Flower Care & Handling

We Love Flowers

If you are a Flower Lover, then you know the joy of arranging flowers, and having fresh, beautiful flowers in your home all of the time. You know the wonderful thrill of receiving or giving flowers as a gift. And, you also know how disappointing it is to have flowers that wilt quickly, flowers that are not as beautiful or as long lasting as you know they should be.

At Floral Design Institute, the study of post harvest physiology is a very important and on-going study. In addition to our own research, we review and test all research and opinions in the industry. With the knowledge, tools, treatment processes and long the lasting cultivars available today, there simply is no reason that you cannot have wonderful long lasting flowers in your home.

Water Quality:

The most essential (and the most overlooked) factor affecting flower vase life is water quality. Cut flowers need clean, pure water, and not all tap water is suitable for flowers. As examples; Sodium, present in high concentrations in soft water, is toxic to roses and carnations. Fluoride, added to drinking water for dental health, is harmful to Gerbera, gladiolus and freesia. In many areas, drinking water contains high levels of minerals. These dissolved minerals will block the flower stems and prevent water uptake.

To assure that you have the best quality water for your flowers, you should have your water tested by a water treatment company or an independent laboratory. This can be done at little or no charge. If you do not know the analysis of your tap water, and are concerned that the quality may not be good, you may want to use bottled distilled water for your flowers. A water analysis should tell you two primary characteristics about your tap water, the pH level and the level of TDS.

pH level is the measurement of the acidity and alkalinity of water on a scale of 1 (acid) to 14 (alkaline), with 7 being neutral. High quality water for flowers should be slightly acid having a pH factor of between 3.0 and 4.5. Most tap water is near neutral and acidity can be obtained through the use of a commercial floral food. Acidic water is taken up more readily by flower stems than is neutral or alkaline water.

TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) refers to the measurement of water salinity, total dissolved solids or soluble elements in water. The dissolved solids in water can include magnesium, sodium, calcium, chlorides, and sulfates. Total dissolved solids in water are measured in parts per million (ppm). High quality water for flowers should have a TDS measurement of less than 200 ppm.


Bacteria, fungi & plant debris in vase water can block the flower stems and prevent water uptake. Most tap water is free of high levels of bacteria and fungi. However, bacteria and fungi can grow very rapidly in vase water. You should use a biocide (found in most commercial floral foods) to help control the growth of bacteria and fungi.

Vases, knives, clippers, storage containers and other equipment should always be washed thoroughly and be sterilized with a sanitizing bactericide between uses. For longest flower life, vase water should be changed every third day, and replaced with a solution of fresh water and floral food.

Floral Preservatives and Treatments:

Commercial Floral Foods, which are labeled under several different names are essentially the same in both ingredients and function. There are three primary ingredients in floral food which work in harmony to extend the vase life of cut flowers. The primary ingredients include a carbohydrate which provides nourishment for the cut flowers, a biocide which inhibits the growth of fungi and bacteria, and an acidifier, which lowers the pH of the water.

Secondary components found in most commercial floral foods include plant hormones which will extend vase life and improve the color and quality of cut flowers, and a wetting agent which will accelerate the cut flower's uptake of water.

A solution of water and commercial floral foods in proper concentration can dramatically increase the vase life and the quality of nearly all cut flowers, (there are some exceptions, refer to the Floral Design Institute Flower Library

Home Remedies:

Yes, there are home remedies that work. But, most do nothing, and some can be harmful to the flowers. Commercial Floral Food is readily available in the marketplace, inexpensive, and far superior to home remedies. Very important in the preparation of a Water and Commercial Floral Food solution is the mixing of a correct concentration, a feature nearly impossible with a home remedy.

If you do not have access to a Commercial Floral Food, (it is available in our SHOPPING pages), the following home remedy will work.

To one gallon of water add one 12 ounce can of any brand of a clear lemon-lime soft drink. The sugar will provide food for the flowers and the citric acid will lower the pH of the water. Additionally, add one tablespoon of chlorine based bleach to the one gallon solution. This will serve as a biocide and help keep the water clean.

