With proper care, cut flowers such as tulips, hyacinths and daffodils can last much longer. This is true whether you bought them or grew them yourself.

They should be cut purchased in the bud stage: tulips when they display half-color; daffodils in the goose-neck stage or when the bud swells, lowers and turns at a right angle; and hyacinths when the florets are tight, before they have opened fully.

The flowers should be hardened as soon as they are brought into the home to renew their natural shape by taking in water and to continue the process of maturing from bud to bloom. To harden the flowers cut about one-fourth inch off the stem on an angle and insert into a bucket of warm water (75 to 95 degrees) for four hours.

Since daffodils emit a fluid when cut, they should not be combined with any other flower during the hardening provess. Once hardened, they can be used in arrangements with other flowers. To prolong the life of cut flowers, recut the stems and add fresh water every two days.

The most important thing for long life of cut flowers is to use a flower preservative. Preservatives will not completely stop flower deterioration but will increase the rate.

Research at Michigan State University showed that Sprite and 7-up each makes an effective flower preservative. The critic acid and carbonation in the sofe drinks control the development of microorganisms that can block water-conducting vessels. Sugar in the soft drinks sustain life.

The recommed mixing one part water with each part soft drink and adding a half teaspoon of chlorine bleach to each quart of solution. The bleach cuts bacterial growth.

Cut flowers die for three reasons: food exhaustion, disiccation or drying out, and old age.

A flower continues to need food after being cut, while its main source, the mother plant, has been lost. A preservative provides the necessary food.

Not only must it be given water, but the stem kept from becoming clogged by bacterial growth that would prevent absorption of moisture. An effective preservative helps with this.

Old age comes to flowers as to all other living things. After roses, glads and snapdragons have fully opened, their further useful life is extremely short. The preservative helps to prevent them from aging prematurely.

Cut your flowers early in the morning or late in the afternoon. They should be cut several hours before they are to used to allow for conditioning (hardening).

Use a sharp knife to cut flowers. Dull shears or scissors will crush the stem and partially close some of the tubes that are needed to absorb and transmit water. Make a clean slanting cut.

Strip off lower leaves that might stand in water and encourage bacterial growth. Immerse the stems in warm water. They can absorb it much faster.

Keep the flowers out of sunlight and in a cool at night. The cooler they are, the less food and water they will use.

Before arranging the flowers, wash the container thoroughly with hot soapy water to get rid of any bacteria that may be present.

Some specialists recommend refilling the vase every two or three days with fresh water and a preservative and cutting back the stems a couple of inches. If no preservative is used, the water should be changed and the stems shortened every day.