Winter can be a difficult season for gardeners. Cut flowers and potted flowering plants like azaleas, gardenias, poinsettias and flowering bulbs can help get gardeners through the winter. The downside of cut flowers and flowering potted plants is that they don't last long. Follow a few simple instructions to get one or two extra weeks from your cut flowers, and an additional month from your flowering potted plants.
Make Cut Flowers Last Longer
Choose flowers that are still in bud form or have just started opening.
Re-cut flower stems under cold, running water or fill a plastic container with cold water, submerge the stems in the container and use a sharp knife of scissors to cut the stems underwater. Make the cuts on a 45 degree angle for increased water absorption. Remove leaves that will be submerged in water.
Wash the vase or decorative container you wish to use for the flowers under hot water using a mild detergent (dishwashing liquid works well). Rinse thoroughly.
Fill the vase or decorative container with hot water (110 degrees F), adding commercial flower food according to manufacturer's directions. Alternately, make your own flower food. Fill the vase with a mixture of 50-percent hot water (110 degrees F) and 50-percent citrus soda (like Sprint or 7-Up). Add 1 1/2 tsp. of bleach to the mix. Arrange your flowers as normal.
Place your flower arrangement in a cool room out of direct sunlight for one or two hours. The hot water and cool room maximizes the flowers' water uptake which will increase their vase lifespan. This method is referred to as hardening off cut flowers.
Place your arranged cut flowers out of drafts (both hot and cold), direct sunlight, and away from heat sources. The cooler the room, the longer the flowers will last.
Making Potted Flowers Last Longer
Choose potted plants with bright green leaves and flowers in bud form. The plant should not be too large for its pot. Check the bottom drainage holes; if you see roots emerging from the holes, the plant is probably root bound and you should choose another plant. If you gently remove the plant from its pot and roots are circling the inside of the pot, it is root bound and should not be chosen.
Water your plant as soon as you get it home. Stop watering when water runs out of the bottom drainage holes. Remove any foil pot wrappers and plastic signs or gift card holders.
Fill a plastic water catcher that is slightly larger than the pot your plant is in with gravel or small stones. Leave a 1-inch space between the gravel and the top of the water catcher. Fill the water catcher with enough water to barely cover the top of the gravel or stones.
Place your potted, flowering plant on top of the gravel or stones in the water catcher to provide humidity around the base of the plant.
Place your potted plant in a location that gets about six hours of direct sunlight a day. The room should have daytime temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees F, and nighttime temperatures between 55 and 60 degrees F.
Remove faded flowers and dead or dying leaves promptly. Use scissors or pruning shears.
Plant potted azaleas, gardenias and bulbs outside in spring after all chance of frost has passed. Or, discard the plant when it stops producing flowers and the leaves begin to brown. Allow poinsettias to go dormant and re-pot using new potting medium in late summer.