How to keep Valentine roses fresh longer

How to make cut flowers last longer.

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Happy Valentine's Day to all! If you've received flowers for this romantic holiday, or if you ever buy cut flowers as a gift, here are tips to make them look good for a long time (and some help if they don't).

If you've received a box or vase of long-stemmed roses -- or other flowers -- here's what to do.

1. If your flowers didn't arrive in a vase, find one that's tall enough and rinse the dust from it, or wash it thoroughly and then rinse well. This seems simplistic, but a clean vase or container really does contribute to a longer-lasting bouquet.

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2.  Fill the vase about one-half full with lukewarm (never cold) water.

3. Mix the little packet of floral preservative that came with the flowers with the water. (It may also be labeled "flower food.") If your flowers didn't come with any, make your own. Here's a simple formula from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon liquid bleach (Clorox), and 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice mixed in 2 quarts of lukewarm water.

Michigan State recommends another homemade concoction that will extend the life of your flowers: "To 1 gallon of water, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Or, combine equal parts of lemon-lime soft drink (not diet) and water. Flowers in a preservative solution will last about twice as long as those in plain water."

4. Next, follow the Farmer's Almanac's advice: "Remove all leaves and foliage from the portion of the stems that will rest beneath the water. ... Re-cut the stems at an angle with a sharp knife [or a sharp pair of pruners, if you have them], being careful not to crush the stems. This will ensure better water absorption."

I cut 1/2 inch to 3/4 of an inch off the base of the stems and do it at a 45-degree angle. The angle is important, because it means the bottoms of the stems won't be sitting straight against the bottom of the vase, blocking water uptake.

5.   "Any cut flower arrangement will last longer if it's kept cool," says Don Janssen of University of Nebraska Extension. "Place it where it won't be exposed to direct sun, heat from appliances or electric lights, or hot or cold drafts. If possible, move it to a cool spot ...  at night. Both heat and moving air take moisture from the flowers at an accelerated rate."

On the other hand, if your roses are in tight buds and you want them to open more quickly, place the vase in a warm room till they do, then move the vase back to a cooler spot to extend their lives.

6. Add more water daily to keep the level high. If you can, it's a good idea to change the water every fourth day, replacing the old water with fresh (and more floral preservative).

7. What happens if you carefully follow all this advice your roses wilt, or hang their necks? "Wilted roses may be revived by re-cutting the stem under water. Then submerge the entire rose in warm water by laying it in a sink or bathtub," advises Barbara Larson of the University of Illinois Extension. "After 20 to 60 minutes, the rose should have absorbed enough water to reinvigorate it. Roses in tight bud, which are severely wilted at the neck, may not revive."

In the bathtub??? Yes, you're going to feel silly, but, trust me, it really works.

And here are plenty more tips from Amy Stewart, author of "Flower Confidential." Enjoy your Valentine flowers!

(NOTE: We invite you to visit the main page of the Monitor’s gardening site , where you can find many articles, essays, and blog posts on various garden topics.)

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