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The Best Ways to Harvest and Store Cut Flowers for Long-Lasting Bouquets

Whether you’re growing flowers for yourself or for market, it’s important to know how to cut stems properly to avoid injuring the plant and to get the longest-lasting vase life out of your cuts.

Harvesting stems the right way will encourage the plant to produce even more blooms than before, as well as prevent the plant from contracting any diseases.

Keep reading for the top tips from our gardening experts about how to harvest flowers for bouquets, as well as our favorite annual flowers for cuts!

Start with quality seeds 

The best cut flowers start with healthy seeds. That’s why, here at Seeds N Such, we only offer the highest-quality non-GMO seeds for sale.

Once you’ve purchased top-tier seeds, the next step in the process is carefully cultivating the plants to their full potential. Plant flower seeds in well-draining, fertile soil that receives full sunlight, and install drip irrigation to give your flowers adequate moisture. Fertilize regularly with a balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for flowering plants. 

 Click here for a refresher on sowing seeds, and use these tips to harden off your seedlings before transplanting them outside. Oh, and don’t forget to pinch back branching varieties to encourage even more flower production. 

Easy-to-grow cut flower varieties for beginners

Cut flowers are simply harvested flower stems. Any flower can be a cut flower, but certain plants make better cut flowers than others, especially if they are known for their abundant harvests of hardy flowers on long, straight stems. 

Possibly the best cut flowers for beginners to grow due to their low maintenance and general hardiness, zinnias are also among the quickest flowers to grow from seed, with most varieties producing flowers in as little as 60 days.

Zinnias range in color and size, from the tiny pom-poms of Aztec Sunset to the four-inch blooms of Benary’s Giants Mix. It’s nearly impossible to overharvest zinnias, so cut to your heart’s content. When picked at the right stage, zinnias have a vase life of a week or more.

Cosmos blooms add easy elegance to any cut flower bouquet. Ranging in color from the bright yellow Lemonade to the rich ruby Rubinato to the tricolor Sonata Mix, there’s a variety to fit every theme and color scheme. 

Though their vase life may be a little shorter than other varieties at only four to six days, cosmos are still a great flower for cuts. Some varieties can reach up to six feet in height and half as wide, and pollinators are sure to swarm any uncut blooms. The wispy, fern-like foliage makes great bouquet filler as well.

Perhaps the most favorite flower worldwide, sunflowers come in more shapes, sizes, and colors than just the iconic Mammoth Sunflower (which we also adore). Branching varieties like Strawberry Blonde Hybrid and Mardi Gras Blend make the best cut flowers, as they provide an abundance of reasonably-sized blooms.

Also called cockscomb, celosia is a colorful and exotic flower to include in bouquets. Once established, this heat-lover is drought-tolerant. Some varieties mature in at least three months and are a pollinator favorite. The flowers may be plume-shaped or crested, and the more you cut celosia the more blooms you will get! 

Plus, celosia is an excellent flower for drying. If the flower heads are allowed to dry in paper bags out of direct sunlight, celosia will hold its color for years. 

How to harvest cut flowers

Gather your favorite pair of sharp snips and sanitize them.  

Next, fill a bucket (or several) with a few inches of clean, warm water and acidify it with citric acid. As odd as it sounds, flower stems hydrate better in warm water and have been proven to hydrate best in water that has a pH of 3.0 to 5.0.

You’ll carry a bucket of warm water with you, so don’t fill it too full. When you fill a bucket, move the bucket to the shady area or a refrigerator if you have one.

When to cut flowers

If you’re not concerned about vase life, you can cut flowers whenever it is convenient. But if you want to maximize the longevity of your harvest, there’s a little bit of strategy that goes into making the cut. 

  • Harvest in the morning or evening

Ideally, you’ll harvest flowers in the morning—after the dew has dried but before temps rise. If you can’t harvest that early, the evening is the second-best option, as flower stems are better hydrated during these parts of the day than in midday.

  • Cut ‘cracked’ buds

While when to make the cut for the best vase life will depend in part on the species, you’ll generally want to cut stems when the buds have just begun to show color but haven’t fully opened yet. (This is not true for roses—these blooms will not continue to open once picked.)

In the flower farming world, we call this the “cracked” stage. This resource from the Oklahoma State University Extension Office lists a number of popular cut flowers and their ideal harvest stage.

