Post-harvest handling and vase life

By Lynn Byczynski

How long should cut flowers last in the vase? Cut flower growers who sell at farmer's markets joke that the ideal vase life is 6 days - just long enough that the customer will buy them every week. In truth, most growers aim for the longest vase life possible so customers will see the flowers as a good value and come back again and again.

Here are the top 5 factors that determine vase life:

  1. The variety itself. Some flowers last a day, some last three weeks. Even within species, there can be big differences in vase life among cultivars. For example, single stem sunflowers last several days longer than branching varieties. Various products are available to increase vase life, but there is, nevertheless, a maximum longevity for every variety. The Flower Farmer lists vase life for 100 of the most commonly grown varieties.
  2. Stage at harvest. Most flowers can be picked before they are fully open, and they will continue opening in water. Picking at an early stage gives the end user a longer vase life than waiting to pick until the flower is fully opened. Floral preservatives can help in this regard because they contain sugar, which feeds the flower so it continues to open and develop good color.
  3. Time of day at harvest. Flowers should be picked in the morning or evening; picking during the heat of day makes it difficult for the flower stem to take up water and results in shorter vase life.
  4. Temperature and light after harvest. Flowers that are exposed to heat and direct sun after harvest will suffer. Some, though not all, can be stored in a cold cooler to prolong vase life. All will benefit from being held in an air-conditioned room, out of direct sunlight.
  5. Cleanliness. Once flowers are cut, they take up water through their stems. Bacteria can clog the stems, reducing water uptake and causing them to wilt prematurely. Therefore, it is imperative to reduce the chance of bacterial contamination. Anything that touches the flowers must be extremely clean - clippers, water, buckets, vases. Scrub everything before every use with soap and bleach, and let tools dry in the sun. If stems are dirty (after a heavy rain, for example), let the soil wash off in the picking bucket, then transfer the stems to a bucket of clean solution. Floral preservatives contain a biocide that kills bacteria, and should be used if cut flowers don’t last long enough.

Lynn Byczynski is the editor of Growing for Market and the publisher of The Hoophouse Handbook.

Articles by Lynn Byczynski

About the author:

Lynn Byczynski was growing organic vegetables and cut flowers for market when she decided to create a magazine that would help market gardeners nationwide share experiences and information. Her first issue of Growing for Market appeared in January 1992 and it has been published continuously since then. GFM is renowned in the market gardening world for realistic articles that give growers practical, how-to information about growing and selling produce and flowers. Lynn is now partnering with Johnny's to provide similarly useful information for the website and other publications. Lynn, her husband Dan Nagengast, and their two children have grown vegetables and cut flowers since 1988, selling through a CSA, at farmers markets, to chefs, grocery stores, and florists. They currently grow cut flowers and hoophouse tomatoes on about 2 acres of their 20-acre farm near Lawrence, Kansas. Lynn is also the author of several books about market farming: The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower's Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers ; The Hoophouse Handbook ; Market Farming Success