GARDENING IN IOWA

Now's the perfect time to enjoy some fresh flowers

Enjoy a bouquet of fresh flowers even during winter. (The Gazette)
Enjoy a bouquet of fresh flowers even during winter. (The Gazette)

It’s deepest, darkest Iowa winter — in the middle of a pandemic, to boot. What could be more cheering than fresh flowers? (Well, maybe getting the vaccine, but that’s another story.)

There’s lots of reasons you might have fresh flowers right now. In my case, I recently received a colorful bouquet from a friend, as a thank you for helping her during a medical crisis. Also, Valentine’s Day is around the corner, and if you’re lucky, you might receive some lovely flowers from your beloved. Or heck, you might simply pick up some supermarket flowers for yourself on a whim.

Regardless of how you get them, once you have fresh cut flowers, there are a number of ways to keep them fresher longer. They really work: That bouquet from my friend? It’s now on Day 13 and looking good.

Here’s what you can do to preserve the life of your fresh cut flowers.

• Keep the container full. This is easily the most important thing you can do to extend the life of your flowers. As soon as you get the flowers, fill the vase as far as it will go. (Florists often fill vases only partly to prevent water from sloshing out during transport.) Then top it off daily with more fresh water at least every other day. The more of the stem that is immersed in water, the more moisture it can absorb. Letting the water level get down to even half is a sure recipe for dead flowers days sooner than necessary.

• The second most important tip: Change the water completely about every other day. Bacteria grows in stagnant water and interferes with flowers’ ability to uptake moisture.

• Cut flowers last longest in cool, moist conditions. There’s a reason florists keep flowers in big glass coolers. Your flowers will last longest in a place where they don’t get too warm (over 70 degrees) and are not in direct sunlight.

In winter, it’s also helpful if you keep fresh flowers away from cold blasts from opening doors or away from air blown out of a heat vent. (When you buy flowers or any plant in very cold weather, be sure they are covered completely with a plastic or paper bag to prevent damage from freezing air. Take directly home — don’t leave in an unheated car.)

• That powder that you can mix into the water to keep flowers fresher longer really does work. Ask for an extra packet or two when you buy flowers since you’ll need to use it every time you completely change out the water. Florists will often give it to you for free. Or make your own slightly less effective version with 1 teaspoon sugar and 2 teaspoons lemon juice (fresh, bottled or frozen) to one quart water.

• Periodically trim off the tips of the stems. Fresh cuts allow the newly revealed tissue of the plant to better take up water. Over the period of a day or two, the cuts at the tips of flower stems tend to close up, resulting in a brown or beige hard crust, like a scab. You can remedy this. With scissors or a small sharp knife, trim off even just the bottom quarter inch to reveal fresh tissue. It will greatly improve the stem’s ability to hydrate all the way up to the flower.

• Remove plant material as it ages and become unattractive. Various flowers in mixed bouquets tend to have different life spans. As flowers or foliage start to look bad, take it out and pitch it so that you can enjoy the remaining healthy blooms more fully.

In my own recent bouquet, after just a couple days, the white sweetheart roses were the first to look bad. They began to brown, so I pulled them out. Then a few days later, pink sweetheart roses started to look icky. I took them out. Next the beautiful yellow goldenrod got little brown spots all over it. Into the trash it went.

There is no reason, though, to remove the whole stem if only part of it is looking bad. The gorgeous pink lilies arrived in the bouquet with three flowers open and several buds unopened. As the buds opened, the already-opened lilies started to fade a little and drop petals. So I trimmed off the spent lily flowers so I could enjoy the emerging flowers better.

Some of the fern foliage was also looking tired and developed brown and rust-colored spots. Several were shot and were browning all the way to the tip of the fern. But some had browning leaves only on the lower part of the stem, so I trimmed those off and kept the part of the fern frond at the tip that was still fresh.

By that point, I was about nine or 10 days in with my bouquet. The flowers that remained didn’t fill the original vase very well. So I took them all out and put them into a smaller vase. As I mentioned, I’m now on day 13, and I’m hoping to get four or five more days out of them.

Fresh flowers are meant to be enjoyed. So keep them looking their best for as long as possible. They’re a wonderful reminder that spring, truly, is not too far away.

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Veronica Lorson Fowler is co-publisher of The Iowa Gardener website at theiowagardener.com.

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