info on. Thanks!

    1. Hi, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I'm still quite new to cut flowers, but if your climate is anything like the UK climate then the book I referenced is brilliant for known good flowers for arrangements. I guess with all things, it's trial and error - I wonder if the searing technique will help you keep the flowers you've had trouble with for long?


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