How to prolong the life of cut flowers

Carolyne Roehm
To quote Slim Paley, I hope you had a carnation- and baby’s breath-free Valentines Day. I meant to post this before the big day, but got caught up in my travel prep. You should treat yourself to flowers every week of the year anyway. That said, buy some and follow these 5 easy steps. [Note: Some of this may sound like a chemistry class. It’s important, so don’t tune out.]

Step one: First and foremost, condition your flowers properly. Give each stem a fresh cut and soak in water mixed with a floral preservative -- all contain a biocide, an acidifier and sugar. Acified water moves more easily up a cut stem. You can use the commercial “fresh flower food” packets you get from the market or make your own. 

A couple of recipes: 
  • Fill a vase with equal parts lemon-lime soda and warm water and add a few drops of chlorine bleach to prevent bacteria.
  • Fill a gallon container with water and add two ounces of the original Listerine mouthwash. Listerine contains sucrose, bactericide and acid. Fill vases with mixture.

Step 2: Use sharp scissors or a knife and cut each stem at a 45-degree angle. If you cut straight across, there’s a chance the stem will rest flat on the bottom of the vase and water won’t be able to enter.

Step 3: Remove any thorns and cut off any leaves that will fall below the water line. This prevents bacteria from multiplying in the water and clogging stems.

Step 4: Change water and re cut stems frequently – ideally every two to three days. Adding flower conditioner is a plus.

Step 5: If your arrangement sits in a room with lots of sunlight, turn it every day so a different side faces the sun. Otherwise some flowers, such as tulips, will twist toward the sunlight. Flowers will last much longer in a cool room away from sunlight, heating and cooling vents. 

Fun fact: Tulips open immediately and continue to grow up to one inch in water. Buy them while their heads are still inside the leaves and don’t unwrap until ready to use in your arrangement.

Carolyne Roehm is my all-time favorite floral designer, gardener and entertainer. I own many of her books. Her Seasonal Notebooks are my faves. Out of print, they are available used on

Some of her fab table scapes.

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I don't visit florists anymore. Do you have any favorites in town? If you shop at Whole Foods, new flowers arrive in stores Tuesdays, Fridays and some Saturdays. Get them while they're fresh.


  1. I shop for flowers at Trader Joe's and the Farmers market.
    Can you recommend where to get good scissors to trim stems with?

    1. Joyce Chen original unlimited scissors available on amazon

  2. Posted pictures are beautiful. I recently leafed through her blue and white book. So, so pretty.

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