by Joelle Steele

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You will probably purchase cut flowers at a flower market, but you may also cut them yourself in a greenhouse, field, or client's garden.

Cutting and Preparation

• Cut flowers very early in the morning when the stems are well-hydrated and filled with carbohydrates. They should be turgid (stiff or firm) when you cut them.

• Put the flowers directly into a plastic bucket of water as you cut them.

• Flowers with spikes, clusters, or multiple buds should be cut when they have at least one bud starting to open and one bud showing some color. If you cut before then, they will not open when they are used in an arrangement. Single-stemmed flowers should be cut when they are fully open.

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• When you cut flowers for an arrangement, you can either cut the stems under water, or you can cut them in air and immediately place them in water with a preservative in it. Leave them in the preservative for about an hour before arranging them.

• Cut stems at a 45-degree angle to provide enough area for water uptake while allowing the stem to stand on a point so that water can reach that cut surface area.

• Use lukewarm water when cutting most flowers (approx. 100-110 degrees F). With bulbs, use cold water. Cutting and arranging in the correct temperature assures that water is absorbed correctly into the stem.

• Cut bulbs where the green starts on the stem, not in the white area of the bulb itself.

• When cutting hollow-stemmed flowers, fill the stem with water, hold your finger over the opening, then place it in water. You can also plug the stem with cotton before putting it in water.

• Woody stems should be split at the ends with a sharp knife. Do not smash them as this damages the vascular tissues and prevents them from absorbing water.

• Stems that have milky sap in them should have their ends sealed by searing. Do this by dipping the end tips in boiling water for about 30 seconds, or applying a flame to them for 30 seconds. (Note: This does not work with daffodils, so don't use them in arrangements with other flowers.)

• Remove all lower leaves that would otherwise be under water in the arrangement. You can do this with your fingers, a knife, or a stripper, depending on the strength of the stem. This will avoid rotting foliage and its accompanying bacterial growth which fouls the water in an arrangement and makes it smell bad.


You can use preservatives to extend the "life" of cut flowers. Preservatives contain acidifiers to adjust the pH of the water; biocides to reduce bacteria; and carbohydrates to increase cell metabolism. You will most likely be using a commercial preservative such as Floral Life but, in a pinch, you can also make one from everyday household ingredients.

Putting aspirin or a penny in the water will work slightly, but you would do better to use a commercial preservative or a home-made one such as the following, which is found throughout the Internet:

1 tsp sugar
1 tsp bleach
2 tsp lemon or lime juice
1 qt lukewarm water

Maintaining Arrangements

If you have access to and control over the arrangements you create, you will be able to maintain them. Here's what to do:

• Place arrangments in cool places, out of the sun and out of drafts

• Replace the water every two days

• Re-cut the stems of any flowers that are drooping or drying out

• Remove any dead or overly wilted flowers

This article last updated: 08/24/2007.