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What technique gives optimum sunflower vase life?

Recipes for vase life of cut flowers are as numerous as stew recipes.  There are literally dozens of suggestions and testimonials about how sunflowers should be handled after cutting to assure long vase life.

Almost all growers agree that flowers are best when cut from plants that are not stressed.   During the heat of summer it seems reasonable to assume that a stem cut from a plant will remain healthy longer if the plant is well hydrated at time of cutting.

Not only does this mean that it is ideal that the plant being cut have adequate soil moisture available, but it also means that it is best to cut sunflowers in the early morning before the leaves on the plant begin transpiring – or losing water.   Remember on bright sunny days, the sunflower plants are photosynthesizing and the demand for water in the plant is at its maximum.

At we like to cut sunflowers in the early morning usually before 10 am.   We avoid very cold water and very hot water.  The best water temperature is 100 F to 110 F (37 C to 43 C).  Generally we cut about 30 inches (75 cm) of stem and immediately place the cut end of the stems in water leaving the bucket in the shade of the plants while we continue cutting.

Once we are out of the field, we strip all of the leaves leaving a few leaves at the top of the stem to provide fullness in the final bouquet. It is important to remove the leaves on the stem because if they are immersed under water they easily rot and shorten the life of your flowers.  Likewise, if you leave too many leaves on the top of the plant above the water they serve to dehydrate and wick moisture out of the stems.   The stems can be re-cut and the flowers placed for 20-30 minutes in a clean water solution (0.02% v/v) of hydrating agents like either Tween-20 or Triton X-100.  This treatment aids in preventing premature wilting of the flowers.

To extend the vase life of sunflower a number of commercial preservatives are available such as Chrysal Floral Preservative and Floralife Crystal Clear.  Solutions made of these flower preservatives contain sugars for nutrition, bacteria fighting compounds, and slight acid in some form to acidify the water.

There are numerous homemade recipes that combine the same kinds of nutrients and might be useful. Three that you might want to test to make your own decision are given below:

Cut Flower Preservative Recipe #1

  • 2 cups lemon-lime carbonated beverage (e.g., Sprite™ or 7-Up™)
  • 1/2 teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • 2 cups warm water

Cut Flower Preservative Recipe #2

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • 1 quart warm water

Cut Flower Preservative Recipe #3

  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon household chlorine bleach
  • 1 quart warm water

Finally, remember that your flowers appreciate a fresh, clean start every three days or so.  Change the solution in your vase and re-cut the ends of the stems to promote longer vase life.