Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Flowers 'For the Vase'


Flowers can say it all - 'Get Well', 'Thank you', 'I'm sorry', 'Thinking of you' etc etc these sentiments are expressed eloquently just by extending a blooming bundle of flowers.

In this post there will be mention of cutting, preparation, storing, day-to-day care of cut flowers and examples of some of the best flowers for the vase. If we grow these flowers it is a simple matter of wandering through our gardens and picking flowers either to give away or for our home - nothing is more welcoming than a vase of flowers (perhaps baking bread gets the tick too!).

Lets assume you have flowers in your garden for picking. Equipment you will need:

  • clean and sharp secateurs/knife
  • a meticulously clean bucket filled to about 1/4 full of warm water - by using warm water in your bucket, the water is allowed to enter the stem more rapidly. 
  • spray bottle of metho/spirits to spray secateurs between plants 
From the outset your blooms have to be treated with respect and the first way is by 'conditioning'. This will make sure that flowers and foliage last for the maximum time - one of the most common causes of wilting in cut flowers and foliage is the presence of an air-lock in the stem. This air-lock usually forms as the flower is cut when atmospheric pressure forces air into the water ducts of the stem in which there is normally a partial vacuum. So it is best if flowers cut from the garden are placed into the bucket immediately, finer bloom preparation details eg removal of leaves etc can be done later. 

To prevent diseases being transferred from one plant to another it is best to spray your cutting instrument between plants with metho.

The optimum time for cutting flowers is in the early morning or late evening. This is when flowers have the maximum amount of water in their stems and they will condition more readily. 

Once you have picked all the material you want for your arrangement, vase or bouquet take the time to complete the preparation of your flowers by: 

  1. Making sure that all the lower leaves are removed as any leaves left under water will quickly begin to rot and cause a build-up of bacteria which will clog the stem ends, preventing the uptake of water and also making the water smell foul. 
  2. Trim 1.5-2cm off all stem ends at a sharp angle, thus exposing more of the central area of the stem (known as the xylem tissue) which is responsible for the uptake of water and they don't sit 'flat bottomed' in the vase hindering the uptake of water.
  3. Flowers and foliages should remain in the water for at least two or three hours (or overnight) before arranging them. 

One of the biggest problems people have with cut flowers (either home grown or commercial) is that they don't seem to last. This most probably has got absolutely nothing to do with the flowers but everything about the vase that they are put into! Bacteria can live on for months in a dry vase so it is crucial that you clean your vases with soap and hot water with a few drops of bleach added.  

You can tell if commercial flowers are reasonably fresh by how perky they are. If there are any wilted flowers, wilted, yellow or brown leaves then it'd be a fair bet to say that they are really not a good buy. The leaves should be crisp and take a really close look at the centre of the flower - is it bright or faded? With some flowers you can gently pinch them to see how firm they are, if soft these would be another lot to pass by.

Don't let your purchased blooms sit is a ragingly hot vehicle without water for long - make your flower purchase the last thing that is done before you head on home. 

When you get your cut flowers home, remove all the packaging and re-cut the stems as described in 2. above. Be sure to remove any foliage that will be in or submerged under the water. 

Mix your packet containing flower preservative that accompanies your purchase with water. Choose a spot in your home that is out of direct sunlight, heat and away from the fruit bowl as fruit produces ethylene which cases cut flowers to die prematurely and condition for a couple of hours or overnight. 

A home made flower preservative:

2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 Tablespoon bleach
1 litre of tepid water 

Change water in vases every 4th day.



Popular Fresh Cut Flowers:




Chrysanthemum without a doubt make the longest lasting, inexpensive cut flower list. There are just so many varieties with different forms, shapes and colours to choose from. They can last up to 20 days in a vase with care, so as far as value for $ goes this one ticks the box!





Dianthus (including Carnations, Pinks and Sweet Williams) are a rather under-valued flower. These flowers can last up to 21 days in a vase and are perhaps some of the best known of all cut flowers.  They also come in many different colours and forms, from mini to super large blooms. In the garden regular cutting will ensure a long flowering season. Avoid direct light as they will fade quickly in an arrangement. Carnations and pinks should have their stems cut between the node or joint, as they cannot take up water if cut or broken on the node.












Alstroemeria
are a lovely delicate looking flower that can easily live up to 14 days in water. Their colours are mainly from the pastel palette and just gorgeous. Be mindful that the leaves when purchasing must be crisp, otherwise you won't get the longevity you'd prefer.

