Flower Tutorial: Cleaning

In this flower tutorial installment, we’ll walk through the process of cleaning the flowers.


If possible, get your flowers and clean them the day before you will be designing with them. The place I get flowers closes before I get home from work on week days, so I go directly to church; cleaning is the first thing I do when I arrive. My setup looks like this:


You’ll note I have protected the counter where I’ll be laying out the flowers with towels. Do not use them for anything else afterward. The tools I’ll need are included. To the right is a dolly (a turning platform), a box of decor and other tools, and the vases I’ve chosen. It can be difficult if you have to go get something in the middle of designing, and with some styles you simply can’t.



Grower’s bunches come with different types of packaging, depending on where they’re from. What I get most usually comes in a plastic sleeve with rubber bands, as shown above. Bunches of 2 dozen roses include cardboard and paper between layers; some stems come in water tubes.

Cut the rubber bands and open the plastic. It’s easiest to open it along the seam.


Foliage and Damage

For most types of flowers, you will want to remove foliage. The general rule is to remove anything which will fall below the water in your bucket or vase. If you will be designing right away, also remove any foliage you don’t want in the final arrangement. Here, I have removed all but the first two or three sets of leaves at the top of the stem.


  • Leave as much foliage on mums as possible
  • Remove any damaged foliage
  • Remember that for most flowers, some foliage will help it drink before designing, but leaving all of it on will take water away from the flowers.



As with foliage, remove any flowers or petals that are moldy or damaged. Sometimes the results are pretty and can be used, as with this scabiosa flower. Sometimes the outer or “guard” petals of roses are ugly, and these can also be removed. If they’re pretty, leave them on.


Flowers which wilt easily


These scabiosa flowers came with plastic tubing on the stem. This tells me that they are prone to wilting and need support. It can be removed by opening it and taking it off, or  sliding it down the flower stem. You can, however, design with it on if you choose.


Usually, the cause of wilting is trapped air in the flower stem. After being cut from the plan, flowers are usually in and out of water several times before they reach you. This means that air is often trapped between water in the stem of the flower with no way out. For flowers like this, which include gerbera daisies and tulips, take a pin and pierce through the stem just under the flower. This will release the air and allow water to travel up the stem as intended.


Breaking down branching plants

For flowers or plants with a lot of branches and fanning out, such as baby’s breath, limonlium, or statis, you can take this opportunity to break down the stem into sections of more usable parts. I find this especially helpful when I already know what kind of arrangement I’m planning to make. I have bupleurum above, and broke several of the stems into smaller pieces.


The final cut


When you are finished removing foliage and bad parts, give the stem a fresh cut at least 1 inch above the end of the stem. If the stems are very long, several inches off will increase water intake. Cut the stem at an angle. This will also help it drink. Once cut, the stem will seal in about 10 seconds, so get it back into water as soon as you make the cut. If you made an end cut earlier while cleaning, do another just before putting it in water.

  • Always use the sharp blade when cutting flowers of any sort. Using a dull blade with crush the stem and prevent it from drinking.

Other notes

  • Lilies
    • bruise extremely easily, so I recommend cutting the stems, but not removing them from packaging until you are at your designing space. This will keep them protected from bumps and scrapes.
    • remove the pollen pod from any open lilies before designing. Once the pollen pods fall, they will stain anything they touch.carn
  • If you are cutting non-branching stems with sections, such as the  carnation to the right, cut just above the notch of the section you want to remove.
  • Some flowers, like orchids, often come in water tubes. Remove the stem from the tube, remove any spent or damaged flower, cut, and put in a vase with water. There is no need to design with the tube unless the stem will not reach the water source of your arrangement.
  • Large mums, sunflowers, and gerberas often come with special netting over the flower heads to protect them. Cut these with scissors and carefully remove. Mums can be fluffed open after removal of netting.
  • Some flowers require special care, and these will usually come with special packaging. Most flowers can be well treated with the information above.


I know that’s a lot of information, but hopefully helpful. Please leave comments if you have questions or helpful hints of your own.