Conditioning lilacs helps blooms last longer

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: June 7, 2000 - 11:00 PM

QIs there a way to get cut lilacs to last longer? Are there some better shrubs for using in bouquets?

ASweetly fragrant lilac flowers make wonderful spring bouquets. They can be used alone or mixed with other flowers such as narcissus or tulips. With proper preparation and care, lilac flowers should last for about a week in an arrangement.

When you cut flowering stems from any woody plant, you are pruning the plant, so follow the general rules for pruning: Cut stems back to the main branch or another side stem; don't leave stubs, and don't remove too much material from any one plant.

If possible, cut lilac stems in the morning. Use a sharp pruning shears and bring a clean bucket full of warm water (about 110 degrees). Cut branches off cleanly, strip off any lower leaves, then immediately put the stems into the bucket of warm water. When you have collected the stems you want, put the bucket of flowers in a cool place out of direct light for several hours. (I put my lilacs in the basement.)

Make sure your vase is very clean. That will help prevent stem-clogging bacteria from developing. Fill the vase with clean water. You may add floral food to the water. Floral food provides sugars and acids that can help prolong the vase life of flowers.

Remove almost all of the leaves from the lilac stems. Lilac leaves wilt quickly and don't add much visual appeal to the bouquet. For greenery, you can always add some florist's greens such as asparagus fern, leatherleaf fern or eucalyptus.

Do not hammer or mash the stem ends. This damages the plant cells, disrupting their ability to move water up through the stem. Do not peel the stem or dip it in boiling water, for the same reason. Arrange the lilac stems as desired, making sure that no flowers or leaves are below the water line.

There are several things you can do at this point to extend the life of your finished arrangement. Keep the arrangement out of sunlight and in as cool a place as possible. Place the arrangement in a cool basement or garage, or outside if it's cool, when you are away or at night. Check the water level daily and change the water every day or two. You can cut an additional one-half to 1 inch off the stems after three or four days to improve continued water uptake.

Stems of many other shrubs and trees can be used in arrangements. Here are a few possibilities:

Woody plants  

  •   Forsythia (Forsythia sp.)-- Its bright yellow flowers are a harbinger of spring. Mix with pussy willows, maple flowers and early spring bulbs such as daffodils.

  •   Red maple (Acer rubrum) -- The small, bright red flowers are short-lived but very pretty, blooming in early spring.

  •   White forsythia (Abeliophylum distichum) -- An early spring bloomer, it has small fragrant white flowers similar to forsythia in shape.

  •   Lilac (Syringa sp.) -- Hybrid common lilacs offer huge clusters of fragrant flowers in white, pink and shades of purple.

  •   Crab apples, apples (Malus) -- Most crab apples and apples have wonderfully fragrant flowers in white or shades of pink and red. Flowers are short lived in arrangements, but worth using because of their smell.

  •   Mock orange (Philadelphus) -- Another wonderfully fragrant choice, this shrub blooms with white flowers in late spring or early summer.

  •   Spirea (Spiraea sp.) -- White-flowered, spring-blooming spireas can be used in arrangements, but even better are the lower growing summer flowering spireas (S. x bumalda, S. japonica). Most cultivars have light pink to deep rosy pink flowers on upright stems. Spireas mix beautifully with perennial flowers such as purple coneflower.

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