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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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GENUS SPECIES: Alstroemeria aurantiaca

FAMILY: Alstroemeriaceae

COMMON NAME: Peruvian lily

: Originally Alstromeria is from Chile, Peru and Brazil. It was developed as a cut flower in England and Holland. The flower is named after Baron Claus von Alstroemer. The plants seeds were collected by Baron on a trip to South America in 1753.

PLANT DESCRIPTOR: Plants of Alstroemeria grow from a cluster of tubers. They send up fertile and sterile stems, the fertile stems of some species can reach 1.5 meters in height. Alstroemeria leaves are alternately arranged and resupinate, twisted on the petiole so that the undersides face up. Alstroemeria flowers are solitary or borne in umbels. The plant requires at least six hours of morning sunlight, regular water, and well-drained soil.

RETAIL FLOWER TREATMENT: Best to buy Alstroemeria that have been treated with STS. Purchase with buds fully expanded and coloured with at least one flower open. Remove from plastic sleeves. Alstroemeria is ethylene sensitive, so remove damage or aged leaves. Ensure plenty of airflow around each flower. Strip foliage that will sit below water line, and re-cut stems.

WHAT TO AVOID: Direct sunlight and drafty areas. Yellow foliage, and flowers that are faded, or show any signs of pollination. Water containing high levels of fluoride as this is detrimental to the life span.

CUSTOMER CARE & VASE LIFE: Re-cut stems, place in fresh water with flower food or conditioning solution. Remove any foliage that will sit below the water line. Remove dead flowers and foliage and replace water regularly usual vase life of three weeks.

USE IN FLORISTRY: Fresh cut flower bouquets, arrangements and for line movements.

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Ethylene gas is an odourless, colourless, natural plant hormone. It is also a by-product of man-made processes like combustion. Ethylene gas speeds up the process of deterioration in sensitive flowers and can even kill them.
In a natural environment ethylene is emitted by ripe fruit as well as dead or damaged flowers and foliage. In the man-made environment, ethylene is emitted by cigarette smoke, motor vehicle exhausts and closed storage environments such as refrigerators and shipping containers.
Some flower varieties are more sensitive to ethylene gas than others. Flowers affected by ethylene will visually show signs of leaf and flower drop, wilting, petal drop or petal curl and are signs you will see. This can be seen in stock, gypsophila, sweet William, carnations and liliums.
Alstromeria, freesia and roses may fail to open if exposed to ethylene. It is important not to confuse natural petal drop with that caused by ethylene, some flowers like delphinium and larkspur will drop their petals easily, and therefore ethylene exposure may not be the cause.
To counteract effects in sensitive flowers some growers treat flowers with silver thiosulphate solution or STS. Flowers treated with STS will become resilient to ethylene.
E.g. STS treated delphiniums can last up to 3 weeks with no petal drop at all.
Flowers treated with STS are more costly to purchase. Ask florists if flowers have been STS treated. If you are selling always point this out to clients. The spray is not harmful to the consumer, but the process has strict controls by growers.
STS is beneficial to many flowers as it inhabits the action of ethylene. Most of the flowers sensitive to ethylene have been shown to respond well to treatments that inhabit, or delay ethylene production by flowers.
STS treatment is done by a grower as the immediate post-harvest treatment is the most beneficial.
Some commercial floral preservatives such as Chrysal A.V.B. (R) and Florissant 100 (R) may be convienient for florists to uses.
When using STS you must wear gloves as the concentrate leaves brown stains that take ages to wear off your skin and never washes out of clothing.
STS must be disposed of according to the strict guidelines.

• Store at low temperatures. I.e. close to 1 degree except for tropical flowers.
• Ensure adequate ventilation. – A little air movement will dissipate ethylene.
• Flowers treated with STS are not harmful to the consumer.