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FLOWERS : Arrangements Need Lots of Water to Cut It


With a little care, cut flowers will retain their freshness indoors for days, in some cases even weeks. The secret to long-lasting and beautiful cut flowers can be summed up in one word: water.

Put cut stems in water quickly. Once in water, flowers need special care to get that water into their stems.

When picking flowers from your garden, snip them before breakfast, while plants are swollen with water. Exceptions are zinnias and gladiolus, which have hollow stems. Early in the morning these hollow stems are filled with water that might cause the cut flowers to rot. Such plants are best cut before supper, in late afternoon.

Cut stems cleanly with a sharp knife or scissors. Sawing the stems with a dull knife plugs the cut cells with debris.

Rather than cutting squarely across the base of the stem, make a slanting cut to provide more avenues for water uptake.

Sometimes water uptake is prevented by little air bubbles that collect at the bases of flower stems as they are plunged in water. Simply recut the stems while they are under water or put the stems in warm water for a few minutes. Recutting the stems every few days renews the freshness of most cut flowers.

Not all flowers need that careful cutting with a sharp knife. Chrysanthemums and stocks keep best if the bases of their stems are lightly bashed with a rock or a hammer before they are put into water.

Severe treatment is also prescribed for plants that, when cut, bleed a milky sap that clogs the stems. For these, which include poppy, butterfly weed and heliotrope, pass the cut ends quickly through a flame or briefly immerse them in boiling water to stop the flow of sap before you arrange the flowers in a vase.

Once stems have been cut and are in water, bacteria are liable to plug up stems. Ward off the bacteria with starvation. Start with a clean vase and give your cut flowers an occasional fresh change of water. Never put sugar, as is sometimes suggested, into the water for cut flowers or you will be catering a bacterial banquet.

The bottom of the cut flower now has been taken care of so that water can enter the stems; next, reduce water loss from the tops of the plants. Cut off any leaves.

Leaves transpire great amounts of water, and bacteria will gobble up and multiply on any leaves that flop into the water. The tiny pores through which plants lose water open in response to light, so keep vases of flowers out of direct sunlight.

Warmth and wind also speed water loss, so keep vases of flowers away from open, sunny windows.

Which flowers are best for cutting? The list is long: flat-topped umbels of yellow and pink yarrow; spikes of delphinium, larkspur, snapdragon and foxglove; round heads of marigold, zinnia and calendula, and delicate, crepe-petaled poppies. Daisies keep for two weeks or more.

Do not overlook wildflowers. Fragrant white Queen Anne's lace, blue chicory, orange butterfly weed, wild daisies and black-eyed Susans bloom along roadsides and in fields. Sprays of yellow goldenrod, wrongly blamed for allergies, are also blooming.

Cutting flowers from your garden is like having your cake and eating it. When its flowers are removed, a plant no longer has to devote energy to making seeds. So the more you cut its flowers, the more a plant will continue its colorful show of blossoms.

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