Hydration and Conditioning:

Critical to beautiful long lasting flowers is your treatment of the flowers after purchase or harvest.

STEP 1 is to remove all foliage that will be below the water level of the vase. If this foliage is left on the stem it will decompose in the vase. Dirty vase water will produce ethylene which will cause early flower death. Dirty vase water will also enhance the growth of bacteria and fungi which will block the flower stems.

Gently pull off all of the leaves taking care to not scrape the stems. If the stem is scraped and the xylem is damaged the uptake of water will be impeded. This is most important when removing thorns from roses. There are several "hand stripping tools" available in the marketplace. Unfortunately, most can cause damage to the flower stem. We recommend the use of a soft, but impenetrable glove for the removal of rose thorns and foliage, which will prevent damage to both the rose stem and your hands. (available in our SHOPPING pages)

STEP 2 is to rehydrate the flower.

Previously we recommend that all flower stems be given a fresh two to three inch cut under water and then moved to a treated water storage bucket. While this technique is still valid there is a complication that negates the full value of the technique. When flower stems are cut under water cellular vegetable debris, dirt and other contaminants are released into the water.This contaminant filled water quickly becomes a medium for bacteria and fungi. When flowers are cut in impure water the bacteria, fungi and cellular debris can enter the stem, restrict the uptake of water and greatly reduce the longevity of the flower.

We now recommend that flower stems be cut in the air. However, speed and sanitation are of the essence. It is critical that flowers be processed as soon as possible after receipt and that the very best sanitation practices be used. Delaying the processing of fresh flowers can lead to water stress and reduced longevity.

Never use scissors when cutting flower stems. The two blade cut of scissors squeezes the stem and crushes the water-conducting vessels of the xylem. The same is true of dull knives, shears, clippers and bunch cutters. All tools for cutting flowers must be sharp and re-sharpened frequently.

STEP 3 Decision time. If the flowers are to be stored for much later use they should be placed in a solution of cold water and floral preservative, then refrigerated. If the flowers are to be used immediately or within the next 48 hours they should be placed placed in a solution of warm water and floral preservative for a minimum two hours at room temperature prior to cold storage or arranging the flowers. The flowers need time to rehydrate fully and take up the carbohydrates and other ingredients in the floral food. If the flowers are for an event or wedding within the next 48 hours and need to be fully opened as soon as possible they should be placed in a solution of warm water and floral preservative, held at room temperature and watched closely until the desired blossom stage is reached, then refrigerated until they are arranged. Be sure to refer to the Floral Design Institute Flower Library for specific information about the conditioning of each flower.

STEP 4, For the longest vase life after your flowers are arranged, it is recommended that every three days, you re-cut the flower stems, rinse the lower portion of the stems to clean them, clean the vase, and add new floral food and water solution in the vase.

Refrigeration and Humidity:

At the commercial level, proper refrigeration in storage is an essential part of flower processing in floral design. The refrigeration of flowers at proper temperature and humidity can increase the vase life of flowers by reducing the respiration and the water loss of the flowers. refrigeration keeps flowers at their peak longer by delaying further development and bud opening. Most flowers should be stored at a refrigeration temperature of between 33 degrees and 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Not all flowers need refrigeration and many flowers can be damaged by refrigeration. Be sure to see the Floral Design Institute Flower Library for information specific for each flower.

At home it's hard to enjoy your flowers if they are stuck away in a refrigerator. Once your flowers are conditioned and arranged..... set them out to be seen and enjoy them. Be aware that a vase of flowers displayed in a warm area, in a draft, or in direct sunlight will wilt quickly. I do occasionally move my flowers at home to a cool room overnight, so to extend their vase life.


Ethylene is an odorless and colorless naturally produced gas produced by cut flowers, foliage, ripening fruit, vegetables, bacteria, and decaying plant material. Ethylene is also produced by the burning of hydrocarbons (car exhaust and tobacco smoke).

