Gardening: Choosing, caring for fresh-cut flowers

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

Last week, it felt like spring had sprung in southeastern Michigan when the temperatures reached 60-plus degrees and the sun was ablaze in the sky. Unfortunately, it’s more likely Mother Nature is messing with us and it’s only a matter of time before the temperatures plummet and the ice and snow returns.

Bunches of fresh-cut flowers are great pick-me-ups for cold gray days, and tulips and daffodils are usually inexpensive at this time of year. Rather than place cut flowers in traditional locations such as dining rooms and coffee tables, I put them on my bathroom vanity and next to the kitchen sink where they can greet me more often.

When buying tulips and other flowering bulbs, look for those with tight petals in bud form, as they open rather quickly and last longer.

As with other cut flowers, trim off about half an inch of the stem end, making a steep diagonal cut. You can shorten the stem more if your vase is short. Sharp scissors or hand pruners are the best tool for this job. Dull blades crush the stems and impede water uptake, shortening the life of the flower. The pros also recommend making these cuts under water so air bubbles don’t enter the stem and block the uptake of water from the vase.

Cheery yellow daffodils are great buys at this time a year, but the pros don’t recommend mixing them with tulips and other flowers when making flower arrangements. Daffodils give off latex-like sap that is toxic to other flowers. It can also cause a rash, so it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when working with them if you have sensitive skin.

I read on the internet that after daffodils have been shortened to length they can be soaked in cool water for about 24 hours to disperse the sap and then safely added to mixed bouquets. However, re-cutting the stems releases more of the deadly sap. Martha Stewart also mentions this tip on her website. Experiment with this before you do party flowers.

As with all cut flowers, place them in a clean vase of room temperature water to which flower preservative has been added. A homemade recipe is 1 teaspoon sugar to 2 drops of liquid bleach. I keep a pitcher of filtered water on my kitchen counter to use in flower arrangements and to water my plants.

Quick Tip: Tulips lean toward the sun when cut, so give the vase a half-turn daily.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read previous columns at