How To Care For Your Flowers

This is a photograph of the "Chavez rose" taken Wednesday, March 27, 2002, from the Jackson and Perkins 2002 catalog in Wasco, Calif.
Americans are expected to buy close to 200 million roses for Valentine's Day, but that's nothing compared to the 2.7 billion grown here or imported every year.

Walk into the San Francisco wholesale flower market or a California rose grower's greenhouse or the Dutch flower auction outside Amsterdam, or the cargo side of the Miami airport, and the extraordinary story of cut flowers begins to unfold. It's all about staggering numbers and speed and global travel.

Author Amy Stewart wrote "Flower Confidential," a book about everything you ever wanted to know about flowers. To get the most out of your Valentine's Day bouquets, or budding vases at any time of year, here are some of her tips for taking care of flowers.

The Care and Feeding Of Cut Flowers

Most cut flowers should last a week in the vase, and some, like Asiatic lilies, chrysanthemums, and high-quality roses, will last longer. To get the most out of your cut flowers, try these techniques:

  • Buy flowers that have been kept under refrigeration. If they've been sitting out on the sidewalk or in buckets in the produce department, they've lost vase life. That doesn't mean they have to be behind glass: some retailers have special air conditioners that keep the air right around the flowers cool.
  • Ask your florist for a vase life guarantee. Most florists will replace flowers that don't last for at least five to seven days in the vase.
  • Roses and other sturdy flowers can be rehydrated by plunging the entire flower and stem under cold water. One rose grower says that submerging roses in the bathtub for three hours will add two days' vase life.
  • Before you put your flowers in a vase, make sure the vase is clean and fill it with water. Use sharp scissors or a knife to strip off any leaves that will be underwater, and then recut the stems and place immediately in water.
  • Commercial flower food really will extend the vase life of flowers. You can buy it at craft stores, nurseries, and flower shops, but if you don't have any, use a pinch of sugar and a drop of bleach. (Anothe ralternative is a pinch of ground-up Viagra, an expensive but effective treatment that prolongs vase life by helping to open the vessels that conduct water up to the stem of the flower in much the same way that – well, never mind.)
  • Keep the flowers in a cool spot out of direct sunlight. In dry climates, spritzing the flowers with water may extend their life.
  • Change the water and recut the stems every few days. In mixed bouquets, remove any flowers that start to wilt early; as they wilt, they may give off ethylene, which could cause other flowers to wilt early, too.

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