How to keep fresh cut flowers alive longer?

I’m going to start with plants because cut flowers come from plants and plants are complex living organisms; they eat, drink and breathe to survive just like you and me or any other living being.  Well, not exactly like you and I but we all need the same things: light, water, nutritious food and air!


Plants eat carbohydrates; which they create by mixing water, atmospheric carbon dioxide and light through photosynthesis. A byproduct of all this eating is gas! Oxygen to be precise and that’s good for us! Did you know that every cell in your body is designed to burn oxygen and when you aren’t getting enough oxygen you become sick, tired, irritable and depressed? A room full of house plants can boost the oxygen level and all you have to do is remember to breathe - and water the plants.


All that goodness starts like most things, at the bottom. The root system shops for water and nutrients in the soil and brings home the bacon through osmosis. See, the nutrients dissolve in water and the water is drawn into the roots because the root cells maintain a higher concentration of salt than is in the soil! Pretty clever right? Of course the reverse is true, if your soil is poor it’ll pull moisture out of the roots and that’s bad news for your plant.


In the plant’s vascular system this little cocktail of water and nutrients is passed from cell to cell throughout the entire plant. Tiny pores, called stomata, release water vapor and oxygen in a process called transpiration. The same thing happens when we exhale; basically, a plant’s leaves are its lungs! Transpiration combined with evaporation functions like a vacuum to draw water up and eventually out of the plant.

But wait, there’s more! Those little stomata aren’t just a one trick pony, they also absorb the carbon dioxide needed for photosynthesis, needed for carbohydrates, needed for food, needed for respiration to release the energy needed for survival, growth and reproduction! And so the circle of life continues.

Fun Fact

Plants are morning people. If you’ve ever noticed that at the end of a long day your plants look tired and wilted but then appear fresh and perky in the morning, that’s because photosynthesis needs light, so it takes place during the day but respiration occurs primarily at night. So your plants are basically slaving away under a hot sun all day to make dinner and when the sun goes down they finally get some R&R. (Respiration and Release)

Cut Flowers

All of that brings us back to the topic at hand “How do Cut Flowers Survive?” When Flowers and Foliage are cut from their root systems they no longer have access to water and nutrition but respiration and transpiration (eating and breathing) go on as long as the cut materials are alive. So the end of the stem now acts like a straw, remember the vacuum? The vascular system of the plant is a bunch of little tubes inside the stem and transpiration is ready to draw water up the tubes.

 Lots of things can block the tubes and prevent them from drawing water:

  1. Plants form calluses or scabs when they’re cut, this can block the stems.

    •  Recut the stem every few days to remove the callus. Use a clean, sharp blade to minimize any damage to the cells needed to draw up the water.
    •  Slice diagonally to expose the maximum area of cells and keep the stem from resting flat on the bottom of the vase
  2. Debris, bacteria and air bubbles can block the drawing up of water in the stem.

    •  Keep the water clean by changing it as needed. You’ll know you need to change it when you don’t want to drink it!
    •  Remove any foliage below the water line. You want to keep as much material that may break down and decay out of the water as possible.
    • Wash the vase between cuttings. Bacterium builds up and thrives in the slime you can feel clinging to the side of your vase. Sanitize your vase when you change the water. No sense in putting clean water into a dirty container!
    • Add a correctly measured amount of flower food. We send our flowers out in nutrient balanced water. If the extra packet provided is mixed incorrectly it may actually cause an overgrowth of stem clogging bacteria

Even if you follow all the advice above and have the best water drawing flower stems in the west, the great northwest that is, you can still do significant damage with heat and wind; both of which will dehydrate your flowers faster than they can recover.

  1. Never place flowers in direct sunlight. Sunburn and heatstroke will follow not to mention bacteria thrive in heat and light. Your vase water will look and smell like stagnant pond water in July!
  2. Never place flowers above or near any source of heat including electronics. Pretty much the same reasons as above sans sunburn.
  3. Never place flowers in drafts which exponentially increase evaporation and cause dehydration.
  4. Never leave flowers in a hot car. If it’s too hot to leave your dog, child or ham sandwich in the car, your flowers won’t fare any better.

Flowers bring comfort and joy. Because they are alive, if only for a short time, they express a thousand words of love that could never be spoken. You can extend that time and the enjoyment they bring by applying the golden rule; if you wouldn’t be comfortable sitting in direct sun light, drinking dirty water neither will your flowers.

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