Cut flowers live longer if they get some help from around the house

March 08, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The next time you say it with flowers, include a bottle of mouthwash.

A capful of mouthwash to a quart of water is one home remedy that keeps flowers alive longer. Equal parts 7-Up and warm water, with a dash of Clorox, is another recipe for flourishing flowers.

Folk tales abound about what makes cut flowers last longer. And Bob Brown, program director for the retail floristry curriculum at Dundalk and Catonsville Community Colleges, says he's heard them all. Aspirins, pennies and birth control pills are just a few of the remedies that don't work. However, another popular remedy, sugar, will work but only if a few drops of bleach are added to control bacteria, he says.

A little know-how can keep fresh flowers beautiful for days. Lots of water, correct cutting and storage techniques are just a few of the ways to make flowers last longer.

Spring flowers can come indoors and last for quite a while if you know a few tricks of the trade. Tulips will last longer if their throats are slit, says Hazel Numsen, owner of Flower Lady Interiors in Bel Air. Use a sharp knife to make a tiny, vertical incision at the base of the flower to keep it from opening. Tulips have to be fresh and tightly closed to begin with.

Daffodils and other sappy flowers won't lie down on the job quite as quickly if the stems are singed with a match or dipped very, very quickly into boiling water, she says.

A few good whacks with a hammer can make lilacs and other flowers with woody stems last longer. This allows more water to penetrate the stems, Ms. Numsen says. Flatten the bottom 2 inches of the stem and keep in warm water for at least six hours before arranging. The pulverized portion can then be trimmed before the flowers are arranged.

There are times when you want a flower such as forsythia to open quickly. Place the flowers, including the water-filled container, in a large plastic bag. Place a sliced apple or other fruit inside and tie the top of the bag shut until the flowers open. The gases given off by the ripening fruit speed up the flowers' bloom.

Many times carnations and mums are sold while still tightly closed. The flowers are shipped this way from growers so they last longer. Blowing gently on the flowers while carefully spreading them open with your fingers will make them open faster.

Florists treat almost all freshly cut flowers to a long drink of warm water -- from six hours to overnight -- a process known as conditioning. This allows the flowers to absorb as much water as possible before being arranged. Warm water, about 100 degrees, is absorbed faster than cold water. Most arrangements use Oasis, a green, sponge-like material, to anchor flowers. This holds the arrangement in place, but slows the amount of water flowers can drink.

Adding a commercial preservative or one of our home remedies will also make flowers last longer. A packet of floral preservative, sold under a variety of brand names, is usually included with fresh flowers. These commercially produced preservatives, like our home remedies, supply nutrients to the flowers while controlling bacteria. The store-bought preservatives also include a wetting agent to help flowers absorb water.

Mr. Brown's favorite homegrown preservative is 1/2 -quart warm water mixed with 1/2 -quart 7-Up, or other sugary, clear soft drink, plus 1/4 teaspoon of bleach. Never, ever, add sugar to the water without a little bleach to control bacteria -- the culprit responsible for the green slime and dreadful stench that afflicts some arrangements.

Keeping flowers in a cool area will help control bacteria and slow down the rate at which the flowers open -- making them last longer.

"Most people like to put flowers on top of a stereo or television, and this is the worst thing they can do," says Mr. Brown. Heat from appliances, heating vents and sunny windows should be avoided.

Air bubbles are another floral taboo that cana be avoided by cutting flowers under water.

When you bring flowers home from the store, no matter how brief the trip, a scab forms on the bottom of the stem and keeps water out.

Using a sharp knife, and working under water, cut the stems at an angle, trimming at least 1/2 inch. Florists don't recommend clippers because they squeeze shut the stem fibers.

But most importantly, cutting under water means the plant's first "gasp" is filled with water, not an air bubble, says Mr. Brown. An air bubble will slowly work its way up the stem of the flower and suffocate it.

After cutting, immediately place flowers in warm water with preservative.

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