The Biggest Mistake You're Making with Fresh Cut Flowers

Heed these four tips for longer-lasting blooms.

Emily Copus Flower Arrangement Step by Step Flowers
Photo: Erin Adams

Spring has finally sprung, and so have beautiful flowers in so many Southern yards. From Lenten roses to daffodils, the first signs of warm weather bring so many colorful blooms. As you clip them, though, be careful to avoid the one mistake that is sure to shorten the lifespan of any arrangement: failing to keep it clean. Flowers are living things, after all, and with live plant matter comes bacteria. Get ahead of dirty stems, water, and containers that might wilt your blooms by following these tips.

Start With Clean Tools

Start as you mean to finish—in this case, with clean tools. Taking a few minutes to sanitize your scissors or shears before clipping ensures your flowers won't be immediately tainted with any lurking bacteria from your previous gardening. When you trim your stems with a sharp, freshly cleaned tool, you allow water into the stem unimpeded by a ragged cut. Remember to cut at a nice 45-degree angle for maximum water absorption!

Shape the Stems

Now that you've got clean cut flowers, shape up your stems. Leaves toward the top of an arrangement can create a full, lush effect, but leaves left near (or below) the water's surface can— you guessed it!—cause harmful bacteria to grow as the leaves get soggy. Bonus tip: Clipping away the leaves also keeps your centerpiece from getting smelly as days pass. It's not the flowers that start to go sour, it's the leaves left touching the water that emit that less-than-lovely odor.

Watch the Water Color

Keep an eye on your water. You'll notice that over time, your flowers' once-clear water will become yellowed and cloudy. Every two or three days, dump the water and refill with clean, lukewarm water for your beauties to drink in.

If they've lost a little pep or you notice the water begins to cloud sooner than every few days, you likely have a stem that needs to be trimmed or discarded completely. Giving the stalks a fresh chop while you're changing the water can enliven the arrangement and help your flowers snap back up to attention.

Take Care of the Vase

Once your flowers have peaked, treat your vase with care. Often, we hurriedly dump old flowers and their water out, then give our vases a quick rinse before storing them for their next use. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, that quick rinse fails to cleanse the vase of any bacteria that's built up along the sides and bottom of a container.

This is especially common with opaque or painted vases, as it's challenging to clearly see whether the vase has been cleaned out. After your flowers have seen better days, take care to wash (with soap!) and thoroughly dry your vases before putting them away. For pottery or painted containers that are trickier to see through, a good dose of white vinegar and baking soda will do the trick – as will any of these tips.

A cut flower arrangement from your yard is a profoundly Southern tradition that can add friendliness and life to any room. Now that you're armed with information to keep your blooms clean and clear of undesirable impurities, get out there and create something gorgeous.

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