When you receive or buy cut stem flowers, you want to keep them looking healthy and colourful for as long as possible. They bring so much joy, scent and colour into a home. It is often considered unlucky to leave dying flowers in your house, so keeping them in tip top condition makes the gift last longer. But you don't need to splash out on commercial products like plant food … here are some simple home remedies, the tried and tested ways our mothers have used for generations.
Good flowers should last at least a week. The popular and affordable carnation should manage to keep its scent for a fortnight or more, if treated right. But you do need to fight off the natural decay, plus the bacteria, the fungus and yeast which will inevitably start to grow in the water.
The first step is to choose wisely. Go for flowers with many buds still closed. Though they wont have the immediate blaze of flower head glory, they will gradually open over time, giving many days of pleasure.
Then, prepare them carefully. First, remove ALL of the foliage which will sit near or below the water line. If you don't you'll have slimy green water and rotting vegetation within a matter of days. Next, make a diagonal cut at the base of the stem, even though the stalks will already be cut, this gives the flowers a new lease of life. Cutting at an angle, at least an inch from the bottom, gives more of the stem access to the water: which it draws up to feed the petals and keep the bloom going. Use sharp shears or a knife, not ordinary scissors. These can easily crush the vascular system of the stem, stopping many cells from being able to draw water. Also, do your cutting under running water. If you do it in dry air, the plant instinctively starts to seal up. It also risks taking in air bubbles.
Now, to prevent mould. Amazingly, a copper penny will help. Copper is a fungicide. Go for old coins if you can, as more modern ones, since the early Eighties, contain less copper and more zinc. To kill the growing bacteria, you need an acid. Fizzy drinks are good, as is lemon juice, vinegar and even aspirin. All are soluble and leave the water clear … though obviously don't go for cola or fizzy orange, choosing lemonade or soda water instead! And – steer clear of the diet fizzies without any sugar.
The sodas also contain sugar, which is important for feeding the plant. Amazingly, mouthwashes like Listerine also work well, since it has sucrose within which feeds flowers, plus bactericides. Some people simply stir in a teaspoon or two of sugar.
Household bleaches are also used to kill mould. If you're trying to keep things organic however, take them stems out of the water every couple of days. Washing them and sponge them down gently, to remove any mould. Replace the water and clean the vase out, then refill with fresh water and the food, bactericides and fungicides. Recut the stems. Another tip is to use warm, not cold water in the vase: it encourages those buds to burst open.
Using these simple household items and products, you have a cheap, easy and non-harmful way to keep your flowers blooming pretty for around a week. None of it is rocket science: but it IS a good way to teach kids about the science of bacteria, PH levels and plant life. So make it a family fun task: handing on the wisdom which people have used for generations.