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How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh – 15 Tips for Making Cut Flowers Last

If you like the cottage gardening style, you will likely have a cutting garden. A common question from readers of my blog asks “how to keep cut flowers fresh?”

When you purchase a bouquet of flowers from a florist or specialty shop, it will likely have a package of flower food attached. But what about us do it your self flower arrangers? How do we keep flowers alive longer?

Fortunately for us, making cut flowers last longer can be done easily with a few easy tips and some common household products to make our own cut flowers food.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about keeping fresh flowers alive and get the recipe.

Girl arranging cut flowers in a vase.

How to keep cut flowers fresh – the basics

Before we talk about making a cut flowers food, we need to start from the beginning. Simply cutting some flowers from your cottage garden while you work and plopping them in water later isn’t the way to get cut flowers that last a long time.

Let’s look at the basics.

Cutting the stems of fresh flowers

This tip is important, even with those flowers purchased from the florist. The stem is the vehicle for water intake, so you want to do all that you can to make sure as much water as possible comes to the bloom.

Woman cutting flower stems on an angle with shears.

All flowers should be cut on a 45 degree angle. This increases the surface area for water to be absorbed. Always use sharp shears or a clean knife.

Don’t use dull tools – these can squish the stem making it less able to uptake water.

Cutting flowers under a stream of water is a good idea. This helps the flowers to absorb water immediately.

It is also important to re-cut the stems every few days. Do this when you change the water.

Prune the leaves of cut flowers

Get out your vase and see where the water line will be. Cut off any leaves which would sit below the water line. This will make your vase look prettier and prevent bacteria from growing in the water.

How to keep cut flowers fresh - hands trimming leaves from roses.

Check each day for any loose or dead greenery or petals and remove them.

Keeping the water free of debris reduces rotting and clouding in the water.

Place cut flowers in water quickly

Don’t waste time after the flowers have been cut. Getting them into the water quickly prevents air bubbles from forming in the stems.

I like to place my flowers in the water right away, arrange them and then cut the stems on an angle.

Roses on a counter with woman collecting water in a vase.

What temperature should water for cut flowers be?

Florists use lukewarm water to store their flowers. Hydration in warm water allows the molecules to be absorbed more easily than in cold water.

In most cases, using water in the 100°F – 110°F range is great.

An exception to this is blooms from bulbs that flower in the cooler months, such as daffodils and hyacinths. These will last longer if the water is below room temperature.

Displaying cut flowers

Now that you know how to cut flowers for a vase, there are a few things to know about where to place it.

Fresh flowers will last longer in a cool room. Avoid placing the vase near a sunny window, stove or other appliances that put out heat.

Also avoid drafts. Open windows, cooling vents and fans can cause flowers to dehydrate very quickly. You won’t have to change the water quite as often if you avoid drafts.

Also avoid placing cut flowers near a bowl of fruit. Fruit that is ripe will send out ethylene gas which shortens the time that your flowers will stay fresh. So, no still life settings!

Changing the water for fresh flowers

The last step is to add come cut flowerf food to make the blooms last longer.

Without a doubt, cut flowers food is a must! Once flowers have been cut, they begin to die. Placing them into a vase of water keeps them hydrated but they also need some type of food to thrive.

Person adding cut flowers food to a vase near some roses.

Whatever type of food you use (see the list of cut flowers food below) be sure that it is thoroughly mixed, and neither too diluted or too concentrated.

Also be sure that your vase is very clean. Change the water and the food every two to three days for cut flowers that last a long time.

I have managed to get asters and roses last almost two weeks using these tips.

Using the fridge to extend the freshness of your cut flowers

There is a reason that florist shops and grocery stores have their fresh flowers in fridges or coolers! Flowers thrive in cooler temperatures.

Fresh flowers in an upright cooler.

One way to get a longer life out of your cut flower arrangement is to place it in the fridge overnight for 8 hours and remove it the next morning.

Doing this will extend the life of the arrangement by several days.

