How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh (Almost) Forever

Everything you need is already hiding in your kitchen.

May  5, 2022
Photo by Ty Mecham

There’s no denying the instant boost that fresh flowers can give to any room. Be it a generous arrangement you’re lucky enough to receive, or a bunch you grabbed from Trader Joe’s, flowers—or even just leafy stems, for that matter—can make any room feel warm and inviting.

But there’s also something deeply upsetting about tossing a wilted bouquet; it always feels like it was just yesterday that you were fluffing up your still-closed ranunculus, and suddenly they’re stinking up the kitchen with their funky water. So, how does one go about keeping pretty blooms alive for more than a few days?

Below, Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers shares her best tips for extending the life of your stems, along with her homemade flower food recipe—much like the little packets that come with a bouquet.

1. Use a Dark Vase

First things first: “We strongly recommend using either a dark glass vase or ceramic vessel,” says Stembel. “Darker glass or ceramics won’t allow sunlight into the water, which can increase the rate at which the stems decay.” Sure, mason jars are adorable, but if you’re planning on displaying the bouquet where the indirect sun hits, go for a darker vessel.

2. Add DIY Flower Food

“When we first started making flower food, we followed an older recipe from Martha Stewart (the queen!),” Stembel says. "Since then, we’ve made a few tweaks to suit our production and the ingredients we have on hand.” Farmgirl's industrial formula is: 1 gallon of water + 4 teaspoons bleach + 4 teaspoons vinegar + 4 tablespoons sugar. To scale that down for your own bouquet, go with 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon bleach, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bear in mind, according to Stembel, “The truth is, flower food is most effective for flowers that are fresh cut.” But as the flowers age, they still get a boost from this DIY food and the bleach component also helps to kill bacteria. Some people even use Sprite or other clear sodas as sugary flower food. If you take this route, Stembel still recommends a little bleach (in the same proportions as earlier stated), but with one-part clear soda to three-parts water. Don't use diet soda because there's no sugar and make sure it’s a clear variety, like Sprite. Colas or even ginger ale won’t work for this!

3. Trim Stems Daily

Keeping stems fresh ensures they can most effectively absorb water. Stems should be trimmed at least half an inch when they first come home with sharp, clean clippers and plopped back in the water immediately. Once cut, the stems will begin to seal up. “Delaying putting them in the vase will inhibit their ability to hydrate properly,” Stembel warns.

4. Keep Flowers in a Cool Location

Keeping your flowers out of extreme conditions (like super-hot window sills) will prevent them from dying faster and creating build up and bacteria in the vase. Most flowers prefer cool, shady spots, so keep them away from the radiator in the winter, too.

5. Change the Water Daily

Just like humans, flowers don’t thrive when they’re drinking stagnant, dirty water. Daily water changes flush out any bacteria that flowers are sitting in, and they also eliminate any odor that comes with rotting plants.

6. Remove Any Stems as They Die

Pruning dead stems will remove sources of excessive bacteria since decaying flowers release bacteria into the water faster than fresh stems. You should also remove any leaves that fall below the waterline each time you change the water.

7. Clean Your Vase

It’s important to do this after removing a dying bouquet to make way for a new one. 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.

This article was updated May 2022 so you can revive those wilting blooms.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • jdineen
  • JacarandaFlorist
  • Karen
  • VeeCee
  • Sari Henley
    Sari Henley
Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.


jdineen October 29, 2023
I tried this before reading the comments - my pink peonies turned white and then dropped all of their petals
JacarandaFlorist February 16, 2023
thanks for sharing with us good information.

Best regards
Karen May 16, 2022
I also make sure that no leaves are submerged in water, only clean stems.
VeeCee May 15, 2022
7UP instead of water. Replenish as necessary.
Sari H. May 11, 2022
I’ve been putting a penny in the vase I put tulips in - it keeps them from drooping
FS May 10, 2022
Some flowers just don't last long, no matter what's added to the water or how carefully they are cut or stored. Hollow stemmed flowers like daffodils and tulips tend to last longer than thin stemmed roses for instance. Tulips will actually grow once cut!
Peggy January 9, 2022
I usually clean my vase with a little bleach and water (possibly, some Dawn too) before using it. Then I dump out the liquid. If I do not have the commercial flower food, I add a little sugar to the water before arranging the flowers in the vase. I also remove leaves from the stems and cut them on a diagonal. I try to replace water every other day or so as needed. I remove excess foliage from the water to avoid bacteria from forming. As flowers die, I try to save the ones that still look good and put them in smaller vases if necessary. For me, there is nothing like having fresh flowers in the house! A tip that my friend gave me after we made holiday arrangements of greens using the wet floral foam: use a turkey baster to water the arrangement. It works like a charm!
Sienna R. June 29, 2021
It's dangerous to mix bleach & vinegar

