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How to keep your flowers fresh Add to ...

Tuesday, many of us will be on the receiving end of that time-honoured (if not particularly creative) display of affection, the bouquet. Whether you wind up with long-stemmed roses or exotic orchids, you want the blooms to last as long as possible. Some tips on keeping cut flowers picture-perfect.

Get a clean start

Following some perfunctory oohing and aahing, the first thing most people do after receiving flowers is find a vase and pop them in, a practice that could be opening your blooms up to a dangerous enemy. “Even if your vase appears clean, it’s important to wash it with soap and water before using,” says Rebecca MacLachlan, at Poppies flower store in Toronto. Unwashed vases may harbour bacteria, which will enter your flowers through the stem, causing premature wilting.

Further banish bacteria by changing the water frequently. Ms. MacLachlan recommends every two days, which will also make sure that plants don’t get thirsty.

Have an angle

Before placing your flowers in water, snip the stems at an angle. Even if you’re not cutting for length, exposing a fresh stem surface will allow the flowers to take in more water and nutrients. Avoid using a dull knife or scissors, as you don’t want any stringy bits. Once the stems are cut place them immediately into the water-filled vase.

“Some people will even cut the stems under running water to try to avoid any oxygen exposure whatsoever,” says Suzanne Carlsen, another Poppies staffer. But you probably don’t need to be quite that obsessive. Repeat the stem-snipping ritual every couple of days when you change the water.

Power up with vitamins

Add the little packet of flower food that most florists attach to a bouquet. The solution is a mix of a carb, to feed the plant, as well as bacteria-killing acid. Unless you’re using a huge vase, one packet is probably enough for at least two water cycles. If you run out, create your own concoction by mixing sugar (the carb) with vinegar (the acid) and warm water. You can also use bleach or citrus juice as the second ingredient.

Be cool

While certain potted plants enjoy warmer temps, fresh-cut flowers thrive in a cool environment. Make sure you’re not displaying your bouquet right next to a heat source like a vent or a radiator. Ms. Carlsen recommends displaying plants near windows, which often let in a little bit of a draft (bad for your heating bill, but good for your hydrangeas). If you happen to have the space, you can also store arrangements in the fridge overnight, which will give them an instant perk up.

Upkeep is key

Even before the first signs of wilting, give your buds and leaves their own supply of moisture by misting at least every two days. This is especially important in drier homes. (Hint: If you use a humidifier, your plant should too.) When misting, give the plants a quick primp by removing anything that looks dead, including blooms past their prime.

This sort of horticultural euthanasia may seem merciless, but by amputating weak limbs, you are helping stronger parts of the plant thrive: “All the leaves and sections of a plant are sharing the water supply, so by removing anything that is dead, you are ensuring that the living parts get more water,” says Ms. Carlsen.

Old wives’ tales we love

If tulips are your bud of choice, try taking a pin or sewing needle and pricking a hole through the stem as close to the bud as possible (so if you are holding the flower vertically, stick the pin through horizontally – in one side and out the other – and then remove).

“It’s supposed to get tulips to stand up straighter – we learned the trick from our Dutch tulip dealer,” says Ms. Carlsen. Another old remedy said to prevent tulip toppling: Put a penny in the vase.

And don’t do this: Smash the stems. It will only damage the plant, shortening its life rather than prolonging it.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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