Gardening / Insights

The perils of Valentine’s day and how to keep cut flowers fresh (#1288)

Did you know that more flowers are sold on Valentine’s Day than any other U.S. holiday? When it comes to buying and keeping cut flowers fresh there are a couple of tricks to follow if you want them to last longer than a day or two. It’s all about “staying power,” keeping cut flowers looking fresh as long as possible.

Case in point: On New Year’s Day, a dear friend delivered roses to a few of her buddies. I was a grateful recipient. Roses in hand, I looked at them and thought, “Alright, how long can I keep you guys looking good?” I set a goal of 30 days. How did my experiment work?

I’ll cover the final results in a moment, along with tips for increasing a cut flower’s staying power. But first, I want to dive into a few things about Valentine’s Day itself.

[Hi, there. This article you’re reading was originally published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror, the hometown newspaper for Kodiak, Alaska. You can access the archive page for my past columns, written each week since 1986].

Valentine’s Day is meant to be a celebration for and of couples, right? But the day can also be a bit of a minefield, says marriage counselor Sinead Smyth.

Now I’m no couple’s therapist, but Sinead Smyth is. As a Master Trainer in Gottman Method Couples Therapy, I found her recent article, “When You Hate Valentine’s Day” more than thought-provoking and intriguing. It hit Valentine’s Day square in the nose.

She gives three examples of how these minefields appear:

  • Is this the day I should pop the question, or is that too corny?
  • Should I buy an expensive gift so my partner feels valued or something simple that speaks from the heart?
  • Should we go for the creative date or an expensive restaurant?

Over the years, Smyth has noticed some recurring themes around Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can relate to one or more of these examples…

ENTHUSIASTIC PARTICIPANTS: Both of you go big for it. All sounds great, but the downside can be that “lots of positive energy goes into Valentine’s Day, shining a light on the scarcity of positive energy and effort toward the relationship for the rest of the year,” says Smyth.

“MEH”: Here, both partners agree on the commercialized, artificial nature of Valentine’s Day, finding off-putting, as Smyth puts it, and either reject or are ambivalent about celebrating.

LOVE/HATE: One partner loves the holiday, while the other hates it. “Either you’re chronically disappointed or you feel guilty for doing nothing and run out to the gas station at 8 pm on the 14th hoping they still have some carnations,” she says.

Well, of course, carnations! That’s obviously the problem because, in my opinion, carnations don’t last very long as cut flowers…

So here’s the thing:

When in the market for cut flowers, look for tight buds that are just beginning to open. Fully-opened flowers are short-timers.  

Roses are the most commonly-given Valentine’s flowers. Tulips are a close second. With either of these favorites, the most important thing is to buy buds that are fresh and gift-worthy.

That said, look for petals that spring back when touched.

As for color, all one color makes an impressive statement, but unless you’re color blind, don’t hesitate to mix and match.

Once your cut flowers have reached their final destination, what happens next determines if the flowers will last a few days or a few weeks. The good news is that options abound for extending the life of bouquets, starting with how you prepare the vase water.

In my research, I discovered a starter list of unusual additives: Bleach, vinegar, sugar, vodka, Listerine, Sprite or 7-Up., and crushed aspirin. One source suggested spraying the blooms with hair spray.

As for roses, here are 3 tips for keeping them looking fresh:

  1. Trim the stems at an angle, preferably while holding the stem ends underwater. The shorter you cut the stem, the longer the flower will last. I’m told this helps because the water has the least distance to travel to the rosebuds.
  2. Change the water of cut roses every other day. This is also a good time, by the way, to trim the stem by about an inch.
  3. Keep roses cool. The best place to keep your Valentine’s Day cut roses is in a cool spot of your office or home. And herein lies the secret to how we managed to keep my gifted roses looking spiffy for, not 5, 14, or 20 days, but 30 days!

In addition to regularly changing the water and trimming the stems, we kept the roses in our “cold room,” an unheated space that we use for storing grains, flour, bulk spices, ground coffee, onions, root veggies, and so on. At dinner time though, we’d light a candle, select some nice music, fetch the roses and then place them prominently near the salt and pepper shakers.

After dinner, we returned them to the cold room. And no, we didn’t add any vodka to the vase water…

Back to the overriding problem with couples on Valentine’s Day:

According to Smyth, “it lies in the mismatched and typically unspoken expectations of Valentine’s Day.” These are a source of conflict and hurt feelings for many couples, she says.

What to do?

Partners can best address these sore spots by sitting down and having intentional conversations about how they each feel cherished, courted, and appreciated by the other.

I’ll close with a few Valentine’s Day do’s, courtesy of Dr. Smyth:

  1. Acknowledge it. True, the holiday can be corny, and your partner may not be into it, but let them know you’re thinking about them.
  2. Seize the day. Think of the 14th as an opportunity to turn towards your partner in whatever way you know he or she finds meaningful.
  3. Focus on the positive. Don’t be the couple that does an exhaustive analysis of their relationship struggles on Valentine’s Day. That can wait until after the holiday. Have fun if there’s fun to be had and give your partner opportunities to come through for you.
  4. And don’t wait until the 14th to find out the ways your partner feels loved and what’s important to them. If you honestly don’t know, ask today. And keep asking. All year long.

And finally… change the water, trim the stems, and keep cool!


P.S. Slowly but surely I’m posting over 1,200 of my weekly gardening articles, which you can access here. And if you want to amp up your composting game, be sure to check out my report: “220 Things You Can Compost.” To contact me by email: marion (at)


No Comments

    Leave a Reply