Kathy Purdy: True confession. I often just dump out the water in a vase, give it a quick rinse (maybe) and put it away. But what I’ve read is that you should wash them with soap and water–which you state in your book–and then disinfect them with a 10% bleach solution. Do you use bleach?
Debra Prinzing: When I’m cleaning my vases, I wash them like any other tableware using liquid soap, warm water and a sponge. If I have to tackle a particularly dirty or slimy vessel, I often soak it in a vinegar-water solution before resorting to bleach. Bleach can be useful if you need to sanitize a flower bucket before storing cut flowers for an extended period of time. But only use a small amount of bleach (a few tablespoons per 5 gallon bucket, for example). I have a nursery grower friend who likes to sanitize his clippers in Listerine, which I think is quite clever. It’s an antiseptic and if it’s safe enough to swish around your mouth, it’s probably just fine for your tools.
KP: For a while, articles about flower arranging advocated cutting the stems under water, that it would make them last longer. I could never be bothered, and I see you don’t mention it.
DP: I don’t mention it, but in talking with some of my florist friends, I’ve learned that the single most important flower to cut under water is a rose. When cut outside of water, the rose is exposed to oxygen, which somehow prevents that stem from absorbing more moisture. If you cut the stem under water, the exposed stem will form a moisture “bead” to prevent air/oxygen from entering that stem. I confess I still don’t always take the time to do this. Local roses are always so much fresher than anything imported that they last far longer even if I don’t do the under-water cut.
KP: What do you think of Floralife (cut flower preservative)? Is it a no-no like florist’s foam, filled with chemicals that aren’t good for us? Or is it a product that really works?
DP: I don’t use floral preservative but I don’t think it’s nearly as problematic as the foam. My friend and floral educator J Schwanke says the preservative (when diluted in water) is safe enough to drink (not that I want to try THAT)!
There are three basic ingredients to floralife-like products:
- Anti-bacterial component
These ingredients provide food to the cut stem and also help keep the water clear of bacteria.
If you think of it, that’s why all the home remedies are popular for vase life … You know, 7-up or sprite, aspirin, copper pennies, bleach, etc. I’m not saying these work, just why people think they work!
Fresh-cut, local flowers haven’t been out of the ground long so I believe they are less likely to need to be doped up on preservatives. We’ve gotten used to thinking flowers need the food, but that’s because we’ve been served up too many imported options that do need extra help.
- Clean water
- Clean vase
- Clean, sharp tools
- Fresh flowers with frequent re-cutting
- Frequently changing water
That should do the trick!
KP: How do you know how much of a stem to cut? I am always afraid I am going to cut too much off, and of course you can’t put it back after that.
DP:It’s far easier to shorten a stem than to lengthen it (ha!) so I guesstimate the length I need by tilting the stem against the outside of the vase and noting where it lines up with the bottom of the vase. Once you get going, it’s easy to cut a stem that way; then after you add it to the arrangement, you can always make adjustments by pulling out too-tall stems and trimming them down a bit. If you accidentally cut a stem too short, save it until the end of the design. By the time you’re almost finished, you can then add that shorter stem and it will probably stay “in place,” supported by other foliage and flowers. Just make sure the water level in the vase is high enough to give all cut stems a good drink.
KP: One of my readers wants to know which 3 or 4 vases would allow the best floral arrangements? I know you collect vases and have an extensive collection, but what do you consider the basics?
DP: If you want to invest in 3-4 vase styles/sizes, I would go for one tall, circular or square glass vase (IKEA and Target are good sources for basic clear glass), one ceramic, metal or glass footed bowl (like a fruit bowl), one big country-style white pitcher and one smaller vase (like a Mason or Ball jar) that can rest on the bedside stand or bathroom counter. All of these are affordable if you shop at thrift stores or garage sales. I don’t usually use narrow-necked vases unless I’m going for that single-stem or bud-vase look. For a lush, fuller arrangement that you can enjoy when viewed from all sides, you will need a larger opening. A good rule of thumb is that you’ll use 6-10 stems per one inch in diameter. That’s a lot of flowers! A 4-5 inch vase opening could use 25-50 stems. That’s why I use so much foliage, to keep my flower “cost” down, either because I don’t want to cut everything from the garden or I don’t want to spend so much at the market. I show how to design in a wider-mouth vase in this video:
If you’re interested in getting one, this flower frog is similar to the one in Debra’s video above.
Thank you, Debra, for sharing your tips on better (or at least easier) flower arranging. It really is pretty simple if you use locally grown flowers, arranged without florist’s foam.
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