How to Think Like a Florist When Choosing & Caring for Fresh Flowers at Home

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Scharfsinn)

As an event florist, keeping flowers alive and looking good is a pretty integral part of my livelihood at Winston & Main. I often joke that all design and artistry aside, I’m really more of a triage nurse for my floral friends. I assess their condition and get them stable, so they can leave my watchful eye and make their beautiful way in the world.

I’m always thrilled by my clients’ emotional response to my work, and doubly happy to hear that my flowers lasted for a really long time. Of course, some flowers just aren’t long for this world once they’re cut, or there’s a heat wave, or they were damaged in transit. Barring these circumstances that are out of your control, here are a few tips and tricks for making sure your flowers look good and last as long as possible once you get them home.

When You’re Shopping

If you have the option to buy fresh, local flowers, start there. Flower farms, farmers markets, and your city’s flower market (if you’re in a big city like LA, or SF) are all good options. Don’t be afraid to ask where your flowers came from or how long your seller has had them. Here are a few more shopping tips you can apply no matter where you’re shopping (your local grocery store) or where you’re flowers came from (often South America):

  1. Flower stems should be firm and sturdy. Beautiful dahlias, ranunculus, and many other flowers aren’t long for this world once their stems go soft.
  2. Roses should be mostly closed up and if you squeeze them (gently) they should feel firm, not squishy. Squishy roses = old roses.
  3. While “raindrops on roses” might be someone’s favorite thing it, it certainly isn’t mine. Water rots roses, and plenty of other flowers, so if you see water romantically glistening on those flowers, mushy brown petals probably aren’t far behind (or worse, they’re already there, hiding on the roses/flowers on the inside of the bunch) Steer clear.
  4. Buy blooms before they are fully open. Once they’re at their biggest, most beautiful best (peony my friend, I’m looking at you), they are truly at the end of their life cycle, and it’s not long before they begin dropping petals and/or drooping.
(Image credit: Mackenzie Schieck)

Conditioning When You Get Home

Once you get your flowers home, it’s time to condition them. Flowers have often travelled long distances and need to rehydrate and rest before you can arrange them. Plan ahead and buy a bit early, so you aren’t tempted to skip right to the arranging.

Here’s what I do when I get back from the flower mart:

  1. I mix flower food with cold water in clean buckets.
  2. I remove any leaves that will be below the water line in my buckets
  3. I use floral shears to cut my stems, then I quickly put my flowers in water—you have around 10 seconds before stems close up. Floral shears or a sharp knife are essential because you don’t want to squish the stem and damage the flowers ability to drink.
  4. I put my flower buckets in a dark, cool room and leave them to rest, often overnight.
  5. When it’s time to arrange my flowers, I re-snip each stem as I place it in its final vase or vessel.

Maintaining Your Beautiful Buds

Your work doesn’t end once the flowers make it into the vase. There is a lot you can do to maintain the look of your blooms and keep them looking better for longer.

  1. Dirty water is full of flower killing bacteria, so every day or two change the water. Clean the vase, add fresh water and flower food, and re-snip the stems as you place them back in the vase.
  2. Keep your flowers out of direct sunlight, and away from the heater/air-conditioner/fan.
  3. Keep your flowers away from fresh fruit. Many fruits release ethylene gas and many flowers are sensitive to it, so it will shorten their vase life.

And now that you know the “rules” you can break them:

Remember what I said up there about water rotting your flowers? Peonies and hydrangea are two exceptions. Feel free to dunk sad hydrangea in water, bloom first, to help rehydrate them, or if you have a stubborn peony that won’t open (or if you, ahem, need it open for an event) you can submerge it in water, head first, and wait for the magic to happen.

Happy flower arranging! Let me know if you have any bloom-specific questions.