Linda Geist
  • Photo Miya, CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons. Source:,_pink_and_yellow_flowers.jpg.
    Photo Miya, CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons. Source:,_pink_and_yellow_flowers.jpg.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Valentine’s Day flowers, like love, can stand the test of time if given a little TLC. Call it flor-amore.

Proper care and a homemade preservative provide an extended warranty of sorts to make certain flowers last up to twice as long, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.

Cut flowers age when they lose more water than they take up, Trinklein said. This most often happens when bacteria multiply and plug the water-conducting tissue of the flower known as xylem.

Too much sunlight, drafty areas and heat also can cause excessive water loss. The result is a flower that loses its attractiveness prematurely.

Improper care of flowers can be the kiss of death, so it is important to show them some love to avoid heartbreak.

First, if you receive boxed flowers such as roses, prepare them for arranging by cutting about 1 inch off the bottom of the stems. Otherwise, a bubble of air formed at the base of the xylem can slow the uptake of water. Make a slanted cut, which provides more surface area to take up water than a straight cut.

After cutting, immediately immerse the cut stems in a clean vase filled with water treated with a floral preservative. Cut the stems again about every third day and place flowers in fresh solution. This works equally well for flowers from a florist or from your home garden, Trinklein said.

When flowers arrive in a vase or if you buy a floral arrangement, ask the florist if preservatives were added. Boxed flowers such as roses may arrive with a small packet of preservative to add when the flowers are arranged.

Floral preservatives usually contain food, mostly in the form of sugar, along with a material to reduce the pH of the water, such as citric acid. The latter is helpful since bacteria tend to multiply more slowly in slightly acidic solutions. Additionally, preservatives contain a bactericide to further slow the growth of bacteria. Finally, a wetting agent is added to reduce the surface tension of the water. This allows the water to more easily travel through the xylem.

Commercial preservatives are convenient, but homemade solutions work equally well. Trinklein’s recipe uses lemon-lime soda to provide sugar and make the solution more acidic. Mouthwash provides the needed bactericide and dishwashing liquid serves as a wetting agent.


1 pint lemon-lime soda (not diet)
1 pint water
1 teaspoon antiseptic mouthwash such as Listerine or Scope
1-2 drops dishwashing liquid

Preservatives help flowers last longer, but they will not last forever.

“The beauty and ephemeral nature of a rose or other Valentine’s Day flower is part of what makes it special,” Trinklein said. “Perhaps they would not be as appreciated if they lasted forever.”

Photo by Miya, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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