Cut Flower Care

You’ve selected the exact right flowers. They’re gorgeous, they’re healthy and they were well within budget. That, of course, meant not that you spent less money on them, but that you bought more of them. And here they are, ready to be turned into the stunning design you have planned for them.

What you need are some strategies to keep your gorgeous blooms from withering into ashes within the first 12 hours of their arrival. You need some hacks for cut flower care. Follow the tips below to extend the vase life of your flowers.

Before You Arrange

Clean Your Container

Putting flowers into a dirty container will shorten their lifespan because dirt and debris will interfere with the flowers’ ability to take up water. Rinse your container well, using vinegar and baking soda or salt to get rid of any hard residue.

Trim the Stems

Even if you don’t need to shorten the flower stems for an arrangement, it’s still a good idea to take about ½ an inch to 2 inches off of each stem. Whenever the ends of stems have been exposed to air, they’ll start to seal themselves. You’ll want to get rid of the sealed end so your flowers can drink.

Any time you trim floral material, use a sharp knife or shears. Leave the scissors in the drawer—their pinching motion will damage the vascular system of the stems and limit their ability to take up water.

Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, rather than flat across. This gives the stem more surface area to take up water with. It also prevents the stem from sitting flush with the bottom of the vase and not being able to get any water at all.

Special Cases

Some flowers like daffodils, poinsettias and lobelia have stems that secrete a sap. This sap will leach into the water and impact the water uptake of the other flowers. In the case of lobelia and poinsettias, searing the ends by boiling them or putting a match to them for 30 seconds will stop leaching. In the case of daffodils, it’s better to keep them on their own.

Other plants like lilacs have woody stems that should be crosscut at the ends. This will maximize the amount of surface area that’s exposed to the water. Hollow stems, such as delphiniums and dahlias, should be filled with water so the flower will stay upright. Turn the flower over and pour lukewarm water into the stem cavity to fill it. Plug the bottom with cotton.

Remove Lower Foliage

Any plant material sitting below the water line in a vase will quickly and surely turn that water into a cesspool. Use your knife or shears to remove foliage so it doesn’t rot and leave you with a stinky mess.

Fill the Container

More water is better than less, especially for the first few days. If the flowers have spent any time out of water, they’ll be thirsty and drink more than you might expect.

Fill the container with room temperature or lukewarm water. Water that’s too hot can damage the stems. Water that’s too cold isn’t as easy for flowers to absorb. The exception is spring bulbs—they prefer cold water.

Add Flower Food and/or Preservative

The little packets that come with your flowers are essential to making your flowers last. Flower foods and preservatives will contain carbohydrates, which all plants need to live. They’ll also contain an additive to fight bacteria and fungi, which will slow down the rate at which your flowers decay. Some kind of acidifier is typically added to optimize the pH levels in the water.

Follow the directions on the packet closely. The concentration needs to be just right for flowers to thrive. You can also find recipes online and make your own.

Continuing Cut Flower Care

tulips in vase in front of window - cut flower care

Avoid Direct Sunlight and Heat

Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight and away from sources of heat. That includes appliances like fridges and stoves, as well as baseboard heaters and heating vents.

A cool room is ideal for flowers—like anything made of living cells, flowers will decompose more quickly at high temperatures than low ones. To really keep your arrangement lasting longer, you can put your flowers in the fridge overnight.

Keep Flowers Away from Fruits and Veggies

Keep flowers away from fruits and veggies, as well. Ripening fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas, which is a plant hormone that triggers ripening and decay. It will age your flowers prematurely, so be mindful if you put your flowers in the kitchen.

Change the Water and Trim Stems Regularly

Cut flowers should have fresh water every 2-3 days. Check the water level daily.

Every time you change the water, trim a half-inch off of the ends of the flower stems. When your flowers are sitting in water, the ends of the stems will start to decompose. Trimming reveals fresh surfaces for your flowers to drink through.

Remove Flowers as They Die Off

Despite your best efforts, your flowers will start to give up the ghost eventually. When they do, remove them and change the water. Leaving rotting material in the water will make the other flowers die off more quickly.


There are many DIY hacks for keeping flowers lasting longer. Some people swear by adding apple cider vinegar, vodka or bleach to the water. Others swear by putting coins in the bottom of the container.

Choose Your Flowers Wisely

Some species are much better at being cut flowers, so choose your flowers carefully so you know what you’re getting into. Shorter-lived flowers include tulips, gardenia, poppies, daisies and ranunculus.

The flowers with the longest vase life include anthurium, chrysanthemums, carnations, freesias, alstroemeria, zinnias and lilies.

Whichever you choose, select flowers with firm stems and heads, and stay away from those tempting flowers that are already open and in full bloom.

We hope these cut flower care tips leave your flowers looking just as good tomorrow as they do today. And the day after that. And, with any luck, even the day after that.

Feature image: Susanne Jutzeler; Image 1: Colin Maynard

The Florist Guide