On The Garden Path: Cut Flowers

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DELIGHTFUL DISPLAYS: Cut lilies, such as white Oriental and Asiatic, make beautiful, fresh flower arrangements that are perfect for any room of the house.
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DAZZLING: Floral designers are big fans of bicolored dahlias, like 'Osaka,' because of their simple beauty. Other folks prefer solid-colored dahlias in a variety of colors combined in one vase to create a rainbow bouquet.
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The end of summer doesn’t have to mean the end of summer flowers. Two of the most spectacular summer bloomers – dahlias and lilies – reach peak availability as cut flowers in late summer and fall. This is good news for those who like to keep summer sizzling inside while it slips away outside.


Dahlias are South American na­­tives, hailing from the mountainous regions of Mexico and Guatemala. Westerners first discovered them around the time of the conquistadors. Initially, their interest was in the plants’ roots. Naturalists of the time thought they might make a tasty alternative to the potato. Although entirely edible, the dahlia’s career as a potato substitute was short lived. It soon became apparent that the flowers were the prize.

Taken back to Europe, dahlias were soon hybridized, eventually giving us the spectacular specimens – from small to huge – we enjoy today.


Lilies, which are among the most elegant of the summer flowers, are another favorite that are at peak availability from early summer well into the fall months. Native to the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, their large, trumpet-like flowers riding atop tall, spiky-leaved stems rival any of the modern tropical plants for exotic grace.

Lilies have a long history. The ancients prized their scent and used them in cosmetics and medicines. They have also been used for everything from wrinkles to snakebites.

Tips for dynamic cut dahlias

  • Choose dahlias with blooms that look fresh and full of bounce. Avoid dahlias if the tips of the blooms are wilted or brown.
  • Cut dahlias are thirsty.
  • If you’re cutting dahlias from a garden, cut them in the morning or late afternoon, as midday sun can stress the flowers. Cut them with a sharp knife, then place them in lukewarm water immediately to ‘harden’ the stems.
  • Before arranging dahlias cut from the garden, cut the stems again and sear the cut ends with a match. This eliminates sap that can gunk up the water channels. Most store-bought dahlias will have already received this treatment.
  • Use cut flower food if available.
  • In order to perform their best, all cut dahlias need to be conditioned before arranging them in a vase. To do this, strip off the bottom leaves, cut the stems with a sharp knife, and then immerse the stems in cool water. Store them in a cool spot away from direct sunlight overnight.
  • Change the water every day or two, to keep bacterial problems to a minimum. To get the most out of your cut flowers, trim the stems 1/2 inch to 1 inch each time you change the water.

Tips for making cut lilies last

  • Buy lilies when the lowest bud on the stem has just opened.
  • When you get them home, remove the lower leaves on the stems so no foliage will be underwater in the vase. Leaves submerged in water can produce bacteria, which will foul the water and shorten the life of the cut flowers.
  • Fill a container with lukewarm water, and add fresh flower food at half the recommended strength, as lilies like to ‘eat’ light.
  • Cut at least 1/2 inch off each stem with a sharp knife just before putting them in the water/food solution. Lilies generally have long stems, so be sure to choose a tall enough vase to accommodate them. Also, when arranging them in the vase, arrange them loosely, as that’s how they look best.
  • Change the water every other day to keep the flowers’ appearance looking fresh, adding half the recommended flower food dosage each time.
  • As the blossoms wither and the leaves turn yellow, snip them off.
  • Place lilies away from direct sunlight, as well as hot and cold drafts. Also, do not place them near bowls of fruit, because as fruit ripens, it produces ethylene gas, which can shorten the life of lilies.
  • If lily pollen – the golden or reddish ‘dust’ on the anthers of each bloom – gets on your clothing or other fabric, let it ‘dry,’ then carefully brush it away with a tissue. Another method to rid fabric of pollen is to gently dab pieces of adhesive tape on the fabric until the pollen is gone. Do not brush pollen away with your hands, as the oils from your skin will set the stain. Also, do not use water or a wet cloth, because doing so will spread the pollen and stain the fabric at the same time. If any pollen remains, place the fabric in direct sunlight for a couple of hours, and the stain should disappear. If pollen does stain your fabric, the stains can often be removed with an enzymatic laundry detergent, such as Era.

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