How to Keep Cut Flowers Fresh (Almost) Forever

Everything you need is already hiding in your kitchen.

April 20, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

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

But there’s 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 livening up their home and maintaining that for more than a few days?

We posed these questions to Christina Stembel, founder of Farmgirl Flowers, and she shared her homemade flower food recipe (much like, you know, the little packets that come wrapped up in the rubber band of a bouquet), and her best tips for extending the life of your stems.

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 sun hits, go for a darker vessel.

Add DIY Flower Food

“When we first started making flower food,” Stembel says, “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 industrial formula they use is: 1 gallon of water + 4 teaspoons bleach + 4 teaspoons vinegar + 4 tablespoons sugar. Here's how you can scale that down for your own bouquet: 1 quart water, 1 teaspoon bleach, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“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.”
— GigiR

Bear in mind, according to Stembel, “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. Some people even use Sprite or other clear sodas as a sugary flower food, but Stembel still recommends 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. Colas or even ginger ale don’t work for this!

Trim Stems Daily

Keeping the bottoms of the stems fresh ensures they can most effectively absorb water. Stems should be trimmed at least half an inch when they first come home. Remember, when you’re trimming the stems (with these guys), time is of the essence: Put fresh cut stems back in the water immediately after trimming. Once cut, the stems will begin to seal up. “Delaying putting them in the vase will inhibit their ability to hydrate properly,” Stembel warns.

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 cause build up in their water source. Most flowers prefer cool, shady spots in your house, so also keep them away from the radiator in the winter, too.

Change the Water Daily

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

Remove Any Stems as They Die

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

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.

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

This article was first published in August 2018, but we've revived it so we can help you can revive those wilting blooms.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • kate
  • Sienna Romano
    Sienna Romano
  • Alastair
  • Sabra
  • GigiR
Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.


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 😊
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.
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.
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,
Anne T. August 31, 2018
Any tips for hydrangeas?
BerryBaby August 31, 2018
Unfortunately they realky aren't a cutting flower. I dry them in the garage, hand them upside down. They are beautiful in a fall arangement.
Merry September 1, 2018
A friend in the flower business says hydrangeas take in water through their petals and to mist them daily to keep them fresh. If they start to wilt, dunk the whole head in warm water for a few minutes.
Rebecca April 25, 2019
If you dip the stems of a hydrangea in alum they won't wilt. Best tip ever! I have tried it with lilacs too and it also works.
Anne T. April 25, 2019
Alum...where would I buy? Thanks for the great tip. It’s lilac season.
Patti D. April 26, 2020
If they are hopelessly droopy, cut the stems quite short and either mist heavily or dip in water. 9/10 times they bounce back in a few hours.
FoodFreak April 28, 2020
This was suggested by another customer of the farmers market stand where I buy flowers and it seems to work: dip the freshly trimmed stem of the flower in boiling water for ten seconds, being careful not to let any steam touch the flower, and then put the stem into your vase of cool water. It seems to give them another few days unless it is high summer, when they don’t keep for more than a day or two.
bette May 10, 2020
I have also been told to strip the stems of hydrangeas of their leaves - maybe leave one or two at top as they take in much water and thus blossoms get short changed and wilt...! This really has worked for me. Also I do cut stems, dip in hot water for maybe 30 sec. and then smash the woody stem to help water rise into the stems...lots of TLC but taking the leaves off is really the trick...
Sandy A. August 31, 2018
Great article! - right to the point - also I like your scaled down receipe - who wants to make a gallon 🌺
abbyarnold August 31, 2018
How much flower food goes into the vase of plain water?
Author Comment
Erin A. September 5, 2018
Hey there! Here's an answer direct from Christina: "It totally depends on the vase. For a standard vase that holds one to two cups of water, add three to four teaspoons of the flower food! Our recipe makes more than this, so for storage we recommend keeping it in the fridge. We used an old iced tea pitcher when we first started, but any clear glass vessel will work!"
L December 31, 2018
PLEASE do NOT store water with bleach in it in your fridge in a pitcher!! It is not worth the risk of a thirsty person or worse yet a child drinking it!!!
Mary T. March 4, 2019
Oh really, couldn’t you label the container, or rely on the power of your sense of smell?
Bella95 March 4, 2019
I, unfortunately, have lost my sense of smell and most of my sense of taste along with it. I'd be pretty upset if someone put a jug of anything undrinkable in my fridge. Not to mention that most small children can't read.
Laura D. March 4, 2019
Put it in a mason jar with a big X on it in masking take - write "Flower Food" on the tape. Then everyone, even little kids, should know the X means caution!