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Make Flowering Branch Cuttings Last Longer in Water

Make Flowering Branch Cuttings Last Longer in Water
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Flowering shrubs are a wonderful alternative to traditional cut flowers.

Photo/Art by Brenda Darroch
Flowering shrubs are a wonderful alternative to traditional cut flowers.

Expand your choice of floral materials beyond the carnations from grocery store flower stands, and you can keep arrangements in your house much more often—and enjoy more creative fulfillment from your artistry. One oft-overlooked choice is cuttings from blooming shrubs such as lilacs or azaleas, or even bamboo or reeds. However, you can’t just plunk them in water the way you would a bunch of cut flowers. “Bamboos and reeds, or anything that has a hollow, jointed stem, should have a notch cut in the upper part of each joint that will be under water, so that the stem becomes filled,” Gertrude Jekyll points out in Flower Decoration in the House (1907).”The flowers of shrubs in general should have the stems slit up or the bark peeled up, leaving it on in ribbons . . . to expose as large a surface as possible of woody fiber and inner and outer bark to the action of the water.”

This advice is just as valid as it was a century ago, says Lynn Byczynski, a cut flower producer based in Lawrence, Kansas, and author of The Flower Farmer. “This tactic—or just cutting the woody stem at a sharp angle—would work well with flowering shrubs such as butterfly bush, pussy willow, forsythia, lilac, and viburnum. But don’t go to a lot of trouble until you’re sure the branch isn’t taking up water when you make an ordinary cut.”

One old-fashioned tactic to disregard: smashing woody stems to provide more surface to draw up water. “The pieces of fiber will get in the water and start bacterial growth,” warns Lynn.

Excerpt from 1,001 Old-Time Household Hints—brought to you by Skyhorse Publishing

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