Alstroemeria grow excellently here on the Coffs Coast so might be worth planting up some bulbs so there are plenty for the vase.



Roses - depending if they are perfumed or not has a huge impact on how long they will last in the vase. As a general rule of thumb a perfumed rose will not last as long as one without a fragrance. Those commercial Valentine Day roses are usually not perfumed, so they will last the trip home on the bus or train and still be good for a few days! Roses from the home garden tend to last longer as they are cut and put into water immediately. In addition to the sharp angled cut, the stem should be split for about 1cm.








Orchids 
will last in a vase from between 14 to 21 days - although I have had some home grown ones last for months! Trim orchid stems and change their water everyday, or at the very least every second day. Remove faded flowers and if you wish, individual flowers may be displayed by being floated in a decorative dish with fresh water.





Lily flowers can last up to 14 days in the vase. Remove the pollen pods to extend life and prevent staining - do this as soon as they open and the pollen matures. Pinch out spent blooms as they fade. Some lilies have the most amazing fragrance and such long stems they can look absolutely stunning in a tall vase.






Sweet peas will last from 3-7 days and are the ultimate 'cut and come again' flower. There are plenty of colours to choose from, but a good mix of shades makes the prettiest posies. It's important to cut Sweet Peas regularly to encourage more blooms. Cut the flowers just as the lowest bloom is opening. Never spray with water as this can disfigure the petals. 





Gladiolus  with a vase life of 7-10 days will always add that dramatic drama and height to flower arrangements. Cut gladiolus flowers just as the lowest two or three florets begin to open. 

Gladioli will always turn upwards at the tip if not arranged vertically (for the botanically minded, this is a phenomenon called 'negative geotropism' whereby the stem tips always turn away from gravity. The roots are positively geotropic, therefore they will always head towards gravity!). One way to avoid this happening is to carefully pinch out the top few buds, as it is only these which are affected. Also if you want all the florets to open at once pinch out the top few florets - this of course will shorten the vase life but is often used for a particular floral display or competition.







Peonies have a vase life of 5-7 days however, there won't be many grown on the Coffs Coast! They are just the most amazing over-blown beautiful blooms. Just a few stems will create an impact either on their own or in an arrangement. 






Sunflowers every child's favourite with a vase life of around 10 days. Always cheery and so easy to grow (provided you can keep the birds away). Cut the stems just before the flowers fully open and strip the lower foliage from the stem leaving just a few leaves at the top to help fill out your arrangement or bouquet. It is best to pick in the early morning.






Tulips can last up to 7 days in a vase. Not too many of these are grown on the Coffs Coast but they herald in the changing season for us. Re-cut the stems under water to prevent air entering the stems. They are thirsty cut flowers so you'll need to keep the water topped up with them. The stems also 'grow' in the vase so are best put into a vase by themselves. Be mindful never to be tempted to place them in a vase with Daffodils as narcissus species exude a substance that prevents your tulips (and other cut flowers) from taking up water - this doesn't apply if using floral foam. It is said that if you put a couple of pennies into the water of tulips this will prevent them from getting the 'droops'.





Eucalyptus is fantastic in arrangements as it lasts for more than 21 days. It makes a fantastic filler for flower arrangements. Its attractive rounded leaves provide shape and texture that blends well. Florists use the juvenile foliage of Eucalyptus which is more rounded and attractive than that found on mature plants - why not grow your own to have a constant supply of immature stems for cutting?






Gypsophila another great filler with a vase life of up to 7 days. With its frothy haze of tiny flowers, it is a much loved flower for arrangements. Keep this flower well away from fruit bowls as it is particularly sensitive to ethylene given off by fruit and vegetables which will cause the flowers to deteriorate faster.







Hydrangeas are notoriously difficult to condition when very fresh. They benefit from boiling water treatment - add about 2.5cm of boiling water to a jug, place the stem ends in the water for around a minute. This will force out the air from the stems and allow better uptake of water. Take them out of the hot water, then re-cut the stem ends and put them into water up to their necks or immerse them completely overnight before arranging. 


 My Sister, Carmel is quite a dab hand at floral arranging and has a wonderful garden that she gets most of her material from. 

Pictured here are two recent arrangements. My apologies for the fuzzy photos.



It is amazing how we can surprise ourselves by taking a stroll through our gardens and picking the odd flower and foliage, conditioning them and creating a wonderful tribute to those flowers in the vase for our homes.

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