Flower Power – Extend The Life Of Your Gift

Flowers – the perfect gift!

flower extending lifeThe average life span of cut flowers is only about a week.  The longevity can vary depending on the type of flower.  Chrysanthemums, carnations, geraniums, and snapdragons can last up to two weeks.

Combining flower types can shorten the life of each. Daffodils secrete an alkaloid sap that can be poisonous to other plants.  Each flower type decays at a different rate so mixing them exposes blooms to bacteria from another’s decomposing stalk.

Use a Clean Vase

You can clean the vase with bleach. This kills any bacteria and algae in the vase. If the vase is simply left to dry and then re-used, the bacteria lives on and multiplies, reducing the life of your flowers.  Also metal containers can cause reactions with many flower preservatives, which can lessen the effectiveness.

Re-cut the stems under water

Cut stems should be placed in fresh lukewarm water immediately, to prevent air from rapidly moving into the water-conducting tissues and plugging the cells.

This is why a cut flower that has been out of water more than a few minutes (e.g. when you transport or take delivery of flowers) should have a small portion of the lower stem cut off so that water will move up freely when it is returned to water.

Cuts should be made under-water to assure no air enters the stem, and at a 45 degree angle with a sharp knife to enable the greatest surface area for water absorption.

The angle also keeps the stem from resting flat on the bottom of the vase, which could cut off the water flow into the stem.

DO NOT crush or “saw” the stems, as this will inhibit the life of the flowers. The practice of crushing or splitting of flower stems is not a good way of extending their vase life. This method does not work, and actually damages the tiny tube-like vessels in the stems, blocking the flow of water up to the flower heads.

A process called “hardening” can provide maximum water uptake. Place the freshly cut stem in a container with 110° F (43.5° C) water and add a preservative to the water. Place in a cool location for an hour or two. Maximum water uptake is attained because water molecules move rapidly at 110° F (kinetic energy) and quickly move up the stems. Flowers at cool temperatures lose less water. In this one brief period while the water is cooling, freshly harvested stems, leaves, and flowers take up almost as much water as in the balance of their life.

Strip off all leaves below the water level

Remove any leaves that may be submerged in the water from all flower stems. These leaves, if allowed to remain, breakdown and decay, reducing the life and crispness of the flowers.

Add a floral preservative to the water

Preservatives can be purchased at any florist and will increase the length of time that the flowers live.

If you don’t have any floral preservatives, place an aspirin or mouthwash in the water. The aspirin prevents bacterial growth, which tends to block water conducting tissues in the flower stems. The mouthwash not only has an antibacterial agent but also provides sugar that the flowers can use for food.

Another option is to add a touch of hydrogen peroxide to the water to kill the bacteria, and add a little Sprite or 7Up.

There is also this combination, a variation on the one above: 6 oz Sprite or 7UP, 18 oz water, 1/8 teaspoon of bleach.

Avoid direct sunlight, heat and drafts.

Keep flowers away from heat and hot spots (radiators, air conditioning, direct heat, or television sets).  Flowers have high rates of respiration, making them one of the most perishable of all agricultural crops, and when they are exposed to heat, they respire at a greater rate than at lower temperatures. The cooler the room or location they are displayed, the longer they will last.

Keep the bouquet away from ripening fruit and remove fading flowers.

Perhaps one of the biggest enemies of cut flowers is ethylene gas, which is given off by ripening fruit and vegetables. It speeds up the dying process of many flowers.

Flowers that die in the bouquet not only look unsightly, but also give off small amounts of ethylene gas.

Change the water daily.

Dirty water provides a perfect breeding ground for microscopic bacteria. These bacteria attach themselves to the stem ends and block the flow of water up to the flower heads.  Change the vase water daily with lukewarm water.

Mist the flowers.

Spraying the bouquet with a mist will also help to keep it fresh.

Tips on Specific flowers.

If your bouquet includes roses, you can pluck off a few of the outer petals if they are discolored. These outer petals are called “guard” petals and help protect the flower during shipping.

If your bouquet includes lilies, be careful of the stamens (the long yellow parts inside the flower) — they can stain fabric. If a piece of fabric does get stained, use clear tape to pick the stain up off the fabric. Don’t rub the stain.

The Language of Flowers

The notion that flowers and herbs could symbolize emotions started with the gods and goddesses! Venus, renowned goddess of love, walked through the rose garden and pierced her foot on a thorn. Incredibly, her blood turned the roses red and ever since, red roses became a symbol of love.

Lovers using flowers to send send each other “secret” messages dates back to Victorian England where romantic significance was given to specific blossoms. In the Victorian era social code demanded extreme discretion. It was simply improper to whisper terms of endearment or — heaven forbid — to declare love.

But as with young people throughout the ages, the Victorians found a way around the rules. By sending bouquets containing flowers identified with “secret codes,” they could send messages, plot schemes, and carry on entire conversations. And the Victorian Language of Flowers was born.  Small code books and flower dictionaries sprung up everywhere so the proper messages could be sent and received!  Pity the young man who sent yellow roses to his love just because he thought they were pretty!

Here is a brief list of flower fluency:

Alstromeria Lily – devotion
Amaryllis – splendid beauty
Anemone – anticipation
Apple Blossom – good fortune
Baby’s Breath – pure of heart
Bachelor’s Button – hope
Bluebell – constancy
Buttercup – riches
Calla Lily – beauty
Camellia – good fortune or loveliness
Carnation – lasting fidelity & deep love
Crocus – joy
Daisy – faith, cheer & simplicity
Fern – sincerity
Forget-me-not – true love
Freesia – innocence
Fuchsia – good taste
Gardenia – joy
Gerbera Daisies – happiness
Gladiola – generosity
Holly – foresight
Honeysuckle – generosity and devotion
Iris – faith, wisdom & health
Jasmine – grace & elegance
Jonquil – affection returned
Larkspur – levity
Lily – virtue, beauty, elegance & pride
Lily of the Valley – happiness
Lisianthus – appreciation
Marigold – sacred affection
Mimosa – sensitivity
Myrtle – remembrance
Olive & Laurel Leaves – plenty & virtue
Orange Blossoms – fertility & marriage
Orchid – you are beauty
Peony – bashfulness
Pink Lilies  –  symbol of motherhood
Pink Rose – thanks
Purple Lilac – first love
Red Rose – I love you
Red & White Roses (together) – unity
Rosemary – commitment & fidelity
Sage – domestic virtue
Stephanotis (often called The Wedding
Flower) – happiness  in marriage
Sunflower = Respect
Sweet Pea – blissful pleasure
Sweet William – gallantry
Tulip – perfect lover
Violet – faithfulness
Water Lily – purity of heart
White Carnation -remember me
White Daisy – innocence
White Lilac – innocence
White Lily – purity & young innocence
White Rose – I am worthy of you
Wood Sorrel – maternal tenderness
Yellow Roses  – friendship
Yellow Tulip – hopeless love
Zinnia – remembrance & affection

— Andy Gilchrist