Prologing the life of cut flowers & foliage

Prevent wilting and improve water uptake. Extending from the roots through the stem and out into every part of the leaves and flowers are water-conducting xylem cells through which water moves to keep the whole plant turgid. This lifeline of xylem cells must continue to work to prevent wilting and death. For water to continue to circulate, some must be transpired (given off and lost) by the leaves and flowers. If transpiration is too rapid, the plant wilts and dies. Thus, to keep the flowers, leaves, and stem from wilting, water must be continuously taken up into all parts of the plant but must not be lost too rapidly. Enhance water uptake. Since most of the water comes in through the cut end of the stem, this surface must be kept functioning. The following steps encourage water uptake.

1. Cutting stems under warm water and immediately placing them into a container of warm water prevents air bubbles from getting into the cut end of the stem, plugging up the conducting cells, and preventing or slowing down water uptake. Warm water forces out any bubbles that by chance get
into the end of the stem.
2. Bacteria attach and destroy the cut end of the stem and effectively plug up the conducting tissues. This condition is the most frequent cause for short flower life. All plant tissues in water will rot, but leaves do so more readily. Use a bacteriacide (such as chlorine bleach) or a floral preservative to control bacteria.
3. A sharp knife used to make a clean diagonal cut does minimal damage to the stem end. The only practical way to cut a flower stem with a knife is diagonally. The sharp stem end also penetrates floral foam more easily when the flowers are arranged. Sharp shears can be substituted when a
knife is difficult to use, but avoid crushing the stems.
4. Use care not to bruise, cut, or damage the bark or stem surface, or to break the stem when handling flowers.
5. Check the water level in the container daily, and add enough to keep all stems in water. This is especially important if floral foams are used as stem holders.
6. If the water becomes cloudy, change it. Wash the container thoroughly, and re-cut the stems to get rid of bacteria and to expose a fresh stem end.
7. Use only clean, thoroughly washed or sterilized vases and containers. Prevent water loss and wilting. Once the leaves and stems are full of water, excessive water loss can be minimized as follows: 
A. Store flowers and finished arrangements not on display in a cold, humid place out of the sun and away from other heat sources or drafts. A refrigerator set at 40 to 50 degree F. is satisfactory. Always wait to arrange your flowers until they are full of water. A plastic bag or sheet placed over the blossoms will raise the humidity and prevent drafts, either in or out of the refrigerator.
B. Keep the flower stems in the container of water until they are to be arranged. Flowers out of the water will soon dry out and wilt. Avoid unnecessary handling. Remember that your hands are warm and will dry out the flowers. Use the stem as the flower’s ‘handle.’ Treat woody stems. Branches of flowering or leafy shrubs or tree branches (i.e. forsythia, privet, spirea, pear, and redbud) and some plants with woody stems (i.e. chrysanthemum) sometimes require special treatment:
(i). Prune the branch to remove all excess leaves and flowers, and remove any that will be in water.
(ii). Split the cut end one to four inches with a strong knife or shears. Split the larger branches in several planes. Then cut them an inch or so from the base under warm water and place the stems in warm water containing a preservative. Allow them to soak for several hours but preferably overnight.
(iii). If possible, cut the branch so it ends in the softer, new growth where the bark and wood are not so thick and hard. 
(iv). Cut more branches than you expect to use, for even with the best of care, not all will take up water satisfactorily.

Treat stems that bleed milky sap. Poppies, poinsettias, euphorbia, and some dahlias have difficulty in absorbing water after being cut. Place the stems in hot water or dip the lower ends in boiling water for 5 seconds. Another method is to sear the cut ends with a flame for a few seconds and then to place the stems in warm water.

Conserve food stored in flowers, leaves, and stems. A cut flower will die, even though it is full of water, when its supply of food is used up. The best stage of development for cutting each kind of flower is related to the amount of stored food in it. Young, immature flowers have not accumulated much food, while old flowers that are past their prime have almost exhausted their reserves. If the flower has been cut at the proper stage, the food supply can be conserved or supplemented in the following ways:

Store flowers in the coldest place available that is above freezing. Most flowers keep longest at 35 degree F. Temperatures of 40 to 50 degree F. are most likely to be available and are satisfactory except for long-term storage. A few flowers, such as gladioli, keep best at 50 degree F. As mentioned earlier, finished flower arrangements will stay fresher longer if kept in cold storage when not on display. When displayed, the arrangements should be placed in a relatively cool area if possible. Avoid radiators, sunny windows, the tops of television sets, and other such places.

Use floral preservatives. A number of commercial floral preservatives are available, and, if used properly, can prolong the useful life of cut flowers by one to several days. Sometimes the life span is even doubled. Carefully follow the directions for these brand-name products. If you know that your water is quite alkaline (pH 8-10) or hard, or both, use up to twice the recommended amount. You may also wish to experiment on your own.

Several homemade floral preservatives such as the following work quite well:
1. 2 teaspoonfuls (t.) sugar + 1/2 t. chlorox ) or similar material) + 1/4 t. alum + 1 quart water.
2. 2 tablespoonfuls (T.) white vinegar + 2 t. sugar = 1/2 t. chlorox + 1 quart water.
3. 1 pint non-diet (must contain sugar) non-cola drink (i.e. Sprite, 7-up, etc.) + 1/2 t. chlorox + 1 pint water.

All floral preservatives prolog flower life best if used when the blooms are first cut from the garden. Cut the stems under warm water and place them immediately into warm water containing the preservative. Preservatives are worth using even later, for example, after the flowers are received from a florist. If it usually necessary to change the water, but if it does become cloudy (indicating unusual bacterial activity), the solution should be changed. In addition, wash the stem ends and container and also recut the stems. Most floral preservatives, including homemade ones, contain ingredients that do the following things: (1) provide sugar to supply energy for the flower as its food supply is exhausted; (2) contain a bacteriacide ton control the bacteria that decay the stem and prevent water uptake; and (3) supply an acidifier that will increase acidity to a pH of 4.5. This pH level slows down bacterial activity and approximates the acidity of plant sap, which encourages better water uptake. Many commercial preservatives also contain ingredients that, according to the manufacturers, may help retain flower color, increase water uptake, and reduce the rate of food usage.

Repeated scientific testing has shown that aspirin or pennies (to supply copper to reduce bacterial activity) in the water do not prolong the useful life of cut flowers. Prevent injury from ethylene gas. Ethylene gas will cause many flowers to close up or wilt rapidly and die. The very small amounts of ethylene that will cause flowers to die cannot be detected by smell. Certain plants are especially sensitive to this gas and are sometimes used to detect its presence. For example, the leaves of tomato or marigold plants will turn down, and snapdragon florets fall off when exposed to minute amounts of ethylene. Ethylene gas is given off by most fruits and vegetables, especially apples. As these fruits and vegetables decay, even more gas is produced. However, decaying and diseased flowers, leaves, and stems also give off ethylene. Do not store your flowers with fruits, vegetables, or decaying plant

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