Flower Power: Keeping Them Alive Longer

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Sunday is Valentine's Day, which means millions of Americans will be receiving freshly-cut bouquets from their special someones. In fact, Valentine's Day is second only to Mother's Day for flower sales.

But what should you do to keep that bouquet blooming as long as possible, and looking its best?

On "The Early Show Saturday Edition," contributor and gardening expert Ahmed Hassan, of the DIY Network, offered insider tips on how to re-cut, water and prepare freshly-cut flowers to ensure they last a long time, and stay beautiful.

RE-CUTTING THE FLOWERS

* As soon as you get home, cut your flowers:
* Always use clean, sharp utensils when cutting flowers. Knives, clippers, or shears can be employed.
* Never use ordinary household scissors. The gauge on scissors is set for paper or fabric, not for flower stems, which are bulkier. Using scissors will crush their vascular systems and prevent proper water uptake. Also avoid tearing or smashing the stems since this can interfere with water uptake.
* Cut all flowers and foliage about 1-2 inches 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.
* Cut flower stems under water in your sink before transferring them to the vase. When flower and foliage stems are exposed to air they will immediately begin to seal up inhibiting the absorption of much needed nutrients. Secondly, when fresh cut stems are exposed to air, bubbles of air become trapped in the stems, preventing the steady flow of water to uptake through the stem.

PREPARING THE VASE & WATER

* Always use a clean container for cut flower arrangements. Previously used vases may contain bacteria that will quickly multiply and block the water-conducting tubes of the flower stems.
* Use warm water in the vase. Warm water encourages buds and closed flowers to open, and cool temperatures slow down development, adding longevity to the arrangement.
* If your flowers come with a packet of flower food, mix it into the water. It's a preservative, hydration agent and antibacterial treatment. It will keep your flowers living longer.
* If you don't have flower food, dissolve an aspirin in the vase water. The aspirin creates a more acidic which helps water move up the stem easily. Another simple vase solution is made by mixing one part of any of the common lemon-lime sodas with three parts of water. Add 1/4 teaspoon of household bleach per quart to keep the solution clear. Do not use diet drinks or colas, because diet drinks have no sugar and the colas contain too much acid for flowers. Another vase solution can be made by mixing 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or bottled "Real Lemon", 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon of bleach in a quart of warm water. Add another 1/4 teaspoon of bleach to the vase water every 4 days.
* You can also put a penny in the water!. The copper in the penny acts as a fungicide to prevent fungus growth. (Remember, pennies minted after 1982 are mostly zinc with a thin copper coating, so look for one dated prior to 1982)

DISPLAYING THE FLOWERS

* Use a container in proportion to the amount of flowers you are using. Too small a container will not hold sufficient water, and may dry out before you realize it.
* Remove leaves that will be below the waterline. Leaves in water will promote bacterial microbial growth that may limit water uptake by the flower.
* Keep flowers in a cool spot (65 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit), away from direct sunlight, heating or cooling vents, directly under ceiling fans, or on top of televisions or radiators. (Appliances like televisions give off heat, which causes flowers to dehydrate.) Most flowers will last longer under cool conditions. The higher the temperature, the faster flowers will deteriorate.
* Any cut flower arrangement will last longer if it's kept cool. If possible, move it to a cool spot or place it in the refrigerator at night.
* Recut stems every third day and change the water, adding more flower preservative each time. Re-cutting limp flowers enables the stem to readily absorb more water. A fresh cut will open the veins up allowing the flower stem to absorb necessary nutrients.

Making Your Own Flower Food

from Learn2Grow.com

By Lane Greer

If you're like me, you enjoy wonderful cut flowers from grocery stores, however, some cut flowers don't offer packets of preservative with every sale. Why are preservatives important?

They can add days to the life of a bouquet - sometimes even doubling the vase life. If your latest flower purchase doesn't have that "plant food" packet attached, don't worry. There are some easy home remedies that work well to make cut flowers last longer.

A good preservative needs three things: something to lower the pH of tap water (called an acidifier), something to kill bacteria and sugar (yes, plain ol' table sugar). Commercial preservatives usually contain these ingredients, in varying formulations.

For an acidifier, citric acid is readily available and cheap. It's present in citrus fruits (like lemons, limes and oranges), but these juices color the vase water. Lemon-lime beverages such as Sprite® and 7-Up® are colorless and contain not only citric acid, but sugar, too (don't use the diet forms!), so you can kill two birds with one stone. What's more, you can even use these beverages after they've gone flat, since carbonation is not important in maintaining flowers.

To mix, fill half the vase with water and half with Sprite or 7-Up. The only problem with this recipe, though, is that there is no bactericide, and sugar encourages bacterial growth. One way to handle this is to change the vase water often (every other day or so). My colleagues and I tried adding bleach to the mixture, but this wasn't effective (bleach pushes pH back up).
Adding a lemon-lime beverage to your vase water is probably the easiest way to go.

But what about other possibilities? We tested lots of common household items: aspirin, vinegar, bleach, lemon juice -- even Listerine mouthwash! We found that the results depended on the initial pH of the tap water used. In many places, normal pH is around 7.0, and anything that brings pH down is somewhat helpful. So aspirin, small amounts of vinegar and lemon juice were beneficial. In water with naturally lower pH, however, these didn't work. We had pretty good results using 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar and ½-tablespoon bleach, but the water turned cloudy. (And don't use Listerine - it actually killed flowers in two days!)

When you can, get packets of preservative, since they're specially formulated to make flowers last. But when you can't, try a simple at-home recipe, and enjoy your flowers longer!
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