Cut roses fill a room with fragrance and open into lush blooms. But too often, those beautiful flowers go limp, slack and lifeless -- sometimes within a day. Understanding the biology of the rose and a few tricks to keep them fresh will preserve the flowers in a vase for more than a week. Some blooms last longer than two weeks with the right handling. The University of Florida says that pink "Poison" and red "Reward" and "Valentino" cultivars will last up to 18 days under ideal conditions.
Clean and Clear
The vase that holds your roses should be sterile; microorganisms will kill off blooms in short order, so wash a vase with a solution of nine parts water to one part bleach and rinse it completely. Then, carefully strip the leaves that will be below the waterline and the guard petals -- the outer petals of the rose, especially any that are browned or damaged -- away, along with any thorns. Be gentle: Damaging the flower as you strip it creates a wound that will attract bacteria and fungi.
The Cutting Protocol
Cut the stems before placing the roses in the vase. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to avoid crushing the veins that take up water. Cut off about one inch of the stem at a sharp angle -- optimally, under warm running water. When the stem end isn't allowed to dry, even for a minute, and the cut is slanted, the rose can take up more water, and the stem won't rest on the bottom of the vase, blocking the vascular system that hydrates the flower.
Prepare the vase for the flowers with clean warm water -- about 100 degrees Fahrenheit -- and floral preservative. Most florists include a packet of preservative with roses; ask for it if you don't see one. The mix contains an antibacterial agent and sugar to feed the flowers. Don't rely on fizzy aspirin or copper pennies. Those are charming folk remedies, but they contain neither sugar nor preventatives to safeguard and nourish your flowers.
What to Do With Wilted Blooms
If the roses appear listless or begin to wilt, you can revive them with a little first aid. This works for partly opened blooms but is less effective for tightly furled buds that wilt before opening. Cut the stems underwater, at least an inch. Then lay the whole flower in a warm water bath in the sink and leave it there for 20 to 60 minutes. The pores of the flower and the newly cut stem will absorb enough warm water to rejuvenate it. Once the flower looks lively, return it to the vase with clean warm water and fresh preservative. Keep vases with roses away from a heat source. Cool areas of the room encourage the blooms to last longer. Heat will force the petals open and shorten the blooming period.
Buy roses that have been kept in refrigeration. Those beautiful bargain blooms in buckets outside the deli are already starting to die and will never last as long as blooms pampered in 32- to 34-degrees Fahrenheit temperatures. Display roses out of direct sunlight and keep them away from fruit. Fruit off-gases ethylene that will shorten the life of your flowers. The pretty bowl of apples goes in the kitchen; the roses stay in the parlor. Damaged or dying flower petals and leaves also produce ethylene, so keep your cut roses trimmed. You can keep flowers fresh longer when you are not home by storing them in the refrigerator. Change cloudy water for fresh water and preservative immediately and trim the stems of the roses when you do.
More Flower-Preserving Tricks
Try these tips and tricks for making the most of your beautiful blooms: