Pick up a floral bouquet for the home and make it last

Hailing as I do from a balmier climate than this, it is noticeable to me how much more colorful the Christmas-New Year decorations become the farther north one goes. Green boughs, holly, tinsel, and colored lights peak in New England the way they do in few other areas.

Suddenly, however, New Year's Day comes and goes and all the color with it - thrown out or packed away for the next festive season.

Just as temperatures plunge to new depths, the warm festive appearance of the house is dismantled. Even the bits of tinsel are vacuumed from the rug. So if there ever was a time to stop by the florist and pick up a springtime bouquet - carnations, daisies, freesias, iris, narcissus, roses - it is now.

Dry, overheated homes have, in the past, cut flower freshness to a minimum in this period. If today's flowers are tomorrow's throwouts, visiting the florist is a waste of time and an even bigger waste of money.

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way.

For a start, the high cost of energy has tended to bring the heat inside the home much closer to a flower's preference. Then, too, there is much more that you can do to preserve the beauty of the bouquet once you get it home.

According to the American Florists Marketing Council, whose self-interest is best served only if the homeowner gets a measure of lasting beauty from flowers, you can take these simple steps:

* When you get the flowers home, immediately place the stems in warm water ( 100 degrees F.). For best results, first cut off about an inch from the stem and remove all leaves that will fall below the water line in the vase. Don't let the new cut dry out before placing the bouquet in water. Roses, in fact, do best if the stems are cut under water.

* Cut most flower stems with a sharp knife to avoid bruising. Use pruning shears or scissors only for woody stems. Cuts should be made on a slant so as to remove any damaged stem tips and ensure a wide surface for water absorption.

* Mix a floral preservative, provided by your florist, into the warm water. This helps the buds to develop into colorful, strong blooms and sustains freshness.

Now, this flower conditioning can be done right in the vase. On the other hand, if you plan a complicated arrangement or want to arrange the flowers in a shallow dish, condition the flowers in a separate container, leaving them in a cool place for two to three hours.

It is recommended that all containers be scrubbed thoroughly with detergent and hot water before use so as to get rid of any decay bacteria.

Should your flowers show any signs of wilting on the way home, revive them by submerging the flowers, except those with velvety petals, in a pan of warm water for an hour or more. Keep the petals of velvety flowers above water to avoid damage; or simply mist them regularly.

Display flower arrangements in a room with good air circulation and away from radiators, heat and air-conditioning ducts, direct sunlight, and drafts. Replenish the water and preservative solution daily.

All good things, they say, must come to an end eventually. But with cut flowers treated in this way, the end could be much later than you think.

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