Valentine's Day flower test: Can vodka, bleach, soda keep your flowers fresh longer?

CLEVELAND - Flowers are one of the hottest gifts for Valentine's Day. How can you make them last their longest?

Flower care experts say bacteria can build up quickly around flower stems sitting in water. The packet of flower food that comes with most bouquets contains a bactericide. But continuing care of cut flowers is crucial.

"The best thing you can do is change the water," said Cynthia Druckenbrod, vice president of horticulture at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

After changing the water, small amounts of additives like lemon juice, vodka, bleach or vinegar can work as a "homemade preservative." Here's a link to some flower food recipes.

Sister station WEWS-TV in Cleveland conducted a test, including a live web-cam, that showed how important changing the vase water is to the longevity of fresh cut flowers.

With the help of producers, Consumer Advocate Jonathan Walsh purchased a dozen roses from four different types of flower retailers.

The prices (including taxes and fees) of the flowers in the test were as follows:

  • Big box discount store: $10.67
  • Regional chain flower store: $32.39
  • Internet/mail-order seller: $44.25
  • Full service florist delivery: $84.18

The rose bouquets were prepared on Feb. 5 using a clean vase, room-temperature water, a packet of plant food and re-cut rose stems. (The Internet order was delayed in shipping until Feb. 6 due to bad weather.)

The arrangements were then monitored by the consumer team and live on the Internet.

As many consumers might do, the only care provided to the flowers was the addition of fresh water every couple days.

All the bouquets looked great for the first three days and looked their best on day five -- but even then, some browning and drooping had begun.

The roses also bloomed unevenly. The bargain big box bunch was beyond its prime while the internet and chain store buds had just begun to open. The full-service florist delivery bouquet was visually the most impressive and consistent.

By day seven all the roses were wilting. As one of the producers noted, "The $10 bunch don't look much different than the $45 dollar ones."

In the end, it was likely the buildup of bacteria in the unchanged water that prevented the flowers from lasting longer.

To put off the demise of your Valentine's flowers the horticulture expert says there are a few things you can do.

First, look to purchase roses that are 20 to 30 percent open and have no brown, dried or wilted edges on them. Next, prepare flowers for display by cutting an inch off the stems and using the plant food that comes with most bouquets. Most importantly, do some continuing care of cut flowers.

"Change the water every day if you can, use floral preservative and cut the ends of the roses every few days, so you can promote a rose that is drinking a lot of water," said Druckenbrod.

Finally, Druckenbrod said consumers might do well to consider locally grown varieties of flowers and plants. Most cut roses are grown in Central and South America -- making flowers cultivated in northeast Ohio like violets and orchids a more ecologically responsible and sustainable alternative.

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