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How to keep Valentine flowers fresh

Commercial flower preservatives work well or follow a recommended recipe using household ingredients. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service

FARGO -- Is it true adding aspirin to the water will prolong the life of florist flowers, or is it an old wives' tale? I'm never quick to dismiss old wives' tales, because some of the best gardeners I've known have been old wives.

Other questionable home remedies suggested for keeping flowers fresh include a shot of vodka, a smidgen of wine, a bit of vinegar or a dose of 7-Up. Let's do some investigative reporting to discover what works and what doesn't.

Florists' experience blended with university research should separate fact from fiction. For current fresh-cut flower information, I looked to the universities of Minnesota, Illinois and California for advice. Here's a summary of their recommendations for coaxing fresh-cut flowers to last their longest:

- Seemingly small details have huge impacts on fresh-flower longevity. Wash vases in hot soapy water to discourage fungi and bacteria that clog flower stems and block water uptake.

- If flowers are purchased in a loose bunch, rather than in a water-filled container, "condition" them by cutting 1 to 2 inches from stems on a slant, preferably under water to prevent air bubbles from entering the cut surface. Place in a container of water at about 110 degrees (about bath water temperature) to which floral preservative has been added. Keep in a cool location for two hours until the water cools. Flowers take up almost as much water during this brief period as they do during their entire remaining lifespan.

- Floral preservatives added to the water can double the longevity of cut flowers in loose bunches and arrangements.

- Most florists sell flowers with a small packet of preservative included. Follow directions, but most packets are mixed with one quart of warm water and stirred.

- Effective preservatives contain sap-like sugar, an acidifier and a microorganism inhibitor in the proper proportions.

- University research has developed several homemade recipes that are as effective as commercial preservatives. Recipe 1: Combine 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled lemon juice with 1 tablespoon sugar and ¼ teaspoon bleach in 1 quart of water. Add ¼ teaspoon bleach to the vase every 4 days. Recipe 2: Combine 2 cups non-diet, non-cola soda such as Sprite or 7-Up with ½ teaspoon bleach and 2 cups of water.

- Aspirin has been extensively tested and has been shown repeatedly to offer no benefit in flower longevity.

- Vodka has been widely publicized as having preservative benefits. Research indicates there might be some value, but the quantity to add is still questionable.

- Unless they've been tested and approved in the right proportions, home remedies can clog the water-absorbing surface of cut stems.

- Acidifiers in preservatives help stabilize pigments, making flower colors remain more vibrant.

- Never use softened water or well water that is alkaline for cut flowers. The salts shorten flowers' lifespan. Distilled or reverse osmosis water is best, combined with preservative.

- Check water level of flowers daily, and add more preservative solution as needed.

- When adding water to a floral arrangement made with florist's foam, use a preservative solution instead of plain water.

- Keep flowers away from hot or cold drafts, especially near hot spots like heat ducts, radiators and television sets.

- When you're not home, flowers can be put in the refrigerator for added longevity.

- Never store flowers where fruit or vegetables are stored. The ethylene gas produced causes flowers to age.

- If vase water becomes cloudy, remove the flowers, wash the container, recut the stems and replace in a fresh solution of water and preservative.

What do florists themselves recommend? I received a nice email from local florist Sue Poitras, who passed along a few tips for handling fresh-cut floral bunches, especially roses.

Sue reminds us to be certain flowers are wrapped if outdoor temperatures are below 38 degrees, even for a quick run to the car, because they can freeze. Put flowers in water within one hour of purchase. Unwrap and separate stems, remove foliage from the bottom third to half of the stem. Fill the vase with tepid water and add the floral preservative packet, then stir a little. Fill a separate small bucket or bowl with water and hold rose stems under water while snipping stem ends with a knife, scissors or garden pruner and put directly in the vase.

Sue also offered helpful design tips for a classic rose bouquet. With each rose cut underwater, choose the tallest rose and put in the center of the vase (it can lean against the backside). Select four of the next tallest roses and cut a little shorter than the first. Position them to radiate outward in four directions surrounding the first stem to hold it more upright. Cut four more roses slightly shorter and locate between the others. Cut the final three roses and fill in gaps.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether//growingtogether.areavoices.com.

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By Don Kinzler

Forum News Service

Forum News Service

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