Caring for Cut Flowers Without Chemicals

I always keep a bouquet of fresh flowers on my desk. Their beauty and aliveness are a nice balance to all the machines in my office. I cut flowers from my garden or purchase cut flowers (organically-grown whenever they are available), so I want to keep them fresh and beautiful as long as I can.

Here is the key to success:

The key to caring for cut flowers is to remember that, even when cut, they are still living. Cut flowers drink, breathe, and eat, just as they do when they are connected to their plant. Some flowers, such as tulips, even continue to grow after being placed in a vase. Eventually flowers will fade and die, as all living things do, but we can prolong their life and loveliness with proper care.

“Proper care” to most florists means using those little packets of commercial floral preservative that usually come with cut flowers. These contain the basic components needed to support the life of cut flowers in their vase environment, but they are not very natural. The packets contain a chemical biocide, an acidifier, and sugar.

While there is little danger to you when using these floral preservatives, you can provide all these requirements and more, using natural methods.


The primary determinant of how long a cut flower will last is its capacity to drink water freely.

Plants have vascular systems much like the human cardiovascular system, only much simpler. The plant’s vascular cells operate like a set of drinking straws, drawing water up into the leaves and flowers. In order for water to flow freely into the plant, these cells must be kept open.

The type of water you use also makes a difference. Water that is soft (with fewer minerals) and more acidic flows more easily through the vascular cells.

Water also needs to be kept free of the bacteria, yeasts and fungi that feed on the sap that seeps from the cut flower stem. The minute you place a cut flower into a vase of water, bacteria start to grow. Within 3 hours, there can be 30 million bacteria in the vase. These bacteria clog the tiny channels that draw water to the flower.

To give your flowers the best possible opportunity to benefit from water, follow these steps:

1. Before you place cut flowers in water, always give the stem a fresh cut. Cut stems at an angle with a sharp knife. An angle cut exposes a larger area of the stem for water intake. Cutting with scissors pinches the stem, reducing water intake.

2. Immerse stems in lukewarm water as soon as the cut is made. A newly cut stem begins to scale over immediately, blocking vascular cells.

3. Remove any leaves that are below the water line to prevent rotting and ensure a bacteria-free water environment.

4. Change the water daily. Trim the stalks a bit each time you change the water to open up the vascular cells. Changing the water regularly also helps control bacteria without using chemical biocides. This is the single most effective thing you can do to prolong the life of flowers.

5. Add a copper penny to the vase, which acts as a natural fungicide.


Flowers need to breathe, so give them some room. Flowers arranged loosely in a vase will last longer than flowers tightly packed. Allow enough room between stems for air to circulate.


Flowers do well with plain white sugar for food. Use about a teaspoon per cup of water. Or, use a small amount of a natural fertilizer.


Heat will cause cut flowers to wilt more quickly, so keep them out of direct sunlight.


If you like to cut flowers yourself from your garden, the best time is early in the morning. The air is cool, the plant is filled with stored food, and the flowers are at their most fragrant.

by Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home and publisher of Debra's List--hundreds of links to thousands of products for your healthy home.

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Val M.
Val M.2 years ago


Fiona T.
Fi T.2 years ago

Let's go natural

a             y m.
g d c.3 years ago


Kelly Rogers3 years ago


Shannon Y.
Shannon York3 years ago


Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Tim Cheung
Tim C.4 years ago

Thanks, Annie.


Sonny Honrado
Sonny Honrado4 years ago

Good suggestions.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 4 years ago

Helpful tips. Thanks for sharing.

Abbe A.
Azaima A.4 years ago

Excellent tips