Make every day and summer gatherings special with the help of garden-fresh flower arrangements. You will be sure to generate smiles from family members and guests when including fresh flowers on the dinner table and other spaces in your home.
Gather your flowers in the morning after the dew has dried whenever possible. The temperatures are cooler, and the plants are hydrated. The evening is the next best time. But don't hesitate to harvest flowers right before guests arrive or when picking vegetables for the evening meal. The flowers may not last as long, but you will be able to enjoy them for that dinner or special event and a few more days.
Use a pair of sharp snips or bypass pruners to make the cut above a set of healthy leaves or back to an adjoining branch. Keep in mind the more flowers you harvest, the more flowers produced on annuals and some perennial plants.
Remove the lower leaves and immediately place the flowers in a bucket of water. Consider taking a bucket of water to the garden to keep the flowers fresh and hydrated while you're busy collecting. Let the flowers stand in a cool place, out of direct sunlight, in tepid water for several hours or better yet overnight.
Recut the stems at a 45º angle when assembling the flower arrangements. This prevents them from sitting flat on the bottom of the vase and exposes more of the surface area to the water. Remove any additional leaves that will be submerged in water. Leaves covered by water tend to turn slimy, increasing the risk of bacterial growth that decreases the life of your cut flowers.
Always use a clean vase and fresh water to maximize your cut flowers' vase life. Add a floral preservative to the water to further extend their longevity. Check the water level often, ensuring the cut ends are always covered with water. Change the water often to keep your flowers looking their best for as long as possible.
Since different flowers last in an arrangement for different lengths of time consider reworking your arrangements by removing flowers as they fade. This keeps it interesting while extending your enjoyment.
Start with a walk through your landscape looking for potential flowers and foliage to use in arrangements. Follow the general guidelines for harvesting and care to maximize the flowers' vase life.
You may find a few summer bloomers do best when harvested at a particular stage of flowering. Wait for zinnias and marigold flowers to be fully open to harvest them.
Pick dahlias when the flowers are half or fully open. The back petals should be firm, not soft and limp, and stay attached when rubbing your hand over the back of the flower. Some gardeners set dahlias in warm (160 to 180°F) water with a preservative for one hour before arranging them. Others dip the stems in boiling water for 7 to 10 seconds, then cool water for a few hours.
Extend the vase life of hydrangeas by soaking the flowers, stem up and flowers down, in cold water for 1 hour. Allow them to drip dry then recut the stem and place in warm water overnight. Or dip the cut end in alum before placing it in the vase.
Look for greenery growing in the garden. Herbs, canna, hosta, lady's mantle, papyrus, as well as deciduous and evergreen shrubs are great options. Don't overlook the plants growing indoors. Prayer plants, monstera, ferns, and ivies add texture while highlighting the blooms.
When in doubt try including different flowers and greenery. Keep track of what works and how long they last. You may discover some new favorites.
Cutting and arranging flowers is a fun way to exercise your creativity and bring the beauty of your garden indoors. If the selection of flowers is limited in your garden, strike up a trade with fellow gardeners. Each of you can share what's blooming in your landscape throughout the growing season.
For tips on growing your own cut flowers, check out my Grow Your Own Flowers for Bouquets handout.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener's Handbook, 2nd Edition, and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses "How to Grow Anything" instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda's Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.