"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may," poet Robert Herrick tells us, but he doesn't mention how to make them open. Whether you received florist rose flowers or cut a selection of your own from your garden, warm water and shorter stems are two tricks to try.

Wooden working table with vase of roses in modern office
credit: Naphat_Jorjee/iStock/Getty Images
A vase of beautiful open roses on an office table.

Bye-Bye to Bacteria

Clean tools and containers allow cut rose flowers to open and last in a vase. Bacteria is not your friend when it's on or around cut roses. It plugs the flower stems and prevents regular water uptake. The result can be blooms that don't open or roses with bent necks. So wash tubs and vases with hot, soapy water. Then rinse them with a solution that is 1 part bleach and 10 parts water, and rinse them with water. Soak cutting tools in denatured alcohol, too, and keep the cutting blades sharp. Removing all foliage below the vase's water line prevents it from rotting and contaminating the water.

Garden Roses

One big difference between caring for florist roses and cut garden roses is that you decide when to take the latter. Rose blooms are most vigorous and long-lasting when cut in early morning, which is when they are full of moisture. It helps to give the ground a thorough watering the night before. Cut a rose flower only after its sepals have opened and turned downward. Sepals are the flower parts that look like green petals. If the sepals are wrapped tightly around a cut rosebud, the flower will not open. If a rose flower is of a variety typically has many petals, then wait until a few rows of petals are open before cutting that rose. Another trick for determining whether a rose flower is ready to cut is to squeeze it gently. If it feels soft and gives a little, it will likely open. Buds that are as hard as marbles won't open.

Water, Water Everywhere

Water makes the difference between a rose that opens and a rose that doesn't. When cutting flowers in your garden, have a bucket with you, and plunge each flower's stem in the bucket as soon as you cut it. If you buy or receive florist roses, immediately open the container, remove the wrapping and put the roses in water. Warm water helps roses open faster than they would otherwise, but lukewarm water results in a longer life for the flowers. Flower food added to water also helps blossoms open. Either use a commercial product or make your own, adding 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and a few drops of bleach to 1 quart of water. Neither aspirin nor pennies in the water help roses open faster or last longer.

Water Changes and Stem Cuts

Rose stems need to be cut when you first arrange the flowers in a vase of water. Make the cuts under the water and at a diagonal. Only 1/2 to 1 inch of a stem needs to be taken off, but the shorter you cut a stem, the faster its rose is likely to open. Every few days, change the vase water and recut the stems. Leave the guard petals on each garden rose when you first cut it. The guard petals are the outer petals and are larger and thicker than the inner petals; sometimes the guard petals are discolored or streaked. If a rose does not open, remove its guard petals by pulling them gently from the flower's base.