Keep Love Alive

(By Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
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By Adrian Higgins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day marks the peak for annual flower sales in the United States, so in the spirit of the day we share the love and offer these tips for keeping those expensive blooms alive beyond the weekend.

All cut flowers have a finite life span once harvested. When buying them, look for these signs of freshness:

* Leaves and petals that are upright and plump. Avoid wilted stems.

* Flower buds in color and blooms that are not fully opened.

* Clean, green leaves.

* Unbroken stems and petals that are neither battered nor bruised.

* An absence of slime where stalks have been sitting in water.

Once home, the flower must be quickly rehydrated by cutting at least an inch off each stem while they are submerged. This will remove the airlock in the stem's water column. Make an angled cut with clean scissors, bypass pruners (not anvil pruners, which can crush the stem) or a sharp knife. The cut flowers should be transferred immediately to a vase of fresh, warm water.

The key to long vase life is good sanitation: Use a clean, sterile vase and fresh water as well as the powdered preservative from the florist. This should be dissolved in warm water and then added to the vase. It will feed the plants and prevent bacteria from forming. If you don't have preserver, you can add a tablespoon of sugar and two or three drops of bleach per quart of water. Be careful: Excess sugar can cause leaf damage in such flowers as roses, lisianthus and proteas, said William Miller, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University.

Remove any leaves that are at the waterline or below, again to prevent bacteria from forming.

Eat all the contents of your fruit bowl, and don't smoke. This isn't a health tip. Apples, bananas and other fruit (including tomatoes) give off an odorless gas called ethylene that causes flowers to age prematurely. Ethylene is also found in cigarette smoke.

In addition, keep flowers away from drafts, heat sources and direct sunlight. Change the water every two or three days, making fresh stem cuts and adding more floral preserver. Take the opportunity to groom the bouquet by removing fading blooms.

With roses, avoid fully opened blooms, but also pass on stems with tight buds. Roses harvested too early will not last as long as those that have been cut later.

Remove the pollen-bearing anthers of lilies to avoid staining, but don't expect the step to prolong their vase life, Miller said.

The idea of putting a penny in a vase of tulips may have some value in that copper can act as a fungicide, but the other steps are far more important to giving cut flowers maximum vase life.

And remember, true love may last forever, but blooms do not. "It's okay for flowers to die," Miller said.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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