Russell McCulleyLike florists all over town, Nancy Segers was placing orders for Valentine’s Day when most people were still in the throes of the Christmas shopping season. “It’s the one time of year when people who never buy flowers will buy flowers,” says Segers, co-owner of Tommy’s Flowers, in the French Quarter. “And they all want them that very day, not the day before.”
People want their flowers fresh, and they want them to last, whether it’s that annual bouquet of long-stemmed Valentine’s Day roses or a cellophane-wrapped hodgepodge snagged at the grocery store checkout line just before dinner. Growers and retailers go to great lengths to make sure they’re fresh when you buy them—keeping them alive as long as possible after you get them home is your responsibility.
Keep your Flowers Flowering
• What’s the No. 1 dereliction of duty? Taking too long to get them from the point of purchase to the vase on the table, says Lucy Capdeboscq, who grows irises, zinnias and sunflowers, among other flowers, on her Amite farm and sells them, hours after harvest, at the Crescent City Farmers Market. “If someone tells me they’ll be sitting in a hot car for more than 30 minutes, I’ll sometimes void the sale,” she says. The lesson: Get them home, and in a vase of water, quickly.
• Don’t put flowers in just any water. Especially if you’re using tap water. With the heavily chlorinated stuff coming out of New Orleans faucets these days, it’s best to let water sit for 12 to 24 hours before plunging stems into it. If that’s not an option, use bottled water, Capdeboscq says. She sends buyers home with a little lagniappe, a packet of floral preservative available at nurseries or flower shops, which contains sucrose and a touch of bleach to discourage bacterial growth. “You want to prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold,” she says. A couple of days later, rinse out the container, add fresh water and a few drops of bleach, she says. Repeat every two days for as long as the flowers still have some life in them.
• Don’t forget to trim the stems—that’s Segers’ foremost tip on keeping fresh flowers fresh. “A lot of people forget to cut the stems. And out of water, that stem will seal up in about ten seconds,” she says. Trimming promotes water uptake, nourishing the flower and encouraging it to fully open. Roses, she adds, tend to last longer when the stems are trimmed short, but most all flowers need a fresh diagonal cut before they go into a vase, and every two days or so after that.
• Make sure all foliage is trimmed to where no leaves are below the water line (bacteria, again). And roses should have the stiff “guard” petals peeled away to allow buds to open, Segers says, “If you want roses that will last, feel the buds before you buy them. They should be hard and firm. That means they have a lot of life in them.”
• Properly cared for, most fresh flowers will last about a week. Five or six days is more likely for zinnias which, by the way, are usually harvested when fully
flowering—the buds will not open further after cutting.
Bulb flowers like lilies and Louisiana irises—especially popular now, in the current fleur-de-lis craze—can go well over ten days, says Capdeboscq.
• In the home, keep fresh-cut flowers out of direct sunlight. Most arrangements will tolerate air conditioning well, but in colder months make sure they are not in the direct path of a heating vent.
• There are easy ways to keep some flowers from drooping. It’s perfectly natural for flowers like tulips and Gerbera daisies, which have large heads and flexible stems, to droop. To keep daisies aloft, florists often run an inconspicuous wire up the stem. And while Segers likes her tulips with the “natural drape” look, she has a tip, not to be found in many gardening books, for those who prefer theirs standing at attention. “Put about an eighth of a teaspoon of vodka in their water,” she advises. “It’s funny—vodka makes people fall down, but it makes tulips stand up.” Go figure.