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Test Drive: Which Cut Flowers Last Longest?


Test Drive: Which Cut Flowers Last Longest?

January 21, 2015

Some flowers were never meant to be cut, withering to nothing as soon as they are plucked. Others, it seems, are oblivious to being severed from their original stem. Want to know which flowers create the longest lasting bouquets? I put some favorites to the test, with surprising results:

Photography by Justine Hand for Gardenista.


Above: My lab, set up in a cool, dark corner of the house, included the following fresh flowers from Winston Flowers and Garden (L to R): hyacinth, narcissus, sweet pea, grape hyacinth, lilac, ranunculus, and a cherry branch.

Above: After giving my flowers a fresh cut, I placed each in its own water, where it could enjoy its favored temperature. For example, woody stems such as lilacs prefer slightly warmer water, while most others prefer cool. Note that woody stems also benefit from being cut or shaved at a very long angle. Some people swear by smashing or scoring woody stems to allow for maximum water intake. I chose a cherry branch whose buds were still tight.

Above: A close up on fresh sweetpeas.

Above: I bought two narcissus stems, one in full bloom and one that was just coming out.

Above: I started with a ranunculus in almost full bloom, because it has been my experience that unlike a tulip or a rose, after being cut a ranunculus will open only slightly. Buds like the ones shown here will not open in water.

Above: I’d heard that tulips last longest when placed in ice water so I decided to put this theory to the test by dividing my tulips into regular cool water (L) and ice water (R).


Above: For the purposes of my experiment, I changed the water every day to keep my blooms as fresh as possible. Here on day two, everything’s still looking good.


Above: By day four, I began to lose some of my more delicate specimens. Here, my sweet peas are beginning to wilt.

Above: I particularly enjoy the sweet scent of lilacs in the home, but even when cut from the branches in my very own yard, they never seem to last more than a few days. By diligently shaving the stems and replacing the water each day, I was hoping to extend their shelf life. Alas, by day four, these were also starting to fade.

Above: My fully open narcissus also started to wither, but the tight bud was just starting to open.

Above: Tight on day one, my cherry blossoms were opening quite nicely by day four.

Above: By day four, I noticed only a slight difference between ones in the ice versus the regular water. Perhaps they are a bit brighter?

Above: Still going strong, the hyacinths on day four are drooping only due to the weight of their blooms. If you don’t like this look, you can simply cut the stems a bit shorter.

DAYS 5-8

Above: Though the ranunculus gave out on day five, on day seven the two different hyacinths, tulips, and the cherry were still hanging in there. The tulips and grape hyacinths were gone by day six. The regular hyacinths lasted two days longer, but I tossed them by day eight.

DAY 10

Above: The winner! Here is my cherry branch on day ten. It actually hung around another four days. At two weeks, this guy was definitely the longest lasting bloom in the bunch. 

Obviously results may vary. In a bouquet I bought a couple of weeks ago, my sweet peas lasted almost a week. A cherry branch that I bought for a friend last week is already starting to fade (but she did not change the water). 

My takeaway is that freshness is key.

  • If you can’t harvest flowers from your own garden, try to buy them as locally as possible. Ask your florist or grocer where the flowers came from or try to buy what is in season in your area right now.
  • Find a florist you trust. Though I have had some success with less reputable flower shops and grocery stores, it’s really luck of the draw. For the most consistent results, I opt for florists whom I know take great pride in the quality of their product.
  • Fresh, cool water (except for woody stems) changed often also seems to help. 

Want more tips for extending the life of your flowers? Erin experimented with popular preservatives in the water in Tried and Tested: How to Make Fresh Flowers Last Longer, while I recently explored How to Make A Vase of Flowers Last a Week

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