First we grow flowers, Master Gardener Nancy Crowe says, and then we bring their life and color indoors in bouquets. She has practical tips.
If bunnies, heat, wayward lawnmowers and other hazards have not taken their toll, your garden is in full bloom. There is probably enough bloom, in fact, to bring a bit of the outdoors in.
I like to clip a few cosmos and whatever else is growing and put a few bouquets around the house in small vases. They’re nothing Martha Stewart would even look at, but they add color, cheer and a reminder of the wonder of creation to our living space. And, of course, there’s a satisfaction from homegrown arrangements you can’t get from the florist.
The best time to harvest flowers is early in the morning, and recently opened blooms will provide the longest-lasting flowers. Use a sharp knife or good garden shears; regular household scissors (don’t even think of using those blunt “Lefty” ones your kid brought home from kindergarten) will likely crush the stem.
Every once in a while I try to coordinate colors and foliage the way we learned in our Master Gardener class, but most of the time I end up just going with what I’ve got. That’s what’s fun about a wildflower garden. No one remembers what flower varieties were in the seed mix used to get it started, so who knows what you’ll find when you head out there with your shears, other than a chance to come up with a really creative bouquet.
That said, there are a few flower varieties that consistently show up in cut-flower seed mixes: zinnia, dahlia, cornflower, cosmos, sunflower, baby’s breath, daisy, black-eyed Susan, aster, blanket flower and more. They’re quick to grow and easy to cut. With a seed mix, you probably won’t know the color of the blooms until they pop out. So if you want certain colors, buy the seeds separately and create your own mix. Or forget the mix and create a mass planting of a single variety.
Once you get them inside, re-cut the stems under water — take off at least half an inch — to create a fresh surface. Make a slanting cut so you won’t have a flat end sitting on the bottom of the vase. Remove the lower leaves; submerged leaves will decay, encourage bacterial growth and smell incredibly nasty. Then get those babies into some water; warm is usually best. A flower is a living thing even after it is cut, and it needs water.
Most of us have a few leftover packets of floral preservative tucked away in a junk drawer. Nobody seems to know if the stuff really helps, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. You can also make your own preservative solution with ingredients such as lemon-lime soda, sugar, lemon juice and vinegar. See Purdue publication HO-158, “Add Hours to Your Flowers,” for recipes and additional details. Don’t forget to change the water (and add more preservative) every day, or at least every other day.
Some blooms hold up longer than the others, and it’s tempting to pluck out just the sad-looking flowers and sneak a few fresh ones in. However, damaged or aging flowers produce ethylene gas, which shortens fresh flower life. So it’s better to start over and create a new, however temporary, masterpiece.
Master Gardener Nancy Crowe's Garden Spot column also appears in interactive format online.