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Prepare Your Own Fresh-cut Flower Arrangements

By Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture

August 8, 2007

Gardening -   Image

Photo credit: Dr. William M. Johnson


During a workshop on floral design basics provided to Master Gardeners, Jim Johnson, Director of the Benz School of Floral Design at Texas A&M University, provided some very useful demonstrations on making your own flower arrangements.

By any stretch of the imagination, I would not consider myself to be a student of floral design but I am not hesitant to prepare my own floral designs using plants from my own garden. As Jim noted in his workshop, a floral design does not have to come from a florist shop to brighten up your home and bring you enjoyment!

The following are some useful guidelines for the care and handling of cut plant materials when making your own flower arrangements:

• Harvest garden flowers during early morning or late evening when they are crisp and turgid. However, if the flowers have been purchased, remove the wrappings and bindings so the stems can be separated.

• Remove lower foliage that would remain underwater in the storage container.

• Cut stems with a sharp instrument, making the cuts underwater if possible. This prevents air bubbles from 'clogging' the stems.

• Place the materials in clean containers of water with preservative added.

• Always keep cut material in water while designing. This will prevent wilting due to the loss of water through transpiration.

• Always design in clean containers that have been filled with preservative water.

• After each use, clean storage containers, vases, liners, and needle point holders with a disinfectant (such as a dilute solution of household bleach) to kill bacteria and fungi.

• To help reduce bacterial growth in the water solution, commercial floral preservatives in liquid or powder form may be used and is available at retail florists. Some floral preservatives also provide nutrients to prolong the life of cuttings. Be sure to follow the instructions exactly as written. Jim Johnson notes that a perfectly acceptable home substitute is Listerine mouthwash (one ounce of Listerine per gallon of water will provide the correct solution).


Plants vary in composition and growth habit; therefore, care and handling techniques may vary.

• Avoid using the tender new growth of most plants, as it has not developed a cell structure sturdy enough to keep it from wilting.

• Short-lived blossoms such as daylilies, hibiscus, iris, lotus, and passion flowers should be cut in the bud stage and allowed to open in the finished design.

• The long-standing practice of crushing woody stems is not recommended, because this damages the cell structure and actually impedes water uptake. Make a clean cut instead.

• Blossoms with a very large petal surface area compared to their small stem size benefit from being submerged in water at room temperature. Depending on their petal substance and color, blossoms can remain underwater for a few minutes (white and pastel camellias, gardenias, orchids and roses) to a few hours (gerberas, hydrangeas, dark colored roses and most other tropical flowers). Wilted flowers can be revived by cutting the stem underwater and submerging the entire flower until revived.


For hundreds of years, gardeners have preserved flowers by drying. The so-called 'everlasting' types, like straw flowers, have been most popular, but there are many other annual flowers that can be used.

Annuals that are excellent for drying and are commonly grown in local landscapes for color include marigolds, salvias, cosmos, zinnias, coreopsis, and gloriosa daisies. Ageratum, dahlias, calendulas, chrysanthemums, dianthus, asters, and daisies also make fine dried specimens. Many native flowers and plants, such as cattails, dock, oats, and numerous grasses, dry naturally or produce interesting seed heads.

Flowers can be preserved by hanging, pressing, or drying with various drying agents.

• HANGING. Hanging, also known as air-drying, is the easiest and best method for preserving many types of flowers. Remove the leaves on the flower stem, and hang the flowers upside down in a warm, dry place until dry. An attic, closet, or pantry works well for flower drying.

• PRESSING. This method is quick and easy, but it flattens the flowers. For pressing, use unglazed paper, such as newsprint or an old telephone book. Place the flowers between several sheets of paper, making sure they do not overlap. Weigh down with a heavy object. This method takes from 2-to-4 weeks.

• DRYING WITH ABSORBANTS. Flowers can be dried by burying them in sand mixed with borax, cornmeal mixed with borax, or silica gel. These materials work well for drying certain flowers, but are undependable for others.

Silica gel has the capacity to quickly absorb a large amount of moisture. Flowers, minus leaves, should be buried in the gel in a closed container, and left for about one week. Silica gel can be used over and over by re-drying it, after use, in a warm oven. The gel can be purchased in most garden centers, nurseries, florist shops, and hobby shops.

After drying, secure each flower to a wire stem by using a 2- to 4-inch section of Number 2 florist's wire; then, wrap all wire with green floral tape, and make your arrangement.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at

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