For starters, use a clean vase—soap residue can shorten the life of the stems.
There’s just something about fresh flowers. Whether you’ve been given a bouquet by a loved one or embraced Miley Cyrus’ now-famous self-lovelyrics and bought some blooms for yourself, having fresh flowers in the house or at your office can serve as an instant mood boost. Because of this — and considering fresh bouquets don’t always come cheap — it’s helpful to know how to make flowers last longer. Fortunately for us, a few leading floral experts were kind enough to reveal their top tips and tricks for extending the life of fresh flowers.
Before diving in, though, allow us to share a fun fact: Did you know that the effect flowers have on mood is actually rooted in science? According to a 10-month study by the Rutgers Department of Psychology, researchers found that “Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females.” While the study focused specifically on people receiving bouquets, there’s no denying that buying fresh flowers for yourself can be just as uplifting.
So, no matter how you come about a bouquet of fresh flowers, keep reading to learn how to make them last as long as possible. Plus, tips for how to dry and preserve flowers once they’ve met their shelf date.
How Florists Keep Flowers Alive for Longer
Step 1: Start with a clean vase.
Step 2: Add a packet of flower food to the water — or make your own.
Most fresh flower bouquets come with a packet of plant food. That said, if yours didn’t — or if you plucked your stems from your backyard — you can always DIY your own.
According to celebrity florist Michael Gaffney, founder of the New York School of Flower Design, 2 Tbsp of sugar mixed with 2 Tbsp of white vinegar works well to maintain fresh blooms.
“The sugar will help nourish the flowers and promote opening of the blooms, [while] the vinegar [will help] inhibit the growth of bacteria and keep your flowers fresher longer.”
Running low on these pantry staples? Don’t fret. “If you don't have vinegar and/or sugar, lemon-lime soda mixed with the water will do the same thing,” Gaffney says.
Step 3: Trim your stems.
“As soon as you get your flowers home give the stems a quick trim — at least ¼" to ½", says Farmgirl Flowers founder & CEO Christina Stembel. “A fresh cut will help the stem absorb water more readily and ensure your stems stay hydrated. Hydrated flowers mean happy flowers, which in turn means longer vase life!”
When trimming your stems, don’t do so horizontally. Unsteady, Stembel says to cut at a 45° angle. “This increases the surface area through which the stems absorb the water and prevents stems from sitting flush with the bottom of the vase (which can make it difficult for your flowers to get a drink of water),” she explains.
Step 4: Remove lower leaves.
While it may seem counterintuitive to remove leaves from your bouquet, Gaffney, Ghitelman, and Stembel all agree that it’s worthwhile — both aesthetically and for the health and longevity of your bouquet.
“Remove any foliage that falls below the waterline,” Stembel says. “It’s not only a cleaner look (no one likes to look at leaves floating in the vase water) but it helps prevent an even faster build-up of bacteria,” she says, noting that build-up can dramatically reduce vase life.
Step 5: Arrange your flowers in the vase.
For a professional end look, use tape to section off the top of your vase in a grid pattern. Doing so will make maintaining the design your desired arrangement a breeze.
Step 6: Avoid direct sunlight when finding a home for your arrangement.
“While they may have been sun worshippers on the plant, once flowers are cut, any direct source of heat or light leads to premature browning and wilting,” Stembel shares.
Step 7: Change the water every other day.
“Water changes flush the bacterial growth in your vase and ensure your stems are always getting a fresh drink,” Stembel explains. Once you get into the habit of swapping out the water daily, it’s easy — if not, dare we say, even enjoyable — to keep going because the payoff is dramatic. We’ve kept certain varieties (like orchids, anthuriums, and even ranunculus) alive for weeks with this top tip.
Step 8: Re-cut the stems each time you change the water.
As for trimming, Ghitelman says that keeping the stems roughly two inches from the bottom of the vase at all times ensures that they’re able to absorb as much water as possible, ultimately improving their hydration and longevity overall.
Step 9: Remove flowers as they wilt.
Another way to keep your fresh flowers looking their best for days (if not weeks) on end? Removing stems that have lost their vitality.
“If you notice that any of the flowers have hit their point of no return, remove them from the vase,” Stembel says. “Especially with a mixed bouquet, some varieties will begin to die sooner than others and, once they begin to wilt, will cause an excess build-up of bacteria in the vase water. Spare your other stems by removing these early.”
(Speaking of mixed bouquets, Gaffney says to never put daffodils in a vase with other flowers. “They secrete a substance that kills other flowers when in the same vase,” he warns.)
What to Do Once Fresh Flowers Aren’t So Fresh Anymore
If the majority of your bouquet begins wilting at once, you have a few options. First, you could toss it and call it a day. If, however, you’re sentimental or simply looking to repurpose the blooms, there are a few ways you can preserve them.
1. Hang and dry them.
To keep your blooms in their near-original shape, Stembel says drying is your best best. “While not all varieties are suitable for drying, the best method is to hang your bouquet upside down in a cool, dry room,” she shares. “Any space with too much humidity or direct light is not ideal for this process.”
Generally speaking, she says that bouquets tend to dry out in as little as three days, but can sometimes take a few weeks. “Color and texture will change dramatically for most stems — you’ll notice lots of brown to golden brown colors and a wrinkly texture to petal and stem alike — but this is the fastest/easiest way to keep an extra special bouquet around for longer,” she adds.
2. Press them in a book.
If you’re hoping to preserve smaller flowers, Stembel suggests pressing them. “This doesn’t work on all varieties — we find it most successful if you’re working with a smaller-headed bloom with a single layer of petals,” she admits, noting that fuller-headed flowers like roses are difficult to flatten and can retain moisture, which can potentially lead to a moldy end result. To press your flowers, she says to use a hardcover book.
“Open the book and place paper towels on each side,” she instructs. “Lay the stems inside and then close the book.” To press them, add something heavy on top of the book, like a wine bottle or light dumbbell. “Leave in a cool, dry location for two to four weeks and then reopen,” she says. “You’ll find the flowers have been flattened and dried, making them an easy keepsake to tuck into a photo album or a picture frame.”
3. Press them in a microwave.
Not patient enough for traditional pressing? Ghitelman has a solution. “Microwave them — it may seem unusual but pressing flowers in a microwave is a perfectly safe option for those looking to save time and resources,” she says. “It is a low-effort process that takes roughly five minutes per flower.”
While she claims that this works, she does admit that the results are a bit of a mixed bag — they’re not always consistent. “However, since all you need for this process is a couple of ceramic plates, a few coffee filters, and a microwave, I’d recommend this method for first-timers,” she adds.