WHEN TO CUT
Early morning is the ideal time to cut fresh flowers. The flowers have had the benefit of cool night air and morning dew. Their stems are filled with water and carbohydrates and so are firm to the touch. As the day warms up, flowers gradually dehydrate.
When harvesting, have a bucket of water on hand to put the flowers in. Use a plastic pail rather then a metal one because metal can affect the pH balance of the water.
Different types of flowers must be harvested at appropriate stages in their development. Flowers with multiple buds on each stem should have at least one bud showing color and one bud starting to open before being cut. Tightly budded flowers will not open in a vase of water.
Flowers that grow on individual stems (such as asters, calendulas, chrysanthemums, dahlias, gerbera daisies, marigolds, sunflowers, and zinnias) should be cut when fully open.
CUTTING TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES
Always use clean, sharp utensils when cutting flowers. Knives, clippers, or shears can be employed. Never use ordinary household scissors. Using scissors will crush their vascular systems and prevent proper water uptake.
Cut all flowers and foliage about one inch from the bottom of a main stem. Make the slice at an angle of about 45 degrees. Cutting at an angle provides a larger exposed area for the uptake of water. This also enables the stem to stand on a point, allowing water to be in contact with the cut surface. Remove all the lower foliage that would be submerged in water. This will retard bacterial growth, which shortens the vase life of flowers and makes the water smell foul.
Professional florists and commercial growers always use lukewarm water for their cut flowers.
To survive, flowers need three ingredients: carbohydrates, biocides, and acidifiers. Carbohydrates are necessary for cell metabolism; biocides combat bacteria and are necessary for maintaining plant health; acidifiers adjust the pH of water to facilitate and increase water uptake.
Using a homemade preservative will supply the flowers with nutrients they need after being severed from the plant. Another common suggestion is to place an aspirin in the water to keep the flowers fresh.
Homemade Flower Preservative
Home mixes can be as effective as commercial preservatives.
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon household bleach
2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1 quart lukewarm water
PREPARING THE STEMS
Garden flowers require some additional preparation after cutting. The type of preparation depends on the type of flower stem: hearty, hollow, soft, woody, or milky.
Flowers with hearty (or solid) stems, such as marigolds and daisies, need only the diagonal cut to absorb maximum water. They should be left to drink in lukewarm water with preservative for a minimum of one hour before arranging.
The stems of hollow-stemmed flowers, such as amaryllis, dahlias, and hollyhocks, need to be filled with water. Simply turn the flower upside down and pour water into the open cavity of the stalk. To keep the liquid in, you can plug the stem with a small piece of cotton and then place it in the vase. Or simply place your thumb over the opening at the bottom of the stem and then put it in the water. The water trapped inside will keep the stem strong and straight
Bulb flowers such as hyacinths, iris, and tulips have soft stems and should be cut where the green on the stem starts—just above the white bulb. Place the flowers in cold water. Since most bulbs bloom when the air and ground are still at low temperatures, they do better in a vase of cold water.
For woody plants such as lilac, dogwood, pear, and heather, be sure to split the stems at the ends rather than smash them. This will keep vascular tissues intact and create more surface area to absorb water.
Flowers such as lobelia, poinsettia, and snow-on-the-mountain secrete latex sap that oozes into the water and clogs the vascular system of other flowers in the container, preventing them from absorbing water. The ends of these stems need to be seared before the flowers are placed in the arrangement. There are two ways to accomplish this: Either dip the cut end of the flower in boiling water for 30 seconds or apply a flame from a match or candle to the precut flower stem for about 30 seconds.
Searing is not effective in halting the seepage of secretion from daffodils. Therefore daffodils should not be mixed with other flowers if you want a long-lasting arrangement.