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This 3-Ingredient DIY Flower Food Makes Bouquets Last (Almost) Forever

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If there's one design tip I've picked up while living in New York City, it's that a bouquet of flowers instantly elevates a space—no matter how small. When I invite friends over for drinks, I'll put together a simple glass vase of white and green hydrangeas in my living room for a touch of elegance. And sometimes, after a stressful week, I'll pick up bundles of dusty pink roses from the corner bodega. I like to make little arrangements using stemless wine glasses and dot them throughout my apartment to create a relaxed, yet sophisticated vibe.

There's just one downside to buying bouquets: In a matter of a few days, they go from bright and beautiful to sad and withering. Hence, flower food was born—you know, those little packets that come wrapped up in the rubber band of a grocery store bouquet. A sprinkle of the stuff can work like a magical anti-aging serum (you know, the really expensive kind) for days-old flowers. But what do you do when you don't have any?

Well, according to Christina Stembel, the founder of Farmgirl Flowers, there's a simple DIY solution hiding in your kitchen. We spoke with Stembel to get her secret-sauce formula, plus tips on keeping your favorite flowery arrangements flourishing.

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EA: What type of flower food do you use for your bouquets?

CS: When we first started making flower food, we followed an older recipe from Martha Stewart (the queen!). Since then, we’ve made a few tweaks to suit our production and the ingredients we have on hand. The formula goes like this:

1 gallon of water
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4 teaspoons bleach
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4 teaspoons vinegar
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4 tablesppons sugar

Here's how you can scale that down: 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon bleach, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

EA: Is adding flower food the best method for keeping bouquets fresher, longer?

CS: This is a question we get a lot. The truth is flower food is most effective for flowers that are fresh cut. As the flowers age, they still get a boost from this DIY food (don’t we all with a little sugar!); the bleach component also helps to kill bacteria as it’s generated in the vase. (Replacements like lemon juice or vinegar will do the same.) But there are actually a few simple steps you can take to ensure freshness that are more effective than food.

EA: Ohh, tell me about those.

CS: One, daily trims. Two, daily water changes. Three, keep your flowers in a cool location, out of direct sunlight and away from any heat sources. And finally, four, remove any stems as they die!

All of these tricks help prevent the accumulation of bacteria in the water, which will kill your flowers faster. Just like people, flowers don’t thrive when they’re drinking stagnant, dirty H20. Fresh water changes flush out any bacteria, and daily stem trims ensure the stems most effectively absorb the moisture. Pruning dead stems will remove sources of excessive bacteria—decaying flowers release bacteria into the water faster than fresher stems. Last, keeping your flowers out of extreme conditions [like super-hot window sills] will prevent them from dying faster and, as noted above, causing build up in their water source.

EA: Generally, how long do these methods extend the lifespan of the bouquet?

CS: This is really hard to say. Different flowers have different bloom lives. Some stems, like carnations, can last weeks. Others, like peonies, last sometimes as little as a few days. That said, proper care can ensure your bouquet lasts as many days as possible, and depending on the stems, up to a week!

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EA: I've read that 7-up or Sprite also makes a good flower food—is that true?

CS: It can be! We still recommend a little bleach (in the same proportions as earlier stated), but when subbing soda in for sugar, go with one part clear soda to three parts water.

Remember, if you’re going this route do not use diet soda and make sure it’s a clear variety, like Sprite. Different types of colas or even ginger ale don’t work for this!

EA: Any other words of wisdom?

CS: We can’t overstate the importance of the water changes, stem trims, proper location, and removing dead stems. These will dramatically improve the life of your bouquet. We also recommend removing any foliage from the stem that falls below the waterline.

When you’re trimming the stems, time is of the essence: Put fresh cut stems back in the water ASAP after trimming. Once cut, the stems will begin to seal up. Delaying putting them in the vase will inhibit their ability to hydrate properly. We also strongly recommend using either a dark glass vase or ceramic vessel. Darker glass or ceramics won’t allow sunlight into the water, which can increase the rate at which the stems decay.

Last, clean your vase! It’s important to do this after removing a dying bouquet and right before you put a new one in it. A lot of people don’t consider the bacteria that can be in the vase before the bouquet goes in. A good rinse with warm water and soap will make sure the flowers have a clean start.

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What's your favorite way to keep bouquets looking fresh as a daisy? Tell us in the comments below!