The flowers are out and ready to display. Don't let droopy blooms spoil the look. Get some tips for making cut flowers last longer and find out how to make a DIY cut flowers food. 🌸🌼🌻🌷 Click To Tweet

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Types of flower food to keep cut flowers fresh

Retail cut flower food helps to preserve flower blooms because of its ingredients. They usually contain an acidifier to lower the pH of the water, a fungus inhibiting ingredient to prevent stem rot and sugar to give energy to the blooms.

This is the reason that most DIY cut flower food recipes contain some (or preferably all) of these ingredients – citric acid, bleach and sugar!


Let’s examine some cut do it yourself flower foods one by one. Each of these flower food replacements tests at least one component of the retail cut flowers food.

Bleach for cut flowers

Bleach gives fungal protection to the water and stems and keeps the water from getting cloudy.

Blue hydrangea blossom and container of bleach.

I’d rate it as great for the water bacteria, but not so great for extending the flower life. It does tick the fungicide box, though.

Normally bleach is mixed with sugar to give the added nourishment needed as a good cut flowers food. When this is done, the effect is much better at making flowers last longer.

See my DIY flowers food recipe at the bottom of this post for an example.

Citrus soda to preserve fresh flowers

Sprite or 7 Up soda (not diet) is a good choice for clear vases. Other citrus based sodas with color are good for ceramic vases.

Bottle of key lime soda with lilies, gladioli and hydrangea.

Add 1/4 cup of soda to a vase of cut flowers. The soda is thought to make the blooms last longer (and smell sweeter!)

I’d give this one a head’s up. It did seem to make my flowers last longer a bit longer. This is likely due to the acidic action and the sugar in the soda, so it tests two of the components.

Vodka to make flowers last longer

Got a spare bottle of vodka kicking around? Try adding it to flower water to extend their freshness.

Bottle of vodka with liles, hydrangea and gladiolus.

Vodka as well as other clear spirits are said to inhibit ethlylene production which slows flower wilting.

I have not tried this method (I don’t want to waste my vodka, 😉 ) but Scientific American studies show that plants can only tolerate a small concentration of alcohol. The vodka would need to be diluted to be effective rather than harmful.

Apple cider (or white vinegar) as a cut flower food

Vinegar, both white and apple cider, is a useful kitchen product in many ways. How does it work with cut flowers?

Apple cider vinegar in a container with lilies and gladiolus.

Most DIY vinegar food for cut flowers combines it with sugar. On its own, vinegar only ticks the acidity and fungicide boxes.

Vinegar acts as an antibacterial agent while the sugar acts as additional flower food. My experience is that it adds a bit of life but not too much. Also, you’ll have the smell of vinegar instead of the aroma of roses.

Will aspirin make cut flowers last longer?

Aspirin is thought to lower the pH level of the water. This lets the blooms get the nourishment more quickly and prevents wilting.

I’ve tried it many times and it doesn’t seem to do much to keep the flowers fresh in my opinion.

Bottle of aspirin surrounded by cut fresh flowers.

It does seem to add the acidic effect needed to make flowers last.  However, without some form of antibacterial protection and the sugar needed for nourishment, aspirin not very effective used on its own.

Sugar works well to keep cut flowers fresh

Using sugar adds the nutrition that the cut flowers need but without a bacterial agent and acidic ingredient, it will only extend the flower life a few days.

Small container of granulated sugar and hydrangea blossom.

Sugar is often combined with bleach and lemon juice to make an effective plant food and this is one that I can vouch for.

The sugar adds the nourishment, the bleach inhibits bacterial growth and the lemon juice lowers the pH in the water. You’ll be surprised at how long the flowers stay fresh.

Using coins to make cut flowers last longer

I’ve used copper in my bird bath to keep it clean and it does a pretty good job. Some retail products even use copper disks as a flower preservative.

Bowl of copper pennies surrounded by fresh cut flowers.

Copper acts as an acidifier to preserve the flower arrangement and helps the flowers to open well. Since most of us have pennies, I thought I’d give this a go to see if they help to make the flowers last longer.

If you can find copper pennies it’s worth trying. The last pennies made main of copper (95%) were minted in 1982. Normal pennies minted today have only a small amount of copper in them.

