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By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/17/2007 4:36:16 PM ET 2007-04-17T20:36:16

There’s something wonderful about getting fresh flowers. They brighten your day and make you smile. Valentine’s Day flowers are extra special because they express someone’s affection for you.

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If you’re lucky enough to get flowers this week, you’ll want to keep them looking their best for as long as possible — someone paid top dollar for them.

Any flower arrangement will last a couple of days. Do a few simple things and you can keep those flowers looking good for a week or more.

“The key is to keep the flowers drinking,” says Michael Crosby, Vice President of sales for the Sun Valley Group, one of the largest flower growers in California. “A flower is a living thing and it has to be fed and watered just like we do.”

What to do when the flowers arrive
With a flower arrangement the work is already done for you. Just make sure the “oasis foam” is wet and stays wet. If your flowers come in a vase, check to make sure all the stems are in the water. If not, refill the vase and cut a little off the bottom of each stem.

Should you get a bunch of cut flowers that are not in water, you’ll need to act quickly. Pull off any leaves that would be under water — they’ll just rot and breed bacteria. Then cut off about an inch from the bottom of each stem and get them into water.

Use a sharp cutting tool that will not crush the stems. For most flowers a good pair of scissors or pruning shears will work just fine. Make those cuts at a 45 degree angle. This increases the surface area which improves water uptake.

Don’t cram those flowers into a container that’s too small. You want it hold to hold enough to last for a day or so. Plus those stems need a little room to breathe. If you don’t have anything big enough, separate the flowers into two arrangements.

It’s best to use lukewarm water, “just like your giving the baby a bath,” says Michael Crosby. “It will make the flowers drink more quickly.”

Does that freshener stuff from the florist really work?
Yes. It contains sugar to feed the flowers and chemicals to slow the growth of algae and bacteria. These bacteria not only make the water smell, they clog up the stems and reduce the water uptake.

If you run out of the professional freshener, you can make your own. Just mix a teaspoon of bleach and a tablespoon of sugar in a gallon of water.

Some gardening experts say you can pour a 12-ounce can of non-diet Sprite or 7-Up into a half gallon of water. The acid in the soft drink will slow bacteria growth and the sugar will feed the plant.

Changing the water
It’s best to change the water every day, but don’t go longer than every other day. Even if you use a freshener, bacteria will grow and you want to get rid of it. Refill the vase with warm water.

Mary Robson, a retired Washington State University Extension Agent, says when she changes the water she cuts the stems another inch or so. “By the end of the week, you have a shorter bouquet,” Mary says with a smile in her voice, “but it’s still alive!”

Where to put your flowers
Cut flowers last longer when they are cool. So don’t put them any place that gets warm. That includes on a TV (flat screen sets will soon eliminate this problem) near the stove, by a heating duct, or in front of a window that gets direct sunlight.

You should also keep your flowers away from the fruit bowl. You can’t see it, but that fruit gives off ethylene gas, which will make the flowers deteriorate more quickly.

Special instructions for roses
If the roses do not arrive in water, you need to treat them like any other flower and cut off about an inch from the bottom of the stems. But with roses, you use a different technique.

“The weird thing about roses is, you need to do this cutting underwater,” says gardening expert Mary Robson.

“You hold the roses under water and you hold the scissors under water and you cut them off under water,” she explains, “which keeps them from getting an air bubble in the stem that might cause the heads to droop.” You can do this in the sink or fill up a big bowl of water. As soon as you’re done cutting the roses go right in the vase.

If the heads of the roses are already hanging down, “like it has a bad case of the flu,” there a trick that sometimes works.  Fill the sink with a few inches of warm water and stick the entire rose under water. This is an extreme measure, but Robson says, “Sometimes the whole rose will re-hydrate and the heads will stand up again.”

Daffodils and tulips don’t always get along!
We’ve all seen pictures of mixed arrangements of daffodils and tulips. They look stunning. But here’s a little secret gardening expert Mary Robson shared with me. Daffodil sap is toxic to tulips.

If you received an arrangement of daffodils and tulips from a florist, they’ve been conditioned to get along. But if someone gives you a bouquet of tulips and a bouquet of daffodils, don’t put them together in the same vase. “They are not going to have any sort of happy relationship,” Robson warns.

Some flowers last longer than others
That’s only natural. The more delicate flowers in an arrangement will go first. As they do, pull them out and continue to enjoy the flowers that are heartier.

Flowers are like any other perishable item. Sometimes you just get a bad batch. If you’ve done things properly and your flowers fade way too quickly, you should contact the florist and complain.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Happy Valentine’s Day,
From the ConsumerMan to you!

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