September 09, 2011

the cutting patch series: harvesting flowers from your garden


Before I got into growing flowers to cut,  I was often so disappointed with the flowers I snipped from my garden. They looked so pretty out there in the fresh air, but once inside often only lasted a day or so. Or sometimes, I would pinch a few from the local hedgerows and field edges (not by the root, nothing detrimental!), and they often fared even worse. 

So it was really gratifying learning that there are a few simple steps you can take to make your flowers, nearly all of them, last at least a week in a vase.

First up, pick your flowers early early in the morning, before the sun is on them, or as late as you can in the evening, because at these points of the day the plants are not stressed and busy working away just to survive. In the early morning especially, the plant cells are turgid and hydrated and perfect for snipping. This matter of timing can literally add days to the vase life of your flowers. 

Secondly, pick them straight into pails of water, no carrying them around the garden like Lady Bountiful with a sussex trug on your arm, the stem ends gum up, the flowers degrade immediately, and they will be sad and sorry specimens compared to those put straight into water. Remember to snip on the slant, so the stems have the maximum surface area to suck up the water, and remove all the lower leaves, so no foliage is in the water. Then leave them in cool water in a nice cold, dark place to drink up that water and learn how to survive without roots. Two hours minimum, and add some preservative to the water if you want, I think it helps a bit, but couldn't swear to it. I have one more really important tip, and that is pick your flowers when they are young, not still in tight bud, but when the petals are at their youngest and most fresh, and there is no hint of pollen because once the pollen is out, the flower's job is done, and it is already in steep decline. For many flowers this will mean the centre area is still not fully open, or quilted or reflexed slightly. I hope the photos below show clearly the difference stages of maturation, pick 'em when they are young - think Pete Stringfellow (yuk)!!

dahlia centre still slightly curled forward

anemone flower is still at the beginning stage of opening, unlike the fully open one below

this perennial scabious has a quilted centre that fills with anthers and pollen as it ages, pick young like this

again the tight centre shows the flower still has many days of life left

young, fresh flowers with no sign of pollen

And into the vase

I give the stem end another slanty snip when I put them in a vase, and the vase needs to be as sterile as possible, fusty, mucky ones are full of bacteria which will block the stems and make the water gross. Jan from JW Blooms has reminded me that searing the stems ends of many flowers can really extend their vase life, hold the stems in boiling water for about 20 seconds, taking care to protect the petals from the steam. It works a miracle on the vase life of dahlias in particular - I would love to know which varieties you try this with with success.

Place flowers gently in the vase, making sure each stem is under the water but that no leaves or flowers are under the water-line, (they decay really fast which makes the water stinky and kills the flowers, nice!).

Keep away from draughts and sources of heat – sunny windowsill, TV, radiator etc.

Keep away from fruit which emit ethylene as they ripen and can affect the vase life of certain flowers. Nicotine smoke and car fumes also contain ethylene.

Keep water topped up and change water every 2-3 days, snipping ends off stems if they look gungey.

Remove individual stems if they die quicker than others.

That's it! Enjoy your flowers for longer!


  1. This is brilliant, I had no idea about any of this!

  2. That last bunch is my absolute favourite. We have cotinus and eucalyptus - now I need to grow some lovely maroon flowers.

    Thank you again SOOOO much for this great series, lovely Belinda.

    I just Tweeted this - yes, I can Tweet now. Big girl that I am!!


  3. That's all really useful - thank you! Nice to learn something :-). I find my (glass) vases difficult to get properly clean - would stuff like bleach leave a residue that flowers wouldn't like, d'you know?

  4. The dahlias are gorgeous. My wish list just gets longer and longer!

  5. I love the gorgeous bunches of flowers you've cut...and the tips are very helpful...will take on board all of those. I love flowers from the garden in displays in the house. Thanks so much, Babs

  6. Really good Tips thanks. I knew about harvesting my leafy veg early morning or evening (lettuce especially) but had never considered it for flowers

  7. How do you feel about searing? I sear pretty much everything and really think it helps. I am also completely obsessed with flowers not having been pollinated. The slightest bit of pollen or tell-tale fluffy unfurling of the centre bits and I won't use it. And I'm probably the only person in the world who isn't busily welcoming bees onto their plot (I shout at them to buzz off, of course - sorry). And I agree - your colour combinations are beautiful. Jan x

  8. Belinda, what great tips...thanks! I am so in love with that most gorgeous silver bucket. Your flowers and photos are wonderful, have a great weekend, love Linda x

  9. Next time I teach a flower design class I will print this out and give it to all students.

    I couldn't have said it better and certainly not with the knowledge you have about the harvesting of the flowers.

    brilliant Belinda.

    xo jane

  10. I am fascinated by the pollen trick - I'd never thought of it but it makes sense - thanks for the valuable tips as always! XOL