Whether you are celebrating a special occasion or just want to bring nature indoors, flowers are a sure way to brighten your -- or someone else's -- day. But if you want those beauties to last, you have to properly care for cut flowers.
When designing bouquets, florists choose flowers based on color, symbolic meaning or simply because they last longer than others. "Carnations and chrysanthemums last a long time. Two weeks is not uncommon," says Mary Hockenberry Meyer, professor and extension horticulturist at the University of Minnesota.
Other good bets for long-lasting beauty are lilies and gladiolas, which both survive in water for up to 14 days. White carnations slowly absorb water. For fun, add food coloring to the vase water and watch them drink up the dye and change color.
And what about the world's most romantic flower? Meyer admits that roses are lovely but may be short-lived. "It depends on how long ago they were harvested and how they are held prior to being placed in water," she says.
Flower arranging enthusiast Becky Donaldson agrees that mums and hydrangeas are a good pick. "Freesia are also a good flower for the price and last a long time," she says.
Folks who want to harvest bouquets from their own gardens should cut flowers during the coolest hours of the day. It's best to place the stems in warm water and then keep them in a cool place for an hour or two. Always clean the vase well. Cut off any leaves that will be submersed in water because they will quickly deteriorate.
Donaldson warns that many flowers are fragile and should be handled with care: "As a rule of thumb, do not touch the edges of roses, lilies and orchids. They will bruise."
Contrary to popular belief, adding aspirin, wine or pennies to cut flowers does not keep them fresh longer. But no matter what flowers you choose, always add preservatives or "plant food." They reduce bacteria that plug the water-conducting vessels, they adjust the water's pH for better uptake, and they provide a carbohydrate boost to the plant, she explains. Preservatives packets are usually included in bouquets at the store. If not, you can purchase them separately. Meyers says to "Mix the preservatives well in warm water and place the freshly cut flowers -- I always re-cut the stems."
Any container can be used as a vase, Donaldson says, as long as wooden containers are lined with plastic, and floral foam is protected with foil or plastic. "Arrangements can be low to the container or taller," she says. Tall arrangements should be one and a half times the height of the container. Short or cropped arrangements require fewer flowers.
After completing your arrangement, check the water level every day and add more water and preservatives as needed. Keep the flowers out of drafty or warm rooms in your home. To make the flowers last even longer, trim the stems regularly and remove wilted flowers.
One last suggestion: If you're searching for the freshest flowers in your garden and see some that are especially lovely, you might just let them be. They'll look beautiful in your home, but will last longer on the plant, letting you savor the beauty for several weeks to come.