Like 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 tolast, whether it’s that annual bouquet of long-stemmed Valentine’s Dayroses or a cellophane-wrapped hodgepodge snagged at the grocery storecheckout 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 carfor 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 faucetsthese 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 bacterialgrowth. “You want to prevent bacteria from gaining a foot hold,” she says. A couple of days later, rinse out the container, add fresh waterand a few drops of bleach, she says. Repeat every two days for as longas the flowers still have some life in them.
• Don’t forget totrim 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 avase, and every two days or so after that.
• Make sure allfoliage is trimmed to where no leaves are below the water line (bacteria, again). And roses should have the stiff “guard” petal speeled away to allow buds to open, Segers says, “If you want roses thatwill 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 daysis 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 in conspicuous wire up the stem. And while Segers likes hertulips with the “natural drape” look, she has a tip, not to be found inmany gardening books, for those who prefer theirs standing at attention. “Put about an eighth of a tea spoon of vodka in their water,”she advises. “It’s funny—vodka makes people fall down, but it makestulips stand up.” Go figure.
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