Cutting Flowers – how and why
When cutting flowers especially for an Wedding or Event you want them at their best.
Don’t pick flowers that are old or stressed.
During the Summer the heat can cause flowers to become dehydrated. Picking them in the mornings after the cool of the night will give you the best vase life.
Take a bucket of fresh water with you so you can snip and plunge stems straight away.
Keep the buckets in the shade, flowers will quickly wilt in sunshine (and wind) even when they are standing in water.
As soon as each bucket is filled I move it to the cool dark sanctuary of the flower shed to rest for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
A cool garage, kitchen or bathroom is brilliant alternative. Leave a window or door open so pollinators can escape (they follow the light).
The difference is staggering. Blooms visibly grow in the bucket and with their stems full of water will cope better with being out of water for arranging.
Flowers from abroad (imported) are stored flat and need to be re-hydrated once they arrive with the florist. I don’t think flowers ever really get over this.
How to cut!
Scissors or secateurs must be super sharp! You don’t want to crush or tear stems causing the cells to collapse and not be able to take up water.
Cut your stems down to a bud or leaf where the stem joins the plant. Ranunculus and Anemones shoot from the base so cut those at ground level.
Leaving stem stalks will encourage something called ’die back’. This means the stem is unable to produce any flowers and will try and trace back to the last bud that’s living. The risk is, infection will creep in and healthy plant material could follow as the stem dies back.
All cut flowers need to be ‘conditioned’ (to prevent wilting) before you use them.
When you cut a flower from its water and nutrient source it has a bit of a shock and heat and sunshine are the enemy of any cut flower.
While they bask in the glory of an English Summers Day, once cut, they can quickly go over, droop and wilt if left to dehydrate.
Plants continue to transpire when cut moving water up the stem and out through the leaves.
During transpiration, water evaporates through openings in the leaves called stomata.
Like sweating in animals, this helps to keep the plant cool during a sunny day. The flower was not expecting its water reserves to be cut so will wilt quickly.
Heat accelerates this process. Whether it’s direct = Sunshine or indirect = Hot environment and wind also plays a major role. Think how quickly the laundry dry’s on a windy day.
To compensate for the loss of the water supply caused by cutting the stem, we place each cut flower stem immediately into a deep bucket of tepid – not ice cold water.
A few flowers such as Anemones prefer a shallow bucket. Deep water causes their stems to rot.
Stems that bleed goo or a milky sap (Euphorbia, Narcissus) when cut we will allow to condition in their own buckets so as not to cause any harm to the other flowers.
Typically a couple of hours will be long enough for the stem to callus over.
Re-cutting the stem will cause the flower to bleed once more and another period of conditioning will be required. We allow the flowers to have a rest for a few hours/overnight and strip the lower leaves.
No foliage should be allowed in the water – it will rot and the debris can clog stems blocking water uptake.
Some flowers need some extra care and benefit from searing (especially if they begin to look a bit floppy).
Searing involves placing the bottom 1-2 inches (2.5-5cm) of the cut steams in boiling water, this increases the surface area available for the flower to use to absorb water and results in a more turgid and upright stem.
Be careful not to cook the stems or allow the steam near the flowers or foliage.
20 seconds is enough for the most delicate stems and a bit longer for woody stems.
Burning the stem with a flame or using floral hydrating products such as ‘Quick Dip’ will have the same effect.
You can further extend the life of your arrangement by:
- Using sparkling clean vases, any bacteria will transfer to your flowers. This extends to the buckets you use to collect your flowers. We use cheap thin supermarket bleach. Bleach also keeps vases and Jam Jars crystal clear and beautiful throughout the life of the arrangement.
- Keep flowers cool and dark -away from central heating and out of direct sunlight. The higher the temperature, the faster flowers will deteriorate.
- Top up your vases, flowers drink an incredible amount of water, once you have made your floral creations it might not occur to you that overnight thirsty blooms have drunk the vase dry. The first you will notice is your floral masterpiece inexplicably wilting!
- Finally keep your flowers away from bananas. Just like fruit, flowers also suffer from exposure to ethylene.
- Feeding or prepping the water will also help. Florists and shop bought arrangements usually provide you with a sachet of flower food. You can buy this online or easily make your own, here’s how:
Homemade Cut Flower food
You need acid to improve water flow in flower stems, sugar to help buds open and last longer and something to reduce growth of bacteria and fungi.
To make one litre of the solution use:
- one litre of water;
- one tablespoon of vinegar;
- one teaspoon of sugar;
- Three to five drops of household bleach;
Don’t overdo the bleach, I did this and add the same volume as the vinegar, all the stems went white!!