Tips on picking and arranging flowers for the home

Tips on picking and arranging flowers for the home

This year, I’ve been keeping track of what blooms for me and when. To date I have recorded more than 100 species of flowers (plus many named cultivars of the same genus) and 40 species of flowering trees and shrubs. Blooming begins with the snowdrops in March and continues even after the frost ends in November, and witch hazel trees bloom even after their leaves have fallen.

I grow a lot of flowers because they give me pleasure to look at. Although I spend a lot of time in the garden, I spend more time indoors than outside, so I cut stems of annuals and perennials and flowering branches and arrange them in vases. I want flowers on the kitchen table, the dining room table, the office where I write, the bedroom, the bathroom – in fact, every flat surface in the house.

Preparing and arranging flowers

The best time to pick flowers is in the cool morning, especially if the day is hot. Legs are full of water and carbohydrates and should feel full, not limp. Bring a clean container with you so that the stems are well submerged while you go around picking flowers. Instead of picking flowers right before a company dinner, try picking them before going to work in the morning.

Flowers with multiple blooms on the stem (delphinium and foxglove, for example) should have some flowers in full bloom, others showing color and some in a tight bud. This will lengthen the supply. Flowers growing on individual stems must be in full bloom or just starting to bloom. For example, peonies often have narrow buds on the same stem as open flowers, but it is rare for them to open in a vase. Daylilies bloom for only one day, but a single daylily flower can have up to 10 buds that bloom successively for a week or more.

It is best to leave freshly cut flowers in the bucket of water for an hour before arranging them. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle using floral shears or circumference shears if they are sharp. Scissors designed for cutting paper are not good for flowers, so you may want to consider purchasing scissors designed for flowers.

Because of the capillary action, the water in the hollow stems will be absorbed up the stem once it is cut. So you need to re-cut about ¾ inch from each stem and place them in a vase immediately. Otherwise the air bubble may prevent water absorption.

Be sure to remove all leaves or flowers that may be submerged in the vase you are using, as the leaves will rot and ferment and bacteria will prevent the water from being absorbed.

Florists who sell luxury roses or other expensive flowers generally offer a package of “flower preservative.” You can buy these or make your own for your local florists. In a liter of water, add a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of household bleach and two teaspoons of lemon or lime juice. I learned a long time ago to drop a few copper coins into a vase with a bunch of tulips to help keep the buds closed longer, and I’ve seen it work. If not, just change the water every two or three days and snip a little from each stem.

Choose the appropriate size of container

The height of the vase is important. I’ve read “expert” advice that recommends different ratios of vase height to flower length, from flowers being 1½ times the height of the vase, all the way up to 3 times the height of the vase.

In my opinion, a 6-inch vase will look good with 9- to 12-inch flowers, but even 18-inch stems can look good, especially if you place shorter flowers around the outside perimeter of the arrangement. I recently arranged six stems of bee balm in an 8-inch vase. I angled the stems to create a support for the 24-inch delphinium stem in the middle, standing straight up. That sounded great to me.

There are devices called frogs that can be placed in a large bowl or vase to hold flowers in place. They consist of a piece of heavy metal with sharp, upward-pointing pins that allow you to stab the flower stems and hold them in place. There are also glass frogs that have holes in a piece of glass where the stem can be placed.

What flowers should be picked now to display in a vase?

What is blooming now that will look good in a vase? I love delphiniums, astilbe, daylilies, roses, bee balm, phlox, and Shasta chrysanthemums. All will last well in a vase and provide plenty of height for a tall vase.

We’ve just finished peony season, with Itoh peonies lasting much longer than regular herbaceous peonies. They are the result of crossing peonies with ordinary peonies. Mine, called Garden Treasure, produced 30 or so 5-inch diameter flowers that last in the vase.

Flower arranging is an art form that we can all enjoy. You don’t need training or experience. Just choose what you want and arrange it in a vase, or even in a tall glass of water. Give flowers to your elderly relative or friend. Everyone loves the gift of flowers. Also be sure to put some on your dinner table tonight for her to enjoy.

Henry Homeyer’s blog appears twice a week on Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like a mailed response. Or email

You may also like...

Leave a Reply