Different varieties of flowers have different levels of sensitivity to ethylene, ranging from very high sensitivity to no sensitivity. Most commercially grown ethylene sensitive flowers are treated at harvest to reduce their sensitivity to ethylene.

Ethylene can cause rapid wilting, color fading, blossom drop, bloom shattering, and the early death of cut flowers. While ethylene is always present in the atmosphere, it is important to be aware of and remove your cut flowers from sources of high levels of ethylene. Always remove old and wilting flowers from arrangements. Keep vases and storage buckets clean and free of decaying plant material and bacteria. Change vase water every third day and use a commercial floral preservative / food. Keep floral arrangements away from ripening fruit, vegetables and tobacco smoke.

Harvesting Garden Flowers:

For Flower Lover's, there is no thrill greater than making wonderful arrangements using flowers that you have grown in your own garden. The same basic care & handling techniques that apply to commercially grown flowers also applies to flowers from your garden. This, plus a few additional techniques will allow you to enjoy the maximum vase life of flowers from the garden.

It is very important to harvest garden flowers either in the late evening or in the very early morning when the sun is down and the heat of the day is off of the flowers. At this time the flowers are fully turgid with water and contain the highest carbohydrate reserves. Never cut flowers in the heat of the day. They are so stressed at this time of the day that they may never be able to rehydrate as a cut flower.

When harvesting flowers cut them with shears and place them directly into a bucket containing enough water to completely cover the cut stems. Bring the flowers indoors for processing as quickly as possible. Recut the stems under water with sharp knife and place them in a holding vase filled with a solution of water and floral food. You should allow garden flowers to set in the solution of water and floral food for a minimum eight hours at room temperature prior to cool storage or arranging the flowers.

Do not be disappointed if your favorite fragrant garden rose does not last as long as commercially grown roses. Remember that commercially grown flowers are selectively bred for their ability to last well as a cut flower. As a general rule, garden flowers with the greatest fragrance have the shortest vase life.

Emergency Care:

You received the most wonderful bouquet red roses for Valentine’s Day. The roses were perfect when you received them yesterday. But, this morning you notice that the blossom heads are starting to droop. Don’t panic. A few simple steps will correct this problem.

Step 1. Act immediately. A drooping head is a sign that the rose is not getting enough water. If you correct this early, the rose will recover fully. If you wait too long, it may not recover.

Step 2. Make sure that your roses have not been placed in direct sunlight, near a heat source or in a draft. These conditions will cause the rose to lose water through transpiration faster than it can be replaced through the stem.

Step 3. Generally, a drooping head is caused by stem blockage. Stem blockage can be caused by an air bubble in the stem, bacteria or fungus in the vase water, or dissolved mineral solids in the vase water. The treatment for all types of stem blockage is the same.

Step 4. Place your hands around the entire rose arrangement just above the top of the vase and lift the arrangement straight up and out of the vase. Holding the arrangement together, rinse the stems under running water then lay the arrangement on it’s side, (it will hold together)

Step 5. Throw out the old vase water. Wash the vase with soap and water. Rinse very well with water then give a final rinse with a water and Clorox bleach solution.

Step 6. Fill the vase with fresh warm water. If you live in an area with a high mineral content in your water, use distilled or deionized water. Never use "softened" water.

Step 7. Mix and completely dissolve a commercial floral food in the vase water. Use the recommended amount. Never use more. If you don’t have any floral food on hand, just use water and add floral food at a later time.

Step 8. Grasping the arrangement with both hands, squeeze the stems together slightly and place the arrangement back into the vase.

Step 9. Fill your kitchen sink with warm water. Remove each rose from the vase one at a time. Holding the rose stem under water, cut one to two inches off of the bottom of the stem at an angle using a sharp knife.

Step 10. Quickly insert each rose back into the arrangement from where it was removed. Make sure that the stem is inserted deeply into the water.