Sprout Home Gardening Q&A: How To Pick Flowers

02/01/2012 09:28 am ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

Q: My flowers always die. I have to be doing something wrong! My spider mum senses are telling me my floral radar is off. Is there an 'Ok Cupid' for florists? Can you help me with my Anthurium aptitude? Am I seeing things through the wrong shade of rose-colored glasses? Ok, I'll stop with the analogies. How do I know which flowers are the best of the bunch? How do I pick buds and stems that will last?

A: Cut flowers have typically been cut, packed and shipped, then unpacked, processed and put on display for the consumer. That's a lot for these tender lilies to go through, so here are tips of the trade when picking out floral.
1: Look -- Check out the color of the petals and leaves. Petals should look bright and free from bruising. Leaves should appear stiff and you should not see brown spots or ends.
2: Touch -- Very gently squeeze buds and stems. Buds should have some resistance but should never feel firm. Firm buds were likely picked too early and will not open. A soft bud will open and then fall apart quickly. A proper rose should never feel hollow in bud stage. Stems should feel stiff like celery and be free from bends or cracks. Hollow stems tend to split so make sure that there are no horizontal cracks running up your stem as this will prevent your flower from taking in water.
3: Smell -- If you can smell stale water when you reach for some stems, put them back: they've been sitting too long.

Q: I love having fresh floral in the house, but every time I try to put an arrangement together myself it seems to wilt instantaneously.

A: We've taken you through the steps for picking flowers, but that's not all there is to it. It also might be an issue of how the floral is prepped and treated after you take it home.

Q: I do put them in water right away -- I thought that is all you need to do?

A: You are doing the right thing by putting them in water right away, but there are some other precautionary measures to take when prepping your flowers. Make sure you give your floral a fresh cut at a diagonal before you do so -- this allows the flower to drink readily. If you selected woody branch material, such as lilac, shave some of the exterior bark from the end that you just cut and also slice up the stem. As a general rule use lukewarm water in your vase versus cold. You also want to remove any unwanted greenery from the stalk.

Q: Remove unwanted greenery? I never remove anything because I want my arrangement to be as full as possible.

A: The greenery I am referring to is any leaves that would be hitting below the vase's waterline. If the are leaves swimming in your arrangement, the water will be become dirty at a faster rate. Bacteria will manifest quickly and it will take your arrangement with it. Strip any leaves that could be in that water in order to prolong your arrangements life. You can also remove some greenery from the actual arrangement in order to allow for airflow into the vase.

Q: Whenever I do see the water color turning, I know that it I might have only another day with my flowers before I am forced to throw them out. If I get rid of the greens below the water line will it stay completely clean?

A: Stripping the stalks will help tremendously but you do need to change your water every couple of days to ensure freshness. Every time you do change the water, give your floral another fresh cut. This is a great time to swap out some of the more tender flowers that might be past bloom while keeping the greens that have a longer shelf life.

Q: I am having a party tomorrow and was worried about making the arrangement today, a whole day early, but now I think I will be ok. Any other last minute advice?

A: Keep them out of the direct sun and store in a cool area until you are ready to display them. You can even keep your arrangement in your refrigerator (don't let them get below 38 degrees) to prevent showy flowers from opening early. This is especially helpful when making arrangements with petal-heavy flowers like peonies, ranunculus and roses. Take your floral out of the fridge two hours before your party and wow your guests with your floral knowledge. And, try to spare your guests the cheesy analogies.

All Photos Courtesy of Sprout Home