Backyard Bouquet Tips From Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers

– Posted in: Flowers on the Brain

Small nosegay with handwritten note

Simple. A small nosegay created by a child, neither elaborate or expensive, can still brighten a grownup’s day.

Flower arranging, I’ve discovered, is one of those things that can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. Before reading Slow Flowers by Debra Prinzing (read my review), I had read other books and articles on flower arranging in the past, and I always got hung up on the details. So I asked Debra what she thought about some of the tips I’d picked up from my previous reading.

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:

  1. Acid
  2. Carbohydrates
  3. 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.

The product images link to Amazon. I get a small commission if you purchase something after following one of those links.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

Comments on this entry are closed.

Sandra Blaine July 23, 2013, 9:08 am

I would really like to learn flower arranging techniques. I admire Debra Prinzing’s creativity. I’ve read the review. It’s really nice. Also, thanks for the link. 🙂

Lisa@YourEasyGarden July 22, 2013, 2:26 pm

Listerine for tools! Who knew? I like the suggestions for how long to trim the stems, and the video really helps!

Maxine July 22, 2013, 4:51 am

Another great post. Love the video. x

Donna@Gardens Eye View July 21, 2013, 5:30 pm

I have wanted to learn more about flower arranging and this is a great start!!

Gail July 21, 2013, 2:31 pm

Love the vase suggestions…

Robin Ripley July 21, 2013, 2:23 pm

Great tips. I’m going to have to give Listerine a try when working with my roses.

Diane C July 21, 2013, 11:55 am

I enjoyed the tips. I really liked the video as well … I’ll be on the lookout for flowers when I go to the farmer’s market!

College Gardener July 21, 2013, 10:59 am

Very enlightening! Thanks!