Of course, individual species have slightly different harvest requirements. Cut plumes or spike-shaped flowers when 1/4 to 1/2 of the florets have opened, while daisy-like flowers will look their best in the vase if you wait to cut them until they are fully open.

Where to cut flowers

  • Cut eight-inch stems at an angle

It’s a little counterintuitive, but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the plant when making a cut. The deeper you cut, the longer the next stem will grow back—promise.

Locate a stem and reach down an arm’s length (about eight to twelve inches). With a clean pair of snips, cut the main stem at a 45-degree angle. Cutting stems at an angle is important because it uncovers a greater surface area so that the stems can take up water more efficiently.

  • Strip two-thirds of the stem of its foliage

Holding the cut stem in one hand, use the other hand to strip the stem of 3/4 of its leaves by pinching the stem and running your fingers down the stem. It’s important to clean the bottom half of the foliage since any leaves left underwater will rot in the vase. 

Once you make the cut and strip the foliage, place the cut stem in the bucket and move on to the next stem. To move more quickly down the row, make a bunch of cut flower stems and hold them with the blooms facing your back, under your left arm while you cut with your right (or vice versa, if you’re left-handed). When you have a good bundle, drop them in the bucket and keep going.

Additional tips

  • Sear stems with milky sap

Some flowers secrete a milky sap when cut, like poppies and milkweed, and these flowers benefit from searing, or burning, the stems. You can do this either by submerging the stems in boiling water or holding a flame to the end of the stem for about 10 seconds.

  • Separate toxic blooms

Flowers, like daffodils, hyacinths, and irises, secrete sap that is toxic to other flowers. Let daffodils rest in a bucket on their own for several hours before mixing them with other flowers in an arrangement.

How to store cut flowers

Once flowers are cut, the best way to store them is in a bucket or vase of water in a refrigerated area between 33 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the flowers have sat for a couple of days, take clean shears and trim an inch off the stem to refresh the flowers and improve their water uptake. If you can, make the cut underwater to avoid introducing air bubbles into the stem. 

Let flower stems rest in the bucket for a few hours or overnight before arranging them and placing them in a vase of clean water.

DIY flower preservatives

The tiny packets that come with store bought bouquets contain a preservative to make cut flowers last longer in the vase. These preservatives are mainly a blend of sugar, bleach, and citric acid, and it’s easy to make your own preservative at home!

Citric acid lowers the pH of the flowers to an acidic level that keeps flowers fresher for longer, and trace amounts of bleach kill any bacteria in the water that speed up the decomposition process. Table sugar stands in for the carbohydrates that plants produce during photosynthesis.

Make any one of the combinations below per quart of water:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar + 1/4 teaspoon bleach
  • 2 tablespoons sugar + 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar + 2 tablespoons white vinegar + 1/2 teaspoon bleach

Mix the ingredients in one quart of warm water, and you have your own floral hydrating solution! Make a fresh solution every 3–4 days, until the flowers die.

Or, try these alternatives to flower food (they work almost as well in a pinch!):

  • Aspirin

Aspirin lowers water pH, which keeps flowers looking fresher for longer. Crush one 250–500 mg tablet per gallon of water for best results.

  • Vodka

Vodka acts as a disinfectant and has a similar effect as adding bleach to the water.  Flowers emit ethylene gas as they decompose, and vodka helps inhibit this maturing process, lengthening the vase life of most flowers. Be careful not to overdo it—add no more than a few drops of vodka to a vase of water

  • Sprite

Sprite, which is primarily sugar, provides a source of carbohydrates for flowers. Add one part Sprite for every three parts of water.

There you go! Now you have all the information you need to confidently cut flowers for gorgeous and long-lasting floral arrangements. Start with easy-to-grow annuals like zinnias, cosmos, sunflowers, and celosia, and follow these guidelines for how and when to make the cut for the best results.

Experiment with these flower preservative recipes to help extend the life of your cut flowers. Whether you are a flower farmer or just cutting blooms for your home, these tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your cut flower patch. 

Once you’ve mastered the basics of growing beginner-friendly cut flowers, don’t hesitate to branch out and try something different or new. Your garden is yours, so feel free to grow whatever you like! You can shop our entire collection of cut flower seeds here.

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