From the ground up: Pick carefully for beautiful arrangements

August brings an abundance of beautiful flowers for cutting, from sunflowers and black-eyed-Susan’s to roses and coneflowers in many colors. Whether you cut flowers from your own garden or buy them at the farmers market, there are a few things you can do to keep them fresher longer.

First, choose the time of day to do your cutting. Late afternoon/early evening is a good time as the plant has had all day to make and store food. Early morning is next best as flowers are well hydrated. Avoid the heat of the afternoon when flowers may be thirsty and wilted.

Make sure your cutting tools are sharp and clean, and take a bucket of warm (90 to 100 degree) water with you into the garden because cut flowers drink up warmer water more than cold. Most flowers will last longest if cut just before they are fully open. Choose blooms that are more developed than tight bud, but not fully open. Gladiolas can be cut any time after the lowest two buds are open.

Cut flower stems a little longer than you will need for your vase. This will allow for later cutting and greater height options in your arrangement. Cut flowers one stem at a time. Make sure each stem is sturdy and unbroken. Remove all foliage that will be below water level along with any damaged or wilted petals.

Place each stem quickly into your pail of water, keeping it in a shady spot to reduce the chance of wilting.

Once cut, bring flowers indoors and allow them some time for “conditioning” before arranging. Let the flowers sit in a cool place in water about half the depth of the stem in order to fully hydrate for at least an hour, up to overnight.

When ready to arrange, assemble all materials first. Again, use sharp, clean utensils. Make sure your vase is clean a well, if you wouldn’t drink out of it, don’t put flowers in it. Cut stems on the diagonal to maximize the surface area that can take up water. Making a fresh cut also removes any bacteria that may have collected.

Arrange flowers so that a third to half the stem is submerged, and all foliage below water is removed. You may add a floral preservative, available at florists and garden centers if you wish. You’ll also find many suggestions online for additives from aspirin and vodka to citrus soda. Make your own choice here, it’s a science and the wrong mixture may hurt more than help.

Place your arrangement in a cool, but bright location away from drafts and sources of heat or cold. Never store fruit and flowers together. Many fruits, especially apples produce ethylene gas, a hormone that causes aging in flowers.

Check the water level of the container or vase daily. If the water becomes cloudy, remove flowers, trim all stems and place in a new vase with fresh water.

Jackie MacLaren is a Linn County Master Gardener.

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