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Since 1998, Penn State Extension in cooperation with the Department of Horticulture at the University Park Campus in State College have been trialing cut flowers at multiple sites across Pennsylvania. Through these trials, we have begun to build a list of those cut flowers that are best suited for Pennsylvania growers. With the huge number of flower varieties available, there are many that have yet to be tested. Your gardening friends and neighbors can probably add to the list of flowers offered in this publication.
In general, if you look for the scissors icon in your seed catalogs or on seed packets you'll have varieties that are better suited to a cutting garden. These varieties have stems long enough to make cutting them useful. They should also have better vase life than bedding types. Most flowers will continue to push additional blooms from healthy plants if you keep cutting them. The best method to apply water is by using drip, trickle or soaker hose to the plants root system. Not only do you get more water where it is actually needed and waste very little, but your flowers will be look better when kept dry as much as possible.
The last step to great cut flowers is in knowing how to handle your flowers once they are cut. Try to cut them after the morning dew is dried off but before the heat of the day has soaked in. This will prevent mildewing of the flowers and stems while avoiding unnecessary cooking of the blossoms. Be sure to immediately place the cut flowers into clean water in clean buckets. Use a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts water to clean your buckets and prevent disease buildup between uses. The water that the flowers actually go into should be acidified. Recut flower stems as you prepare them for a vase in order to insure that they have fresh tissue exposed to take up water. You can either use floral preservative (follow label directions) or add citric acid. 1 Tablespoon of powdered citric acid (available from bulk food suppliers) will acidify 4 gallons of water enough to greatly improve vase life. Floral preservatives have the added benefit of supplying a little carbohydrate (sugar) which will help unopened buds to open along with bactericides which will help to keep the water clear. There are many home recipes available to make your own floral preservative; none work as well as the commercial preparations when mixed properly. Do not be tempted to stretch a floral preservative by adding extra water. This usually results in substantially shorter vase life as there is enough carbohydrate present to feed the bacteria, but not enough bactericide to control them.
by Steve Bogash, former extension educator
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