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Caring for Cut Flowers



There’s no need to waste money on expensive bottled water for use in the vase. if you have access to clean, good quality tap water. The average temperature of tap water (10-15 degrees Celsius) is actually perfect for cut flowers. If the tap water is of high quality you may not need to use additional preservatives or flower food (but you still need to add bleach to fight bacteria – about one capful per average – sized vase.



Micro-organisms such as fungi and bacteria are the main causes of tubid (dirty) water. Bacillus, pseudomonas and Enterobacter are the most common forms of bacteria in vases. They also occur in the stems where they cause vascular blockages. If your vase water looks dirty, the best thing to do is cut 5-10 cm from the stem ends and replace the water and preservative.


Some flowers are prone to fouling the water. Matthiola (also known as stock) will foul water if the leaves under the waterline are left on. If the water remains unchanged for several days then it will become like soup. Iberus (also known as candy tuft) will also foul the water badly, as will Ageratum, Aster, Calendula, Cornflower, Gypsophila, Mignonette, Queen Anne’s Lace, Ranunculus, Snapdragon and Statice. The leaves that will sit below the waterline must be removed before the flowers are placed in the vase and the water must be changed regularly. Add bleach to the water for these varieties, as it fights bacteria and helps the water to remain clear.



Sugar breeds bacteria in the water quickly which severely affects a flower’s life span, however, sugar added to vase water can help flowers to ‘open up’ if the flower’s petals have not yet done so. Lemonade added to vase water has the same effect. If you need to open flowers, put them into luke-warm water with 1 tablespoon of sugar or half a cup of lemonade. You can then put them in direct sunlight to help speed up the process. Remember, adding sugar or lemonade should only be done if you need blooms to open for a wedding or other up coming occasion where the flowers’ life span beyond the event is not a consideration. Sugar can only be used as a preservative when mixed with other ingredients (see the recipe below ) The only exception to this rule is with Kangaroo Paw – sugar added to the vase, without other ingredients, can be used as a preservative in this case.


Bleach can help keep vase water clear and therefore assist in fighting bacteria. Some people find that bleach works as a good preservative for some varieties, if the water is of good quality to begin with. Poor quality water needs a proper preservative.


When flowers are growing, the leaves provide all the food they need. Carbohydrates, produced in the leaves (by photosynthesis), provide flower food in the form of sugar. When a flower is cut from the plant the water supply and food supply are also cut off. The use of flower preservative in vase water takes the place of natural food supply. It also absorbs organic substances produced by cut flowers. You can make up your own preservative or use a commercial one. For home-made preservative, can sugar (sucrose) is most suited to cut flowers and should be used together with vinegar or citric acid and bleach or swimming pool chlorine (see the recipe below). There are many commercial brands of preservative (known as bactericides) in sachet, granular or liquid form. These are graded in quality and can be purchased in commercial as well as domestic quantities. Obviously it’s best to go for the highest quality that you can afford – you will find white king bleach used on its own to be far more effective than a no-name brand. Some of the more popular quality brands include Chrysal, Floral Life and Florish. There are also preservatives that are structured to specific flowers, such as bulb flowers, Narcissus specialty, Lilium and Alstromeria specialty, Syringa, Mimisa, Chrysanthemum, Tulip, Bouvardia and Rose. These types of preservatives are mainly available in sachet form. When using preservative, always use the correct amount for the container size and water volume. Check the instructions on the packet.


Here is an easy recipe to make your own preservative:

5ml (1 teaspoon) of citric acid or vinegar
4g (3/4 teaspoon) of slow release chlorine (from florists’ suppliers or pool shops)
5g (1 teaspoon) of sugar
5 litres of water

Mix all ingredients together and use it as your vase water (do not add to existing vase water)


If flowers have been out of water for a while, it’s a good idea to stand them in a conditioning solution before you recut the stems and put them into a vase.


Here is an easy recipe to make your own conditioning solution:

1.25ml (1/4 teaspoon) of citric acid or white vinegar
1/4 capful of bleach
5 litres of warm water

Do not use sugar at this stage. Leave the flower stems in the conditioning solution for up to 24 hours, then recut and place them in a vase with clean water and preservative.

* This preservative is friendly to the environment and can be used as grey water for the garden.

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