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Flower Arranging

Here’s how to prepare your garden’s flowers for arranging, plus tips on handling flowers with care.

If you’re giving flowers as a gift or making the arrangement for an event, start the day before so they’ll have time to irrigate overnight, which increases the lifespan of the bouquet. Resist the urge to overhandle the stems, as doing so can damage them. This is especially true with white flowers and those with delicate petals, like tulips. Never sit your blooms in direct sunlight or on hot or cold surfaces for any length of time. Resist the urge to pack blooms tightly into any container, especially when storing them before arranging; give them room to relax as they drink. Finally, whenever you are handling your flowers, whether cleaning or arranging them, do quality control on each stem as you work, using your fingers to gently remove any broken or bruised leaves or petals.

flower bouquet

If you’re using flowers from your garden in your flower arrangement, cut them early in the morning, before the temperature rises. Carry a bucket of water with you and put the stems in it as you cut. Be sure to cut the stems a little longer than you will ultimately need, so that you can re-cut them when you make the arrangement.

If you’re using flowers from the market, aim to bring them home late in the day or at night so they can absorb water and replenish in a cool place overnight, before being arranged or displayed.

Whichever way you obtain flowers, as soon as possible:

  1. Fill a nonmetallic vase or even a plastic container two-thirds full with water. Take the blooms, one stem at a time, and lay them on the workspace. Loosen the stems by gently separating each bunch. If the stems have thorns, remove them. Remove foliage below the waterline. If you fail to do so, bacteria will form, causing an unpleasant odor, coloring the vase water and shortening the time an arrangement will last. Leave as much greenery as possible above the waterline until you’re ready to arrange the flowers.
  2. Lay the flowers neatly on your workspace. If there’s a variance in length, grade them, putting shorter stems to one side and taller ones to the other. Form loose pyramidal mounds as you group, keeping the heads of the flowers even. Bind flowers of similar length with a rubber band so they’ll be easier to handle later.
  3. Use a cutting tool to shorten the stems by one-quarter to one-half an inch. Quickly place the blooms into the prepared water containers. Add Chrysal or Floralife to the water and move the containers of flowers to a cool area, such as a refrigerator or basement for the night. Proper irrigation ensures that your flowers will last five to fifteen days without compromise.
  4. When it comes time to arrange your stems, re-cut them as you work—this ensures that the flowers will be able to drink their water easily and will last as long as possible. Typically I’ll strip all the stems completely of their foliage. If you prefer a look that’s notso graphic, though, you can certainly allow some greens. What you choose to do in creating your arrangement depends on your personal taste, and the look you’re trying to create.
  5. Every third day, the stems of all arrangements should be rinsed and the vases filled with fresh water and Chrysal or Floralife.

Read about flower-arranging equipment

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Note: This text is excerpted from Simply Elegant Flowers by Michael George with Bob Shuman (David & Charles, 2008; 208 pages; $30) Click here for more info or to purchase.