Any type of copper has some affect on the water and blooms. Even a piece of copper tubing will work to some degree.

While the copper will keep the water bacteria free and help to open the blooms, it doesn’t seem to do much to extend the flower life.

Does baking soda keep cut flowers fresh?

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) has often been used in the garden in many ways. It is known to be a way to balance acidity and alkalinity.

Container of baking soda with a small spoon in front of a hydrangea blossom.

Adding baking soda to flower water can’t act as a balance, since pure water has a pH of 7 and is considered “neutral” because it is neither acidic nor alkaline.

It also has no food source for the blossoms and no acid component.

Baking soda is a natural fungicide, so it will keep the water more clear. My results didn’t show any extension of time for keeping the flowers fresh, though. Using it with other ingredients that lack a fungicide might help.

Test results for all the cut flower foods

I’ve been cutting flowers to bring indoors for decades and have tried most of the touted DIY cut flower food recipes out there. 

Hands down, the retail cut flower food works the best, but when the other methods are combined together, they also produce very good results.

How to keep cut flowers fresh - Use Sugar, lemon and bleach.

All of these make the DIY cut flowers food combinations listed above have some effect – either on keeping the water clear, or extending bloom life. They don’t seem to work as well as the retail product but are good in a pinch if you don’t have any packets handy.

And they are inexpensive, to boot!

For longest life without purchasing the retail food, these are good options:

  • Bleach, sugar and citrus granules (or lemon juice) – my recipe is below – works well and is my favorite. Get the recipe below.
  • Bleach, apple cider vinegar and sugar – also good, but has the smell of vinegar
  • Any of the fungicide products (bleach, baking soda, vodka) combined with soda or sugar and some form of acid do a good job of keeping flowers fresh.

On their own, I like either sugar or soda the best, particularly lemon soda. They don’t have the fungicide component but do have the food. As long as you change the water often and add the sugar or soda again, they do a pretty good job of keeping flowers fresh.

Which cut flowers last the longest?

Now that you know how to feed them, let’s look at which flowers naturally last the longest!

Not all flowers are alike when it comes to longevity. Some flowers, such as daisies, are thirsty and need a lot of water. Calla lilies will bruise easily so they need to be handled with care.

Carnations are very susceptible to ethylene gas, so they should definitely be placed in the kitchen.

Hydrangeas will wilt easily, but can be revived by cutting the stems and placing them in warm water for a while. The trick with hydrangea blooms is to pick them when the temperatures are cooler. They last much longer if you do this.

Collage with peonies, roses, zinnia, freesia, gladiola and zinnias and words reading Cut Flowers that last the longest.

Some good choices for long-lived cut flowers are:

Those that don’t seem last long for me are tulips, hosta flowers, and gardenias.

Adding fresh flowers is the quickest way to add warmth and life to any room. Follow the simple tips for how to keep cut flowers fresh and you’ll be bringing the outdoors inside regularly.

Pin these tips how to keep cut flowers fresh

Would you like a reminder of this post for how to make cut flowers last a long time? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Fresh cut flowers and household ingredients with words reading 15 tips for making cut flowers last longer.

You can also watch our video for keeping cut flowers fresh on YouTube.

Yield: Enough for one vase

DIY Cut Flowers Food

DIY Cut Flowers Food

This DIY cut flowers food formula is inexpensive to make. It will make your flowers last longer and is quick to prepare. Don't put up with droopy flowers!

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $1

Materials

  • 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid granules
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon household bleach 
  • 1 quart water

Tools

  • Mixing bowl

Instructions

  1. Mix the citric acid granules with two tablespoons of water. Set aside.
  2. Add the granulated sugar and bleach to 1 quart of water.
  3. Stir in the citric mixture and mix well.
  4. Use the solution to fill your vase, or add to a dish containing floral foam.

Notes

You can also use two tablespoons of lemon or lime juice in place of the citric acid granules and water.

Note: This recipe fills a standard vase. For large vases, you can adjust the recipe but keep the ratios the same.

This is best used on the day it is made. If you have any left over, label the jar as toxic and keep out of reach of children or pets.

Not for metal containers which can be discolored.

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