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How to Pick & Process Flowers !

February 26, 2020

I used to be VERY intimidated when I went to the flower store and spent what felt like hours picking out the perfect stems.     Which ones go together, I wondered? How do I know if they’re in ok shape, if they’re going to live or die!?!? Which greens can fill these really expensive choices of mine in?
I’m not a flower whiz, but they are a passion of mine and our house is filled with freshly cut blooms for much of the year. 

As many of you know, you can pick up fantastic flowers at Trader Joes.   When I’m there I usually opt for Orchids and Alstroemerias which are cheap and bulky and can come in some very pretty shades — they also seem to last for a while and are hearty.   I also love spring flowers and fill the house with tulips, too.
I am a member of the local wholesale florist where I can select more specialty flowers regularly and often pick up ranunculus (which are delicate), peonies, dahlias, David Austin roses, more universal varieties of tulips (like parrot tulips and fringe tulips), snap dragons and I often use Queen Anne’s Lace as a filler.  

One thing to remember when picking out your flowers is not to choose ones that are already the most open/full. Assuming you want them to last a long time, go for blooms that aren’t totally closed, but not yet fully open. (I often skip over this rule when I need a flower that day– like for a photoshoot or an impromptu dinner party.)

For example, it’s totally great to pick out tulips that are fully closed.   If you want them to open sooner, you can cut their stems and place them in slightly warmer water (not hot).   For flowers like roses and peonies, you can squeeze where the head meets the stem and see if it feels tight or loose, you’re looking for firmness — you don’t want one that feels mushy or loose.  

Be sure to inspect for obvious signs of wear and tear– avoid anything with browning on the edges of leaves or at the base of the flower head itself, where the bloom meets the stem. Any wilting or sliminess is not good and can spread to other blooms, putting your whole arrangement in jeopardy of dying sooner!

Overall, it’s a new floral language journey so don’t be afraid to ask the nearby expert (there is always someone on hand at Whole Foods), because not all of the flowers presented to you are in their prime state.    And don’t beat yourself up if you end up picking ones that die the next day, it is such a bummer but it happens and you’ll know what to avoid for next time.  

What do you do with them once you take them home?? 

First of all, don’t leave them in your hot car for too long!  I always make sure the flower store is my last stop or pop by the house to throw them into water before going out again and “processing” them later.     What does “processing” them mean??
Before I even make an arrangement,  I take the flowers through a grooming regime to increase their life span.    It looks like this:

  1.  Prepare fresh clean vases (really clean, no soap leftover) with water that is cold but not freezing.   You can also use room temperature water AND if you’re trying to open up a peony or a tulip, slightly warmer water.
  2. Remove any leaves that will fall below the water line. Leaves will start to rot underwater, and the bacteria causes the flowers to fade more quickly, so getting them out of there means you’ll enjoy beautiful flowers much longer!
  3. Cut the stems of the flowers to the desired height, preferably cutting at an angle. The angle trick gives the fresh stem cut more surface area, so it can drink water more easily. Place the clean stems in water immediately so they can drink up! Make sure to recut and change the water in your vase every few days. 
  4. I like neat and tidy flowers so I go a bit further and remove any untidy leaves and or buds that aren’t going to open — super tight ones.  

Then your flowers are ready for arranging!  I usually just gather a bunch in my hands until I like the way they look, cut them to the same height and plop them into a vase.  I run my hands through them to loosen and place but I don’t worry too much about creating the perfect arrangement. One great way to get your feet wet without feeling too intimidated is to just keep like flowers together, so have a vase full of tulips and one full of ranunculus, etc.   

PS this article was fact checked by my brilliant friend Charleston Stems!!!!

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