Keep Cut Flowers Alive Longer | The Best Gardening

Keep cut flowers alive longer

Re-cut the flower stems at an angle under the water.

Re-cut the flower stems at an angle under the water.

Buying someone flowers is always a delightful gift, but usually ends up being shorter-lived than we’d like. There are some things you can do to prolong the life of cut flowers.

The first thing to do is to cut the bottom off of the stems to make fresh openings in the flower’s vasculature because the original wound site will callous and seal off over time, causing the flowers to dry out more quickly. But here’s the key: you need to cut the stems under water. If you cut the stems in the open air the freshly exposed veins will initially take up air, creating an air embolism. This air embolism interferes with the flower’s ability to transfer water through its veins.

Also, if you make an angled cut, you’ll open up more of the stem to pull in as much water as possible (see picture at right).

Second, put the freshly cut flowers in a container full of water that is slightly acidic. Acids prevent callous formation. This way the wound site of the cut flowers will not callous over and water will be free to flow up the stems to the flowers. You can make your vase water acidic by adding vinegar or lemon juice. Less than a tenth of your water volume should be the acid: a 10 ounce (29.6 milliliter) glass, for example, should have 9 ounces of water and less than 1 ounce of vinegar or lemon juice. For regions with hard water (usually arid/desert climate areas), you may need to use more acid. Just be careful not to use too much… er on the side of caution and add more if you think it needs it.

How to keep cut flowers alive longer - lemon juice, bleach, sugar.

How to keep cut flowers alive longer – lemon juice, bleach, sugar.

This is especially important if you have a flower arrangement with daisies in it, or any member of the asteraceae family.  Flowers from this family tend to exude a gluey substance that will gum up the stems of the other flowers.  Lemon juice helps to prevent this from happening.

Third, put a little sugar in the water. Just like you and me, plants need carbohydrates. Since the flowers are cut they can’t make their own food as well as they normally would, so a little sugar helps keep them fed. You don’t need very much; a few of pinches of sugar to a 10 ounce glass.

If you’d like to combine steps two and three, add some 7-up or Sprite to the water instead. Both of these products have sugar and a little acid.

Fourth, you can add a biocide. This may seem odd but we need to control any bacteria or fungi that may try to feed on the flowers or the sugar we added to the water for the flowers. Our goal here is to add just enough biocide to kill germs but not enough to harm our flowers; it’s kind of a balancing act. A good household biocide would be bleach or rubbing alcohol. You may have to experiment with this one; If your flower water starts to become murky (a sign of growing bacteria or fungi) add more biocide. A good start is a few drops of biocide to a 10-ounce glass.

cut flowers in a vaseThe bouquet at the left was a gift to my wife. Using these techniques, about 2/3 of the flowers still looked quite nice at 3 weeks.

About John

Gardening for life, liberty, and happiness. I enjoy being with my wife and family; mowing the lawn; working in the garden; eating (I love food... what can I say?); studying business, gardening, and other subjects; and experiencing all the amazing things life has to offer us.


21 Responses to Keep cut flowers alive longer

  1. Abel November 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I blog quite often and I really appreciate your information.
    The article has truly peaked my interest.
    I will book mark your blog and keep checking for new information about once a
    week. I subscribed to your Feed too.

    • Anni November 27, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      Good! I’m glad you found it useful! The best compliment you could give us is by sharing it with someone else! ~~Anni

      • Joel June 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

        Ha ha ha .

    • JoAnn May 10, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

      Thank you for the tip to keep my roses fresher longer , I got beautiful roses for Mothers day from my Grandson and I want to make them last as long as I can I will share my secret (your secret 0with everyone

  2. icel February 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    i have flowers i love them but they died sadly

    • Anni February 19, 2013 at 10:51 pm #

      :( It happens. I had daisies once that didn’t make it back to full health after I sent them flying off the window sill and spilled them all over the kitchen floor. Damaged roots, leaves, etc…. and they didn’t like it much. :(

  3. Lois Jones May 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I followed your suggestions for my cut lilacs. Tap water, vinegar, sugar. They were dead within hours. I am wondering if I should have used distilled water or turned the faucet to PUR rather than tap water? We are in West Valley City, Utah

    • Anni May 13, 2013 at 7:20 am #


      Thanks for your comment. If you followed the recipe and kept the vinegar and sugar in the appropriate amounts, the only thing I can think of is that it may have been the tap water. I know that in West Valley, the water is done by one of 2 or 3 private companies, not the city. The amount of chlorine or other water purifiers can definitely affect cut flowers and how long they live (or don’t live). So try distilled water or PUR water. That will definitely help.
      With that, I would say don’t be afraid to try again. Use only a tiny bit of acid (vinegar or other). We’re talking teaspoon or tablespoon amounts. And a sprinkle of sugar. Too much biocide can kill the flowers as well, so you don’t want to overdo it.
      I haven’t tried it with lilacs myself (it has been so long since we’ve seen lilacs… they don’t grow out here in Tennessee, and I grew up in Idaho where they were everywhere!), so perhaps this specific water/acid/sugar/biocide combination doesn’t work with lilacs. Maybe lilacs don’t like it. We have had great success with it for all our flowers that we’ve tried it with, and have heard from others who have as well. You might have to do a little experiment for us and let us know how it goes… maybe lilacs are an exception. :) Good luck!

  4. Carmer120 July 1, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Great post.. i’ll be sure to tweet.. I have unedited excerpts from local and national articles at these articles will help better understand what’s hidden in our most precious resource.

  5. Chloe September 8, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    Thank you for writing this article! It helped me a lot with my science experiment about flowers and how to keep them alive longer :)

    • Anni October 21, 2013 at 8:50 am #

      We’re glad it helped. :)

  6. arlee June 28, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

    As a florist/floral designer for 36 years, i say nonsense to all of this–clean water, proper cutting, keeping flowers out of direct sunlight and heat will prolong, not any bacteria causing “additives”

    • Anni July 5, 2014 at 7:57 pm #

      I’m not a florist, but I have worked with cut flowers a lot, and this does work very well for us. There’s a science behind the methods, and they do work.

  7. Lashondra July 8, 2014 at 10:07 am #

    Thanks so much my dad got roses for my mom a almost 2 week ago n I was wondering what they put in them to keep them living they just started drying out n as soon as I did all 4 steps they started opening back up n softing up I’m amazed I will b doing this from now on I didn’t think it would work because moms roses were already somewhat die but it did thanks again

  8. Sarah September 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    I like the post. It is a lot of what I am putting in the water for my science experiment, but I need to know why it keeps them alive longer.

  9. Bill October 30, 2014 at 6:15 am #

    using it for a science fair progect

    • unknown November 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

      so am i bill hope i pass

  10. Zana December 7, 2014 at 5:05 am #

    It was great
    thanks John

  11. Sheila January 24, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    How often should I change the water?

    • Anni January 28, 2015 at 8:18 am #

      Every 2 or 3 days is best.

  12. Gabriella May 15, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    I want to keep flowers alive for at least 20 years and It did work

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