Bouquets 101: Caring for a Bouquet

Even outside of holidays, people love receiving flowers as gifts or buying them to brighten up homes and yards. The problem is most of us are unschooled in basic bouquet care beyond
watering the flowers a few times. Caring for a bouquet involves more than
watering but doesn’t have to be difficult. Here’s a few tips to make
the process easier:

1Know Your Flowers

How you care for your bouquet depends heavily on what type of flowers you have. Different flowers have different “vase lives” and climate needs. Zinnias and orchids will last nearly a month in a vase while roses, and lilies will wilt in a week or less. Violets can be cultivated in vases but some subtypes are extremely sensitive to temperature, so they may not thrive unless given constant monitoring.

It’s also important to know what type of soil your flower needs and plan accordingly. Chrysanthemums are a great addition to bouquets because they’re large, hardy flowers. They’re also not too fussy about their soil, but they thrive in soil filled with organic materials. If your bouquet contains chrysanthemums, supplement the soil with compost. Also make sure it’s slightly acidic – the pH balance should be around 6.5.

Sunflowers are popular for bouquets, particularly fall and winter varieties. With sunflowers, the last thing you want is a nitrogen-heavy soil. This will cause the sunflower to grow too much, crowd out your other flowers, and possibly outgrow its container. You can slow growth with a discreet amount of slow-acting fertilizer. If your bouquet has several sunflowers, use small stakes to anchor them to the container.


2Water, Water Everywhere – and Often

Don’t fall into the trap of watering flowers only as you remember. Flowers are thirsty creatures (especially after being cut), and they will shrivel and die quickly without water. Add room-temperature water to your bouquet daily, mixed with the food recommended for your particular arrangement. Avoid hot or cold water particularly for tender flowers like African violets, as they will discolor. The few exceptions include hyacinths and tulips. Because these are bulbs, they should be kept in cold water. Ask your florist if you’re unsure about temperature.

It is generally a bad idea to treat water with aspirin, bleach, or other mixtures, but consult a nursery professional for exceptions. For example, limonium’s scent can be unpleasant, so some people add small amounts of bleach or surround the limonium’s area with dryer sheets. If well-watered flowers do wilt, submerge the entire flower up to the head in water for ten minutes, then remove.

All About the Angles

You may not have performed so well in geometry, but angles are important when flowers are involved. Every few days, you should cut your bouquet’s stems under running water at an angle. Use a knife instead of scissors and place the flowers gently back in the vase. The newly angled stems will help the flowers absorb more water. Cut stems horizontally rather than vertically; vertical stems damages flower cell structure and may expose them to bacteria.


4Prune Perfectly

Flowers still need pruning after being cut, especially since several flowers are drinking water from the same container while they’re in a vase. Stray leaves or twigs will sink to the bottom of your container and rot, causing bacteria, shriveling, and ultimately death. Dead blossoms not only look unattractive, but will begin to stink fairly quickly.

Watch your blossoms to determine which ones are blooming first. These will naturally wilt sooner and will need to be removed. If you want to keep all your flowers as long as possible, try the submersion method mentioned above before and separate wilting flowers from healthy ones, placing them in a smaller vase. If your bouquet has several late-blooming flowers, don’t try to force blooms with too much water or fertilizer. Hybrid late-bloomers may bloom faster than purebred varieties.


5Study Your Stems

In addition to cutting stems at an angle, you need to know the special needs of each stem type. If your flowers stems are hollow, turn them upside down and fill them with lukewarm water after they are cut. Use your finger to plug the hole in the stem’s bottom, and place the flower upright in the vase. Bulb plants have soft stems and should be cut diagonally at the point where the stem changes from white to green, then placed in cold water.

If you have woody or milky stems, you’ll have to be a bit rougher. Flowers with woody stems like hibiscus or black-eyed Susans should have their stems smashed with a hammer or crushed with pliers instead of cut. Afterward, place them in lukewarm water. Plants with milky stems should be removed from the bouquet and seared on the stove before they’re placed with other flowers. Milky stems secrete a milk-like goop that will damage your other flowers’ stems. If your bouquet is a purchase rather than a gift, consider buying one in which at least 50% of the flowers have the same stem type.