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Flower bouquets fade—it's simply inevitable. But extending the life of or reviving a wilted arrangement is possible, especially if you start with blooms that can go the distance. "It's really wise to choose seasonal flowers, since they're suited to your climate," says Robin Hilleary, the founder of Fleurotica, a New York-based floral studio. "If they're local and seasonal, like dahlias in the fall, then they're going to have a longer vase life. They haven't had to travel on planes or been dipped in crazy chemicals."
There are other ways, beyond choosing hardy cut varieties, to ensure your bouquets last. For example, be sure to place your arrangement in the best setting to prevent wilting. If you've noticed that a vase of stems is starting to droop or wilt around the edges, it might be getting too much sun or heat, notes Hilleary. "A lot of people are under the misconception that flowers—once cut—behave the way a living plant would. That's just not the case," she explains. "They're not photosynthesizing once they've been snipped. They're comparable to a vegetable or an herb at that point. Keep them away from the windowsill and direct sunlight, and close to the air conditioning in summer and away from the heater in winter." But what more can you do for a bouquet that's showing signs of decline? Here, we share how to bring your arrangements back from the brink.
Change the water and wash the stems.
Stopping a bouquet's decay process means keeping a lookout for bacteria, which can get into the water and infect your stems. If this is happening, the water will be slightly discolored. "I always say keep the water fresh enough that you would want to drink it yourself," says Hilleary. "One of the other most common things people will send me is pictures of an arrangement asking why they're drooping and when I look at the bottom there's an inch of brown water. Keeping the water fresh—I say change it daily—is best." The best course of action? Empty the vase and wash it thoroughly with dish soap, before refilling it with clean water. Before you place florals back into the vessel, wash the stems and recut them.
Feed the flowers.
When flowers show true signs of fading, changing the water might not be enough. Adding a little sugar to nourish the stems, however, might help revive them. Commercial plant and flower food is available at most flower shops; little packages often come in bodega and supermarket flowers, too. In lieu of those, you can also make your own version using Sprite and water in specific parts. "To one gallon of water, add one 12-ounce can of any brand of a clear lemon-lime soft drink," notes the Floral Design Institute. "The sugar will provide food for the flowers and the citric acid will lower the pH of the water."
If there is already bacteria in the water supply, however, sugar won't help—but adding a small amount of bleach can actually disinfect the bouquet. Bacteria causes blockages up the lengths of the stems, which prevents water from traveling up to the bulb; when bacteria gets there first, decay begins. "Another reason for water not being able to pass through the plants is due to a bacterial infection affecting the 'open wound' where it has been previously cut," explains a representative from The Bouqs Co. "This can be especially prevalent when adding sugar or plant food, which bacteria thrive on. To keep your flower safe from an infection, add a small amount of bleach—one teaspoon to a quart—to ward off nasty microbes. As it is well-diluted, it won't harm your flowers."
Remove decaying stems.
Obviously, any bouquet will eventually start to die, even when kept in the best of conditions. As your flowers fade, however, revive what's left of your arrangement by plucking out the decaying stems, which can spread bacteria to healthy ones. Hilleary recommends removing the dying florals one-by-one over time to prevent this. "If you pull the dead stem, it's not allowed to pass bacteria onto other stems. This way, you can keep the whole thing rolling for a few weeks," she advises. "If you take out things as they go, you'll be left with a few beautiful stems."