A GROWING CONCERN: There are tricks to creating beautiful bouquets

WELL, THIS PAST week has been interesting: Hail, wind, rain, cool nights and now sunny warm days.

Summertime here on the Olympic Peninsula (well soon, Thursday at 3:07 a.m.) for many of us is about gorgeous weather, long days, weekend barbecues and beautiful flowers everywhere.

Often, however, the delight of having lovely arrangements from our yard has dissipated by the next day as the container water turns cloudy, develops a less-than-appealing odor and the flowers themselves wilt.

Fear not. A few tricks and a fundamental understanding of your freshly cut flowers can turn those bouquets into a week of gratitude.

Haste makes waste

A big mistake some gardeners make is thinking that the faster you cut and get the blooms arranged, the longer they will last.

Not so. Flowers and ornamental greens require a period of conditioning if you want them to last for days rather than hours.

Conditioning, a treatment you do to the cut flowers after they are harvested and before they are arranged, isn’t difficult but does vary greatly from one flower to another.

For the most part, it involves immersing the cuttings in water for a 12- to 24-hour period, but it also involves other nuances.

Carry water out to the cutting fields and, immediately upon harvest, put them into this first drink tank.

Cut at 45-degree angle

Always cut your flower stems and greens at a slant, preferably at a 45-degree angle.

This angle cut not only opens up a greater surface area for water absorption, but also keeps the just-picked stalk from resting flat on the bottom of the container.

Don’t pack your flowers in too tightly.

A loosely placed bunch of flowers can breathe and potential disease problems won’t occur immediately.

Remember the plant when you cut your flowers, too.

Don’t cut the flowers or leaf (for greens) at the desired length for the arrangement.

Instead, cut it at the best location for the plant to encourage more blooms and tighter compact plants.

This is crucial — cutting too short or long can damage the plant severely and lengthen its time to re-bloom, or bring a premature death or dormancy.

After you have harvested the blooms and moved on to arranging, you can select the long stems or cut them back to achieve the ideal length.

Be sure your containers, harvest buckets and vases are cleaned well between uses.

Use soap and water, and scrub and rinse them out.

If containers are dirty, bacteria starts to breed at phenomenal rates and they will quickly plug up the small conducting tubes that transport the water upward.

Keep your knife, scissors and pruners extremely sharp.

A nice surgical cut won’t crush these small water tubes. And again, water can flow more easily.

Use lukewarm water

After the flowers are cut, placed loosely in lukewarm water and carried into the house or shed, the conditioning starts.

Take the blooms one at a time and leaf-strip them.

This involves removing the leaves low on the stem that eventually will be down in the water of the vase or will obscure other flowers in the bouquet.

As a general rule, only the top few leaves are left.

This is very crucial, for not only are the lower leaves first in line to suck up the water, but they also are the first to rot away and can clause clogging bacteria and stench.

Your next move is to strip away any any plume-type flowers such as delphinium, snapdragons, gladiolas, celosia, salvia, lupine, laitris or astible.

By completely removing the last few buds on these, you eliminate the curl-over or droop associated with these blooms.

This also allows the rest of the buds to fully develop into magnificent flower heads.

Splitting stems

In the case of woody stem plants such as ornamental fruit, hydrangeas, wisteria or willows, split the stem up one half inch with a sharp knife.

This helps water rise up the stem.

In the case of milky or very sappy plants such as milkweed, daylily or peonies, char the ends in a flame immediately upon cutting, and again if the stalk is trimmed for an arrangement.

After these tasks are done, again place the flowers into water — generally cold water this time — and fully up to their necks.

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules but these few tricks will give you a summertime (and fall) full of lovely flowers and bouquets to be proud of.

Next week it is indeed summertime.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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