As springtime flowers burst and bloom, it’s natural to want to bring some of their lovely color and sweet fragrance indoors. But is there a surefire way to snip spring flowers without harming your plants? Earth911 spoke with gardening expert Melinda Myers to find out how to cut fresh, long-lasting flowers from your garden while leaving the plants intact.
Editor’s note: We interviewed Melinda Myers and originally published this article in 2013.
1. It’s all about timing
The best time to cut fresh flowers is early in the morning when plants are still full of dew and moisture. This simple step yields healthy cuttings that last longer in a vase, and it’s better for your plants too.
But if you plan to dry your flower cuttings, Myers suggests letting nature start the process by snipping fully bloomed flowers in the driest part of the day, such as late morning or early afternoon.
2. Bring the right tools
You’ll get the longest life from your fresh flowers (and prevent possible damage to your plants) if you come to the garden prepared. Myers heads outside with two basic tools: a sharp knife, pruners, or garden shears, and a bucket of water.
When it comes to your cutting implement, any sharp blade will do. Both pruners and garden shears provide a never-dull edge and a convenient, scissor-like shape that’s perfect for beginners. If you’re comfortable handling a knife, that works too.
“The benefit is that good, clean cut,” Myers explains. “What you don’t want to do is crush the stem.”
While snipping your flowers, place the cuttings in the bucket as you go. The sooner you get your flowers into water, the less likely they are to wilt prematurely.
3. Know where and when
To promote regrowth and avoid harming your plants, be sure to give new plants enough time to establish themselves before cutting flowers, Myers suggests. Annuals generally take about a month to establish, while perennials may not bloom fully until the following season.
Generally, if your plant is lush and full of flowers, it’s safe to start snipping some off. Stick to about a quarter or so of a plant’s blooms, and cut above a set of healthy leaves to stimulate regrowth and keep the base plant looking attractive even after the flower is removed, our expert says.
4. Combine garden tasks
“Deadheading” is a common garden task that involves snipping faded flowers to promote regrowth. To make the process seem like less of a chore, Myers suggests a more proactive method.
Her tip: Simply trim away larger flowers when they’re in full bloom. This promotes growth, reduces the need for deadheading after flowers fade, and leaves you with a lovely fresh-cut bouquet to enjoy.
“So, you’re actually, ‘live-heading,'” Myers says with a laugh. “It sounds kind of scary, but you’re removing the flowers, encouraging more blooms, and enjoying the beauty of those flowers inside.”
5. Care for your cuttings
After bringing your fresh flowers indoors, re-cut each stem at a 45-degree angle before arranging it in the vase of your choice. The internet is full of garden myths about why you should cut at an angle, but the real reason is much more straightforward.
“The reason for cutting on an angle is simply to prevent the stem from sealing to the bottom of the vase,” Myers explains. “If it’s flat, it’s not going to be able to absorb the water.”
That’s not the only eye-opening tip in Myers’ arsenal. To increase the life of her fresh-cut flowers, the gardening guru turns to a florist’s secret called the “hardening off” process — which is way less complicated than it sounds.
After arranging your flowers in warm water, simply place them in a cool, dark place (such as a basement, closet, or spare bedroom with closed curtains) for about 12 hours or overnight. This allows the flowers to acclimate to the indoor environment. The next day, they will be ready to enjoy anywhere in the house.
6. Don’t be afraid to experiment
When snipping fresh flowers, you may think of time-honored classics like daisies or roses first, but don’t be afraid to experiment with all the flowers and foliage your garden has to offer, our expert suggests.
“That’s really part of the excitement is just getting in, trying different things, and finding out what works,” she tells us. “The worst that can happen is they wilt early, and you don’t need to use that again.”
Beyond standard cuttings, Myers makes unique arrangements with more uncommon picks like lisianthus, snapdragons, daylilies, and even green leaves from her garden. Some picks wound up lasting 10 days or more, despite her initial uncertainty.
“A lot of the things that florists are buying and using, you can grow in your garden,” she says. “I’ve done a variety of things, and sometimes I pick flowers that will surprise me.”
Originally published on June 3, 2013, this article was updated in May 2022.
About Our Expert
Nationally known gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. She hosts the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV and radio segments as well as the internationally distributed The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. Learn more about Melinda.