A GROWING CONCERN: Learn to bouquet like a professional

Well, here we go — Friday was the official start of summer.

However, it was explained to me numerous times when I first moved here back in 1995 that “it rains on the 4th of July and then the next day summer begins.”

But regardless, it’s 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, dropping petals everywhere.

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 flower 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 cut flowers after they are harvested and before they are arranged, isn’t difficult but does vary greatly from one particular 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 45 degree angles

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

This angled 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 leaves (for greens) at the desired length for the arrangement.

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

This is crucial — cutting too short or too 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.

Keep your knife, scissors and pruners extremely sharp.

A nice clean surgical cut won’t crush those small water tubes — and again, water can flow more easily.

Keep it clean

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

Use soap and water.

Scrub and rinse them out.

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

Use lukewarm water

After the flowers are cut, placed loosely in lukewarm water and carried into the house or garden 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 on the bouquet.

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

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

Your next move is to strip away any plume-type flowers like delphinium, snap-dragons, gladiolas, celosia, salvia lupine, liatris or astilbe.

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 a magnificent flower head.

Split woody-plant stems

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

This helps the water rise up the stem.

In the case of milky or very sappy plants like milkweed, day-lily or peonies, char the ends in an open flame immediately upon cutting — and again if the stalk is trimmed for an arrangement.

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

Then the day after harvesting and conditioning, arrange your perfectly prepared cut-flowers into magnificent floral works of art.

Share these botanical wonders all summer long, bringing them to work or giving them to friends.


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. Box1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email news@peninsuladailynews.com (subject line: Andrew May).

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