Cutting flowers from a home garden and arranging them attractively doesn't require the skills of a Master Gardener, but a Penn State Cooperative Extension gardening expert says the picking is easier if gardeners remember a few tips.

"When you walk in the garden to cut blooms, the stems should be placed immediately in water, a process we call conditioning," says Emile Swackhamer, horticultural extension agent in Lehigh County, PA. "Flowers that have been conditioned in water look fresher and last longer in arrangements."

Swackhamer recommends carrying a bucket partially filled with lukewarm water to put flowers in as they are cut. Choose flowers with longer stems, so they can be re-cut later to fit an arrangement. "Use sharp shears," Swackhamer says. "Make the cut above a bud to ensure new growth and more flowers."

The best time to cut flowers? In early morning, just as the dew is drying, or in the evening. Never cut flowers during hot temperatures, particularly in the afternoon. "Cut only the most perfect blooms," Swackhamer says. "Observe the garden to see when the flowers reach their most beautiful stage. That is the time to cut, and it will vary from one flower to another."

Swackhamer recommends cutting cluster flowers (such as delphinium, foxglove or lilac) before all the flowers are open. Other flower types, such as sunflowers or zinnias, must be fully open before cutting.

Cut flowers should be arranged loosely to allow air to circulate, and water should be lukewarm during conditioning for most flower varieties. Keep the flowers in the water at room temperature for several hours or overnight. Swackhamer says gardeners can use a flower preservative in the water. "They make flowers last longer by maintaining the acidity level at a pH between 3.5 and 5," she says.

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