How to Harvest, Condition, and Care for Cut Flowers

Spring, summer, and fall are a great time to bring the garden indoors with cut flowers.  No prior experience is necessary to harvest flowers for bouquets.   
If you cut flowers from your own garden, there are several things that can be done to condition those flowers to ensure they stay fresh, colorful, and vibrant for as long as possible.

Harvest & Conditioning  |  Care  |  Good Species from the Garden for Cut Flowers  |  More Information

Harvesting and Conditioning Cut Flowers

Cut flower gardenUse these tips to get the most out of flowers harvested from your garden.

Keep it Sharp and Clean

Use a sharp, clean knife or shears when cutting flowers.  You want to cut the stems cleanly without crushing them.

Harvest at the Right Time

Cut flowers at the proper stage of development and when they are most turgid (fully hydrated).  The appropriate time to cut flowers depends on the species of plant.  Some flowers should be cut in the bud stage, while others should be fully open.  Flowers are most turgid in the morning before the heat and stress of the day.  Many cut flower growers harvest early in the morning – near sunrise – for best blooms.

Get Them in Water.....Fast!

Place the flowers in water as quickly as possible.  If you are cutting flowers from your garden – take a vase or bucket of water with you.  The faster the stems are hydrated, the longer they will last.

Store in Cool Place

Keeping blooms as cool as possible (without freezing) will extend their vase life.  If they will not be used or arranged right away, store cut flowers in temperatures between 40° and 60°F.  If it will be more than a day or two, cooler temperatures will be even better.  For longer-term storage, 33° to 35°F is the ideal temperature.  A refrigerator can work well for short-term storage of many cut flowers.

Some Species Need Special Care

Certain plant species involve special treatment.  Stems that exude a milky sap, may need to be singed or burned slightly to prevent excess sap loss.  Simply hold the cut end over a candle flame for a few seconds until the flow of sap stops.  Stems of woody plants like lilac may need to be cut twice to ensure adequate water uptake.  After removing the stem from the plant, cut the bottom inch of the stem again, crosswise this time, prior to placing it in the vase.

Care of Cut Flowers

Use a Floral Preservative

Purchase a floral preservative from a florist or garden center.  Floral preservatives are designed to help keep the water clean, provide carbohydrates or sugars to the developing flowers, and generally extend the vase-life of almost all flowers.  Sugar, aspirin, tea, pennies, rusty nails, bleach, citric acid, and other ingredients do not work as well as a floral preservative.  In fact, some of these materials can shorten the vase life of cut flowers.  If you don't have a floral preservative – skip it – clean water without additives is second best.

Keep the Foliage Out of the Water

Remove the lower leaves on flower stems.  Leaves that are submerged in water will likely rot and quickly discolor the water.  This means you will need to change the water more frequently.

Use a Clean Vase

Arrange the flowers as you see fit in a sturdy, clean vase.  Make sure all flower stems have access to water.  Almost anything will suffice as a vase, as long as it holds enough water for several days for the flowers.

White Asiatic Lily
Asiatic Lily (Lillium)

Check and Change the Water Regularly 

Change the water as needed.  When the water level gets low or it starts to get cloudy, simply dump it out and replace with clean, fresh water.  More floral preservative will be needed when you replace the water.  No need to recut stems as long as you are reasonably quick.  Re-cutting stems under water is ideal, but sometimes difficult to manage – especially after you have already arranged the flowers in the vase.

Species in the Garden That Make Good Cut Flowers

There are many flowers in the home garden that also make excellent cut flowers. With a few notable exceptions (like hosta and lily-of-the-valley) most flowers grown for cut flowers prefer full sun and well-drained soils.

Perennials  |  Annuals & Tender Perennials  |  Woody Plants  |  Foliage


Perennials for Good Cut Flowers

Common Name Genus Season of Bloom
Bearded Iris Iris Spring
Coral Bells Heuchera Spring
Daffodil Narcissus Spring
Hyacinth Hyacinthus Spring
Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria Spring
Peony Paeonia Spring
Tulip Tulipa Spring
Columbine Aquilegia Spring
Bleeding Heart Lamprocapnos Spring
Ox-eye Daisy Leucanthemum Spring
Baby's Breath Gypsophila Summer
Bee Balm Monarda Summer
Blazing Star Liatris Summer
Coneflower Echinacea Summer
Daylily Hemerocallis Summer
Delphinium Delphinium Summer
Globe Thistle Echinops Summer
Hosta Hosta Summer
Asiatic & Oriental Lily Lilium Summer
Garden Phlox Phlox Summer
Spiked Speedwell Veronica Summer
Yarrow Achillea Summer
Blanket Flower Gaillardia Summer
Tickseed Coreopsis Summer
False Sunflower Heliopsis Summer
Avens Geum Summer
Stokes' Aster Stokesia Fall
Tall Sedum Hylotylephium  Fall
Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia Fall
Mum Chrysanthemum Fall
Goldenrod Solidago Fall
Sneezewed Helenium Fall
Aster Symphyotrichum Fall
Windflower Anemone Fall
Russian Sage Salvia (syn: Perovskia) Fall
Northern Sea Oats Chasmanthium Fall

Annuals & Tender Perennials

Annuals & Tender Perennials for Good Cut Flowers

Common Name Genus
Zinnia Zinnia
Cosmos Cosmos
Sunflower Helianthus
Larkspur Consolida
Marigold Tagetes
Lisianthus Eustoma
Salvia Salvia
Snapdragon Antirrhinum
Cock's Comb Celosia
Statice Limonium
Pot Marigold Calendula
Stock Matthiola
Bells of Ireland Moluccella
Bachelor's Button Centaurea
Globe Amaranth Gomphrena
Sweet Pea Sweet Pea
Ornamental Millet Pennisetum
Gladiolus Gladiolus
Dahlia Dahlia

Woody Plants

Trees and Shrubs for Good Cut Flowers

Common Name Genus Season of Bloom
Forsythia Forsythia Spring
Pussy Willow Salix Spring
Lilac Syringa Spring
Bridal Wreath Spiraea Spring
Witch Hazel Hamamelis Winter/Spring
Flowering Quince Chaenomeles Spring
Butterfly Bush Buddleia Summer
Hydrangea Hydrangea Summer
Rose Rosa Summer
Seven Sons Flower Heptacodium Fall

Plants with Good Foliage to Use in Cut Flower Arrangements

Good Foliage Plants for Floral Arrangements

Common Name Genus Type of Plant
Hosta Hosta Perennial
Coral Bells Heuchera Perennial
Japanese Painted Fern Athyrium Perennial
Ostrich Fern Matteuccia Perennial
Christmas Fern Polystichum Perennial
Solomon's Seal Polygonatum Perennial
Lady's Mantle Alchemilla Perennial
Switchgrass Panicum Perennial
Maiden grass Miscanthus Perennial
Canna Canna Tender Perennial
Elephant's Ear Colocasia Tender Perennial
Licorice Plant Helichrysum Annual
Ornamental Kale/Cabbage Brassica Annual
Ninebark Physocarpus Shrub
Holly Ilex Shrub
Smoketree Cotinus Shrub

More Information

How to Care for Cut Flowers

Last reviewed:
January 2023