There’s no denying the instant boost fresh flowers can give to any room. Whether it’s a generous arrangement you’re lucky enough to receive, or a bouquet you bought at Trader Joe’s, flowers — or even leafy stems — can make any room feel warm and inviting.
But there is also something deeply disturbing about throwing away a withered bouquet; it always feels like it’s Just yesterday that you were fluffing your buttercup still closed, and suddenly they are stinking up the kitchen with their rotten water. So how do you keep pretty flowers alive for more than a few days?
Below, Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers, shares her top tips for extending the life of stems, along with her homemade flower food recipe, much like the little packets that come with a bouquet.
1. Use a dark vase
First things first: “We strongly recommend using a dark glass vase or ceramic container,” says Stembel. “Darker glass or ceramic won’t allow sunlight to enter the water, which can increase the rate at which stems rot.” Sure, mason jars are adorable, but if you plan to display the bouquet in indirect sun, choose a darker container.
2. Add DIY flower food
“When we started making flower food, we followed an older recipe from Martha Stewart (the queen!),” says Stembel. “Since then, we have made some adjustments to suit our production and the ingredients we have on hand.” Farmgirl’s industrial formula is: 1 gallon of water + 4 teaspoons of bleach + 4 teaspoons of vinegar + 4 tablespoons of sugar. To reduce that for your own bouquet, go with 1 liter of water, 1 teaspoon of bleach, 1 teaspoon of vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Keep in mind, according to Stembel, “The truth is that flower food is most effective for fresh cut flowers.” But as the flowers age, they still get a boost from this household food, and the lye component also helps kill bacteria. Some people even use Sprite or other clear sodas as sugary flower food. If you go this route, Stembel still recommends a bit of bleach (in the same proportions as above), but with one part clear soda to three parts water. Don’t use diet soda because it’s sugar-free, and make sure it’s a clear variety, like Sprite. Cola or even ginger ale won’t work for this!
3. Cut the stems daily
Keeping the stems cool ensures that they can absorb water more effectively. Stems should be trimmed back at least half an inch when they first come home with clean, sharp pruning shears and returned to water immediately. Once cut, the stems will begin to seal. “Delaying their vase placement will inhibit their ability to hydrate properly,” Stembel warns.
4. Keep flowers in a cool place
Keeping flowers away from extreme conditions (such as very hot window sills) will prevent them from dying faster and bacteria from building up in the vase. Most flowers prefer cool, shady places, so keep them away from the radiator in winter as well.
5. Change the water daily
Just like humans, flowers don’t thrive when they drink dirty, stagnant water. Daily water changes remove the bacteria that the flowers settle in and also remove any odor that comes with rotting plants.
6. Remove stems as they die
Pruning off dead stems will remove sources of excess bacteria since decaying flowers release bacteria into the water faster than fresh stems. You should also remove any leaves that fall below the waterline each time you change the water.
7. Clean your vase
It is important to do this after removing a dying bouquet to make way for a new one. Many people do not consider the bacteria that may be in the vase before placing the bouquet. A good rinse with warm, soapy water will ensure the flowers get off to a clean start.