How to keep cut flowers fresh (almost) forever

There’s no denying the instant boost that fresh flowers can give any room. Whether it’s a generous arrangement you’re lucky enough to receive or a bouquet you picked up at Trader Joe’s, flowers – or even just leafy stems, for that matter – can make anyone what a warm and inviting room.

But there’s also something deeply upsetting about tossing a wilted bouquet; it always feels like it was just yesterday that you ruffled your buttercups still closed, and that suddenly they stink of the kitchen with their funky water. So how do you keep pretty flowers alive for more than a few days?

Below, Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers, shares her top tips for extending the life of your stems, along with her recipe for homemade flower food — kind of like the little packets that come with a bouquet.

1. Use a dark vase

First things first: “We highly recommend using a dark glass vase or a ceramic vessel,” says Stembel. “Darker glass or ceramic won’t let sunlight into the water, which can increase the rate at which the stems break down.” Sure, mason jars are adorable, but if you plan to display the bouquet where the sun hits indirectly, opt for a darker container.

2. Add DIY flower food

“When we first started making flower food, we followed an older recipe from Martha Stewart (the queen!),” says Stembel. “Since then, we have made some adjustments based on our production and the ingredients we have on hand.” Farmgirl’s industrial formula is: 1 gallon of water + 4 teaspoons of bleach + 4 teaspoons of vinegar + 4 tablespoons of sugar. To reduce this for your own bouquet, use 1 liter of water, 1 tsp bleach, 1 tsp vinegar, and 1 tbsp sugar.

Keep in mind, according to Stembel, “The truth is that flower food works best on fresh cut flowers.” But as the flowers age, they still get a boost from this DIY food, and the bleach component also helps kill bacteria. Some people even use Sprite or other clear sodas as sweet flower food. If you go this route, Stembel always recommends a little bleach (in the same ratio as listed above), but with one part clear soda to three parts water. Don’t use diet soda because there’s no sugar, and make sure it’s a clear variety, like Sprite. Colas or even ginger ale won’t work for this!

3. Cut stems daily

Keeping the stems cool ensures they can absorb water more efficiently. Stems should be cut back at least half an inch when they come home with sharp, clean clippers and immediately plunged back into water. Once cut, the stems will begin to seal. “Delaying them in the vase will inhibit their ability to hydrate properly,” warns Stembel.

4. Keep flowers in a cool place

Keeping your flowers away from extreme conditions (like very hot windowsills) will prevent them from dying faster and creating buildup and bacteria in the vase. Most flowers prefer cool, shady places, so keep them away from the radiator in winter as well.

5. Change the water daily

Just like humans, flowers do not thrive when they drink stagnant, dirty water. Daily water changes remove any bacteria the flowers are in and also remove any odor from decaying plants.

6. Remove all stems as they die

Trimming dead stems will eliminate sources of excess bacteria, as rotting flowers release bacteria into the water faster than fresh stems. You should also remove any leaves that fall below the waterline each time you change the water.

7. Clean your vase

It is important to do this after removing a dying bouquet to make room for a new one. Many people overlook the bacteria that may be in the vase before the bouquet enters. A good rinse with warm water and soap will ensure a clean start to the flowers.