Post Harvest Conditioning:
For the longest lasting cut flowers in the vase


  • Always cut into clean plastic buckets. Rusty metal will damage cut flowers. Wash with weak bleach solution (spray like Clorox Cleanup ARE this solution) OR essential oil of tea tree or lavender, which are both antibacterial and antifungal; rinse thoroughly.

  • Sharpen and sterilize cutting tools with alcohol or bleach before each use. Sterilization reduces the chance of passing bacteria from one plant to another. Sharp pruners or knives give clean cuts.

  • Cut into WARM water on an angle, to make the largest ‘mouth’ possible for the stem to ‘drink’. If you would bathe a baby in it, it’s just right. A few plants with milky sap (euphorbia, poinsettia) need to be cauterized and sealed by a flame first, to keep the sap in the stem and not in the water.

  • After cutting is complete, RE-CUT each stem and condition your flowers into warm water with floral preservative, such as “Flora-Life” or “Crystal Clear”, available in large commercial quantities by order from The Gentle Gardener. Do NOT follow garden club ‘folk remedies’ such as “a drop of bleach”, “a penny in the bottom of the vase”, “Sprite” or “7-UP” in the water. While these methods may not hurt your flowers, they will not ensure the longest vase life, and the sugar in some promotes bacteria growth.

  • Change the water and re-cut stems every two to three days; every day if arranged in clear glass.

Methods For Specific Varieties:

WOODY STEMS (magnolia, viburnum, boxwood, willow, holly, lilac hydrangea, etc):
Harvest in the landscape for long term shape of the tree or shrub, generally cutting a longer length than you need for your arrangement. Don’t just take the tips for arrangements, or your plant will disappoint over time.

After cutting, re-cut each stem to the desired length and, using a sharp knife, scrape 3-4 inches of bark off the bottom of each stem, exposing the green underneath. Square the stems as you go, to keep heavy stems from twisting in oasis floral foam. Place into VERY warm (not boiling!) water with floral preservative.

Do not soak foliage like boxwood for long periods of time. Bacteria growth almost always undoes the good intentions of the hydration. Plants hydrate through the stems most efficiently.

After cutting, re-cut each stem and place into clean, warm water with floral preservative. Keep in a cool, dark place until you are confident each stem has hydrated (about 20 minutes). If any stems have not hydrated, repeat the process.

Things to remember:

If possible, keep cut flowers away from direct sunlight and heat.

Be confident.


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The author, a certified Landscape Designer, is the owner of The Gentle Gardener in Gordonsville, Orange County, Virginia. She is a certified Permaculture Designer, specializing in sustainable landscape design.