Flower Care Facts and Myths

Photo by Trista Lerit Photography.

Photo by Trista Lerit Photography.

I hate when flowers wilt and die. I do all that I can to keep them blooming for as long as possible, but I refuse to waste time and money on strange florist rituals that might actually be doing more harm than good. I’ve worked in several flower shops, and have seen my share of strange practices- banging on woody stems of hydrangea with a hammer, piercing the necks of tulips with pins, dunking flower heads in water- what is this, a flower torture chamber? Not to mention liquoring up the flowers with vodka and gin.

In an Introduction to Floral Design class I took years ago, our teacher passed out a fabulous article called “De-myth-tifying Cut Flower Care” written by Terril A. Nell, PhD, who actually heads a flower care research program. Yay for science!

Here are a few flower care myths from Dr. Nell’s article. You can see for yourself by reading the entire article:

1. MYTH: Homemade flower foods- such as mixtures made with water and aspirin, gin or vodka, 7 Up, pennies, and/or bleach- keep flowers fresh.

TRUTH: There’s logic to some of these “flower cocktails”. For example, they say dropping a penny into the vase allows copper to enter the solution, which can extend vase life. But as Dr. Nell points out, the copper in pennies isn’t even soluble. Who knew? People who use vodka or gin as a bacteriacide may be wasting their alcohol- bleach is much cheaper and much more effective in curbing bacterial growths.  Or opt for a pre-made flower solution, but be careful to follow the instructions.  The wrong proportion of water to solution can be deadly.  In that case it’s better to just use clean water and change it often.

2. MYTH: You should smash the ends of woody stems to promote water uptake.

TRUTH: Don’t! Smashed stems = more bacterial growth in the water. Bacteria-laden water can plug up the stems and prevent water from making it up to the flower.

Lilacs have woody stems- simply make a sharp cut and place into clean water.  No smashing necessary!  Photo by Christine Marie Photography

Lilacs have woody stems- simply make a sharp cut and place into clean water. No smashing necessary! Photo by Christine Marie Photography

3. MYTH: Soaking birds of paradise heads in warm water will cause the flowers to emerge from the sheaths.

TRUTH: This won’t solve the problem of stubborn birds of paradise that won’t open. Simply cut a slit in the top of the flower and gently pull the flower petals out of the sheath.

4. MYTH: Removing the anthers (those pollen filled nodules that stain everything in sight!) shortens the vase life of lilies and alstromeria.

TRUTH: Nope, removing the anthers has no effect on vase life, but will prevent pesky pollen stains from ruining pristine white dresses! I learned this lesson the hard way when I did my own flowers for my wedding (early on in my floral career mind you!) I made my bridesmaids’ bouquets 2 days before the wedding, and didn’t realize that the anthers on the gloriosa lilies had matured and released pollen after I had made them. The bridesmaids were gracious with me as they tried to remove the bright orange stains on their champagne Vera Wang dresses. Doh! See picture below…

The spidery gloriosa lilies are my favorites, but those pesky anthers cause major stainage if not removed!  Remove excess pollen that falls onto the petals of the flower by using a pipe cleaner to gently brush them off.  Photo by Trista Lerit Photography.

The spidery gloriosa lilies are my favorites, but those pesky anthers cause major stainage if not removed! Remove excess pollen that falls onto the petals of the flower by using a pipe cleaner to gently brush them off. Photo by Trista Lerit Photography.

5. MYTH: The ideal way to store tulips is in newspaper, in buckets, in the dark… Keep flowers from blowing open too quickly by piercing them just under the flower.

TRUTH: Wrong! Tulips bend not because of light, but because of gravity. Therefore, storing them in the dark is not necessary. You should actually keep them in their plastic sleeves, upright. If they’re even a bit sideways in the bucket, they will bend. As for the piercing idea, I actually set up an experiment years ago testing this notion. Both I and Dr. Nell agree that this is bogus and doesn’t do anything benefitial for tulips. The best way to keep them from opening is to keep them nice and cold.

Tulips, like the white ones above, can be stored upright in their sleeves.  Resist the urge to prick them with needles!  Photo by Trista Lerit Photography

Tulips, like the white ones above, can be stored upright in their sleeves. Resist the urge to prick them with needles! Photo by Trista Lerit Photography

6.  MYTH: You should snap the ends off of tall line flowers, such as gladiola, tuberrose, and snapdragons to extend vase life.

TRUTH: This doesn’t extend vase life, but may serve an aesthetic purpose.  The ends of the tall flowers usually don’t open and can turn brown, so snapping them off may make them look prettier.

No need to snap those tall yellow snapdragons unless you want to!  Photo by One Love Photography.

No need to snap those tall yellow snapdragons unless you want to! Photo by One Love Photography.

Now, I think you should all buy yourselves  a little bouquet of flowers today, stick them on your desk or next to your bed, and marvel at how they add sunshine to your day.  Everyone deserves fresh flowers once in a while!  Just take care of them and don’t do anything bizarre, ok?

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8 Responses to “Flower Care Facts and Myths”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Ha ha! Kris, you are hilarious. And I’ve always wondered about those flower myths. I think I’ll just stick with plain old water. One of the things I’ve been trying to do in the new year is to treat myself to fresh flowers more often.

  2. joyful Weddings & Events Says:

    Thanks for all the great tips Kristin!

  3. Anne K. in L.A. Says:

    I have heard all of these strange flower practices and have wondered about their validity. Thanks for clearing this up.

  4. bree Says:

    Flower myths can be so funny! I am in floral school now in SF and my Ikebana teacher will ofter sear woody stems and I just want to cry but she swears by it. Although, I have read and been told by my instructors that alum is great for hydrangea stems. I just can’t bring my self to burn anything! Thanks for the info 🙂

  5. Adizat Says:

    nice post. Thanks.

  6. Jaime Says:

    Those are wonderful tips…fabulous post! Love your blog…I’ve added you to my blog roll and look forward to reading more. Cheers!

    Sincerely,
    Jaime @ “It’s A Jaime Thing”
    http://www.itsajaimething.com

  7. Deksereby Says:

    Excellent site thetreasuredpetal.wordpress.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here: this .. as it’s taken me literally 1 hours and 19 minutes of searching the web to find you (just kidding!) so I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  8. Florist Classes Says:

    Thanks for the great post. Do you know how many times I got asked these silly questions when I owned my retail shop? TOO MANY…LOL Anyhow, this was a nice write-up and should be included in florist classes when training new students because inevitably they will get questioned or perhaps already believe one of the myths.

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