Do cut flowers last longer if you cut up or bruise the bottom of the stems? How?

They do indeed! There is a lot of contradictory advice on the internet about the handling and care of cut flowers.  In fact, there’s enough advice to fill an academic journal – so much so that it could make you want to give up displaying flowers. I digress. Let’s nip this question in the bud.
Flower alone by @Doug88888, on Flickr
Whether you buy flowers from a shop, or grow them in your own garden, they’ll need their stems cut at the bottom before you place them in a vase. Why? Because the moment you cut a flower from the bush or plant, an air bubble will form at the base of the stem. If you think of how a plant continually sucks up water from its base (by capillary action*), then exposing a cut stem to air will mean an air bubble forms at the bottom. This air bubble will block then flow of water up the flower. That’s why everyone will tell you to cut the stem; it means you get rid of the air bubble that’s blocking the flow of water.

And I’ll give you another flower handling tip: make the cut slanted as it improves the water intake by increasing the surface area of the stem that is in contact with the water. Just remember that how you treat the stem of the flower can vary depending on the flower variety. For example, certain hollow-stemmed flowers need special care, as do woody-stemmed roses (the Royal Horticultural Society has some advice here). So it would be a good idea to Google your varieties of flower before you start cutting or bruising the stem, just to get your money’s worth.

So there you have it, the science behind flower care. Right, can I start laying out my flower puns? What a blooming great question; I hope I got to the root of the problem and haven’t stemmed any new ones. Ah, that felt good.

Answer by Matt Powell

Question from Louise Allan via Facebook

*NB. Technically, it is not ‘capillary action’ that causes water to flow up a flower, but the movement of water along a ‘water gradient’.  Water entering at the bottom of the plant creates a pressure that forces the rest up towards the top. You can read more about the finer points here.

Article by Matthew Powell

August 22, 2013

Matt is a graduate from Oxford, who is interested in the universe and has spent many a night in the bar trying to explain space to disgruntled students. Besides being the meanest ukulele player to grace the English countryside, Matt spends his time reading, writing and walking. He’s also the intern…

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