Bleach + Vinegar = Chlorine gas
"Mixing bleach and vinegar is a bad idea. When you mix these two substances, toxic chlorine gas is released"
FS May 10, 2022
Thanks for pointing this out!
Jocelyn M. June 27, 2023
Yoikes! An update to this formula would be to use citric acid as the acidifier instead of vinegar. That's why we see recipes that use 7Up/Sprite, etc.
kate September 18, 2020
I also change the water every day and remove any stems. My husband very often orders for me so beautiful flowers bouquets from I like this flower shop.
Sienna R. May 12, 2020
Bleach + Vinegar
The combination sounds like it'd be a powerful disinfectant, but the two should never be mixed. "Together, they produce chlorine gas, which even at low levels, can cause coughing, breathing problems, and burning, watery eyes
Erica D. July 28, 2020
Most put lemon or lime juice where she put vinegar. A simple edit that perhaps she could do? The 😊
Neanderthal_Man June 29, 2021
It's mixing bleach and ammonia that create chlorine gas not vinegar. It is very dangerous even small amounts can respatory distress. Please be informed and very careful when mixing chemicals.
Sienna R. June 29, 2021
Nope.. bleach + ammonia create chloramine gas (not chlorine gas)

Bleach + Vinegar = Chlorine gas
"Mixing bleach and vinegar is a bad idea. When you mix these two substances, toxic chlorine gas is released"

Bleach + ammonia = Chloramine gas
"Mixing products containing chlorine bleach with products containing ammonia releases chloramine gas"

Maybe it's the similar look and sound of the words chloramine and chlorine that get people confused, but it's important to know the difference. Both are dangerous "Chlorine gas, however, causes more severe and long-lasting effects than chloramine gas"

Chlorine and chloramine are very similar words. If you don't have a PhD in chemistry, you may very well think they're the same thing, and truth be told, they're pretty similar in many regards.
Bradley May 15, 2022
Lemon and lime juice are also acids (like vinegar) so will produce the same reaction
WorldCitizen November 24, 2023
Mixing bleach and ammonia creates chloramine, not chlorine.
Mixing bleach and vinegar crates chlorine.
Alastair May 11, 2020
i add a few ice cubes to tulips everyday and it makes them stay together and upright longer.

Also, I was cleaning the stains out of my mum's china cups today and I read that the combination of vinaegar and bleach can produce a rather harmful chlorine gas....yikes....does anyone have more info here?
GigiR May 11, 2020
Hi Alistair. Just passing on my Mum’s tip for cleaning china cups and teapot: moisten cup etc with water, then use baking soda and a clean cloth to remove the tea stains. Rinse well. Works for me.
Alastair May 11, 2020
i add a few ice cubes to tulips everyday and it makes them stay together and upright longer.
Sabra April 21, 2020
Quite by accident, I discovered a way to make flowers last for weeks. Our cat thinks fresh flowers are snacks, so after waking up one too many times to a vase full of stems, I started putting the vase of flowers in the fridge at bedtime and whenever I left home. My anniversary flowers lasted for almost six (!!) weeks.
Erica D. July 28, 2020
Careful. Some plants are toxic to cats yikes.
FS May 10, 2022
Lilies are very toxic.
GigiR April 21, 2020
If you see your cut roses flopping over too soon, you can try the following. Position a cookie sheet or baking pan large enough to accommodate the length of the flowers. Put it in the sink or tub or even on the counter, wherever it can sit over night. Tilt the flat pan by putting something like a rolling pin or box of foil under and along one of the short sides. Fill it with cold water.
Trim all leaves off of the roses that might end up under water when they’re returned to the vase. Then, trim off about 2-3” from the bottoms of the stems, one at a time. Immediately plunge the stem in the cold water on the tray. Lay it down in the tray, so the flower is higher than the stem end. If the roses are not too far gone, the flower should be upright by the next day, if not sooner. You’ve trimmed off the part of stem with the air lock in it and the bloom will continue to drink water. Vase it up.
RisenWell March 4, 2019
I agree with Andreus....the combination of bleach + vinegar could produce toxic fumes...especially if you're unwise enough to be standing over the container as you pour them in. One or t'other...not both.
Donna W. March 4, 2019
I use a similar formula in a gallon of distilled water, cut stems and change water every couple of days. I keep carnations looking good for two weeks using this method. Also, using distilled water prevents hard water deposits on clear glass vases.
rbrock1225 September 2, 2018
If you're changing the water on a daily basis, a gallon is not that much water.

The best two tips I learned for cut flowers:
1. Heat is the enemy. Or, there's a reason why florests keep their flowers in refrigerators. If you don't have space to put your flowers in your refrigerator overnight, take them outdoors and bring them back inside the next morning. I've actually seen tulips close back up overnight.

2. Neuter your blossoms from bulbs. The minute you can reach inside a lily (or tulip or ....) pick off the stamen.
Andreüs D. September 1, 2018
Bleach = base
Vinegar = acid
Base + acid = zilch, nada, nope
Highschool much?
Junk science is ruining the world, one stupid article at a time.
WorldCitizen November 25, 2023
@Andreüs D.
Just coming across this from a few years ago. Just wanted to let you know that there is a reaction between bleach and vinegar.
isw September 1, 2018
Um, with a pH of about 12, bleach is most certainly NOT an acid.
BerryBaby August 31, 2018
I don't add anything to the water. I cut the ends and put them in cool water and change the water every few days they last for at least 10 days.
Anne T. August 31, 2018
Thank you. Was using warm water, changing every day, cutting ends on the diagonal also every day. Lucky when blooms lasted five days,