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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Gonzales

How to Harvest Your Cut Flowers

If you are interested in growing flowers for the purpose of using them as cut flowers, then the biggest part about being a cut flower gardener is going to be how you harvest those flowers.

In order to get the most out of your cut flowers and to extend their vase life, I am going to share what I learned to get the best quality and use out of your garden.

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Here are some things you need to know before we dive into harvesting your cut flowers!

  • Be sure to always harvest in the coolest parts of the day. This is when the plants are most hydrated and are not going to wilt when you pick them.

  • All your buckets and vases need to be clean enough to drink water out of. If your buckets are dirty and scummy, the water is going to plug up the stems of the flowers, preventing them from receiving the hydration they need and becoming covered in bacteria. This causes them to die quickly.

  • Be sure to use nice, sharp snips, not home gardening scissors. This will make sure you are not crushing the stems, but rather snipping them.

  • Take buckets of water with you while you are harvesting so you can pick and put them in the water right away. This will help to prevent them from wilting in the sun.

  • Remove most of the foliage as you go. By doing this during harvesting, you will allow your flowers to hydrate properly when you put them directly into the water. This allows the water to focus on hydrating just the flower and not all the leaves.

How to Cut Your Flowers

Knowing when and how to cut your flowers can be overwhelming and scary, especially for new gardeners. However, the more you do it and learn by watching what happens to your plants, the better you will get. Don’t worry, you’re not going to hurt anything!

Annual and Perennial plants: (basically things that aren’t shrubs or trees)

The deeper you cut into the plant (the longer stem that you take) is better. It encourages the plant to send up long stems for the second round of blooms.

Woodies: (shrubs and trees)

You want to be careful not to overcut your woodies. In a course of a season, be sure NOT to take more than a 3rd of the plant. It’s important to wait long enough until the stems are ripe. To check if the plant is ready for harvest, bend the tip of the stem and if it is really wobbly, it’s still too young to cut.

I highly recommend letting some fully bloom. Once the flowers are all off they leave behind really pretty seed cases. These last a long time in a vase (about 2 weeks) and are stunning, especially in flower arrangements.

Strip the lower third of the stem from foliage right above a set of leaves and be sure to knock loose any remaining seeds.

Spike Flowers: (anything that has a tall spikey flower, for example, a Snapdragon)

You want to pick these before they are pollinated. Pick them when the bottom third is starting to open and the top is still undeveloped. That is the perfect time to catch them.

Airy/Lacey Type Blooms

It's important not to pick these too young. You want to wait until ½ of the plant to ⅔ of the plant have their blossoms open.

Foliage Plants: (most of these include herbs)

These plants can include anything you want for greens or filler for your arrangements. It’s important to pick them when they are ripe enough. The stiffer the stem, the better it’s going to hold in an arrangement. You can cut almost all the way to the ground because it’s just going to rebound.

Disc Flowers

It’s really important to catch them before the bees have pollinated the flowers. If you want them to last for 2-3 days, then harvesting them when they have been pollinated and are fully open is okay, otherwise, you want to harvest when they are at the “cracking bud” stage. This is when a bud is colored up and just starting to open.

Courtesy of Unsplash

There is more to harvesting than cutting your flowers! Now that you have the information you need to go out and cut your flowers to extend their vase life and to get the best quality and use out of your garden, it's now time to dive into the additional work that needs to be done after harvesting.

Once you have harvested your flowers, you want to put them into a cooler room, out of the direct sun, and away from ripening fruit. This always them to rest and is something that we call “Conditioning”. Let the flowers condition for at least a couple of hours.

After they have been conditioned, you are going to want to apply the boiling water treatment. This applies to anything that is wilt-prone or has already crashed.

  • Use an instant tea kettle.

  • Boil water and pour into a separate container (a glass measuring cup works), making sure there is enough water for 2-3 inches of the stem.

  • Recut the bottom of the bloom.

  • Sear the bottom of the blooms in the hot water. Hold the plant off to the side so the steam isn’t damaging the bloom itself. Hold for 5-7 seconds.

  • Take out and put directly into the cool water, out of the direct sun, and let rest. I highly recommend adding plant food to your water (just a spoon full). It really does help!

With woodies, you are going to have some additional steps with stem preparation. These steps will allow your woodies to make sure they are hydrating the best they can.

  • Be sure to use heavy-duty pruners for these next steps.

  • Split up the stem end. Make a fresh cut straight across the bottom and then split the stem from the bottom at a diagonal (about an inch, an inch, and a half). This will allow more surface area for the water to keep the plant hydrated.

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