D.I.Y. wedding flowers ~ conditioning

Are you looking for a way to design gorgeous wedding flowers on a budget?  If you’re a D.I.Y. bride,  you’ve come to the right place.  We are just as excited as you are about making your day personal and put-together.  Today we will share our expertise on conditioning cut flowers, an essential part of making your wedding pieces look their best.

Gerbera daisies in buckets

What do we mean by “conditioning?”  The term refers to every step you take in caring for fresh flowers from the time you receive them until the time they’re placed in a design.  At the shop, this process extends from the moment we unpack our morning shipment to the moment a customer buys the flowers, either wrapped up or arranged in a vase.

For D.I.Y. weddings, the conditioning process begins the moment you pick up your flowers, whether you purchase them from a florist or a farmer’s market vendor or harvest them from a family member’s garden.  Conditioning includes everything you do with the flowers until they are bound into boutonnieres or gathered into bouquets.

delphinium and tulip boutonniere pink rose bridesmaids' bouquets in rhinestone-belted vases

In another post, we will go into more detail about the supplies and tools involved in this process.  For now, let’s just talk through the steps.

Before you decide to take on the task of preparing your own wedding flowers–or have a relative or friend do it for you–make sure you have a cool place to store and work with the flowers.  Between 45 and 60 degrees is ideal.  You don’t want the flowers to get too cold or their tissues will break down and look like this.

frozen rose

But you don’t want them to get too hot or they will dehydrate and look like this–these are both yarrow; the dehydrated flower is on the right.

left--fresh yarrow; right--dehydrated yarrow

Not pretty, right?  If you’re getting married in July and your aunt plans to arrange all your flowers on her sun porch…well, heads up!  If you’re worried that the environment you have for your flowers might be problematic, talk to your florist and ask for advice.

Professional florists who sell you flowers to design on your own will usually begin the conditioning process for you, cutting the stems and allowing them to begin rehydrating in nutrient-treated water.  If not, you have a couple things to think about once you get them home.  More on that in a minute.

To begin with, you’ll want to get the flowers in water as soon as you can.

flowers hydrating  in black buckets

Transport in a hot car can be death for them, so if it’s a warm month get the AC cranking on your way to pick up your treasures.  Conversely, if it’s the dead of winter, have the heater going.  Bring several tall buckets or vases with you in case the florist does not intend to let you take her buckets home with you.  (Sometimes you can keep the buckets for a deposit price; sometimes old freebies may be available; but it’s best to be prepared with your own buckets if you haven’t discussed this ahead of time.)

It’s okay to “toss and go” for the trip home; making sure everything is in a few inches of water is the important part.  Also ensure that the buckets can’t tip on the drive home.  Stuffing the space between the buckets with towels or blankets can help stabilize things.  You may also find it helpful to bring a friend who can place a steadying hand on the cargo while you drive.

When you get to the area where the flowers will be stored, then go ahead and put at least a half gallon of water in each bucket.  It’s not as much as it sounds like!

If you have flower food, stir it in as well as you can.  Do not use warm water to get the food to dissolve; warm water will encourage your flowers to open wider and, unless it’s the day before the wedding and you have tightly closed lilies you need to open, warm water is going to do more harm than good.  If there’s some powder floating in the water, don’t worry about it.  As long as you have correctly diluted the solution you’re fine.  The flower food we use requires one full scoop per gallon of water.

Floralife powder and pump

Lay out your flowers one bunch at a time.  A countertop or long table works well for this. Strip off any leaves that would sit below the water line when the flowers are standing in the bucket.  Extra leaves can break down, encouraging bacteria growth in the water.  Bacteria can clog the stems and prevent the flowers from drinking properly, which causes them to look less than their best and, at worst, causes them to wilt.  So off with the leaves!

You can keep some near the top, but most leaves will be stripped off in the design process anyway.  Think about which ones you might want to have showing–for example, an hydrangea leaf peeking out from a bridal bouquet looks lovely–but discard the rest.

blue hydrangea with leaves showing

You’re going to start cutting stems now.  These directions are for right-handed people, but if you’re a leftie just switch.  Hold the flower stem in your left hand like this.

holding the stem in the left hand

In your right hand, position a sharp knife with all your fingers curled under the handle and your thumb parallel to the blade, like this.

proper technique for holding a knife to cut stems

Hold the blade against the stem; hold your thumb rigid; and draw the knife firmly down at a 45 degree angle.

cutting the stem at an angle with thumb parallel to blade

Do not bring the knife straight toward your body.  If it helps you feel safer, you can actually hold the cutting hand off to the side of your body and pretend that you are going to swing the knife into the empty space beside you.  Hopefully you won’t be cutting with enough force to actually have follow-through (!) but if you slip a little, there won’t be any flesh to contact.  These are just safety tips, nothing to get you worried.

Here’s why we cut this way.  An angled cut ensures that the stems never touch flat against the bottom of their container, so they’re always completely surrounded by water and able to drink.  A cut from a sharp, clean knife slices through the stem without damaging its structure.  Scissors and shears can crush flower stems.  They can also introduce bacteria because gunk can hide between the blades.  A knife cut is preferable because it leaves the end of the stem clean and wide open to drink up water.  *See the special note below for roses.

Plan to let your flowers drink for the first full day.  For example, if your wedding is on a Saturday, pick up your flowers Thursday afternoon and don’t begin arranging until Friday.  Then, after the pieces are prepped, spritz them with water or Crowning Glory solution for extra hydration.  Keep them in a cool–but not too cold–place overnight.

flowers in the cooler

On the day of the wedding, whoever is placing the centerpieces should check to make sure the water still looks clear.  If it is at all murky, simply pour it out and refill the vase at the sink.  It’s okay if the refill doesn’t contain any flower food because the flowers only have to make it for a few more hours at that point.  If they’ve been well-conditioned from the beginning they will do marvelously.

Good luck to you–may everything you touch bloom beautifully!

~Every Bloomin’ Thing

Did you find this helpful?  For more posts in the D.I.Y. Wedding Flowers series, click here.

*Roses require extra T.L.C.  Because their stems hate being exposed to the air, they begin to form a protective seal within seconds after a fresh cut.  To deal with this, we use a Quick Dip solution.  After cutting rose stems, we dunk the stems into the solution for 3 to 5 seconds, then place them in the bucket of water.  Ask your florist about Quick Dip, especially if you have an all-rose bouquet.

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  1. […] can, we cut stems with a sharp, clean knife.  The reasons for this are explained in detail in the conditioning post, but in short, it’s to prevent damage and bacteria growth.  Sometimes it’s not […]

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