Why do flowers need ‘food’?

I’m sure you have come across it before, most retail florists use it, and give it away so you can use it at home too. But have you ever wondered whether it was worth the effort, and if you should even bother? What is flower ‘food’ after all?

Like many other retail florists, we give out ‘flower food’ with fresh flower purchases. These handy little sachets are simply added to water to extend the viability of your cut flowers. They contain a unique blend of ingredients designed to help your flowers last longer, encourage your blooms to open more beautifully, and to keep bacteria at bay within the vase.

Image: Chrysal Flower Food

Plants are known to thrive in an environment where there are few bacteria, plenty of food available for energy, and water uptake is encouraged. Flower foods contain an acidifier that helps to adjust the water’s pH and sugar that will be used by the plant as an energy source, which had been lost when the flower was cut away from its root. These nutrients will help the plant to fully develop. Finally, there are stem ‘unblockers’ that will ensure the flower can easily take up water and nutrients that can later be used to take care of the needs of the rest of the plant. It is this combination that gives the fresh cut flowers everything that they need to survive longer. Whilst sugar alone for example will provide some elements of what the plant needs, it will also encourage the development of more bacteria which will have an adverse effect on the cut flowers.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden believes that different additives can be used to prolong the lives of fresh cut flowers. Experiments were performed with various substances mixed with water, including aspirin, vinegar, pennies and even vitamin pills, as well as commercial flower food to test their effect on cut flowers’ lifespans. Each vase contained the same variety of plant, and the vase was placed in the same environment. This research found that the retailer-provided “flower food” helped extend the vase life most effectively.

Image: Florist Works

According to horticulturist James C. Schmidt, paramount to long lasting flowers is a sterilised vase. You can use a ordinary household cleaner to wash the vase, or a combination of water and bleach. By using a disinfectant, you are able to keep bacteria numbers down, which in turn will help your flowers last longer. Bacteria growth diminishes the vase life of flowers, causing them to wilt and decay faster.

Re-cutting the flower stems every few days will ensure that there is a fresh surface from which the stems can take up water. This will allow the flowers to last even longer.

If your flowers outlast your supply of commercial flower food, you can try your hand at creating your own. There are various combinations that have been found to be effective in prolonging fresh flowers vase life.

flower food collage


  1. Lemon Juice – add lemon juice to your vase of water. The lemon juice changes the pH of the flower, and limits the bacteria growth from attacking the flowers.
  2. Soda – You can use either lemonade, or any other citrus based soda mixed with water in a 2:3 ration. (You just need the regular variety of soda, not the diet varieties.) The mixture should be changed daily so that your flowers can receive the maximum nourishment and protection.
  3. Apple Cider Vinegar – Adding apple cider vinegar to your vase will increase the health of your flowers by keeping bacteria at bay. Mix it with some sugar and water to see your flower thrive. White vinegar will work just as well, you will just need to add more sugar. Change this every few days.
  4. Copper Penny – An old school trick to keeping flowers at their best is to add a copper penny or two and a teaspoon of sugar. The copper in the penny will prevent the growth of bacteria by releasing acid.
  5. Plain Water- now this advice may seem to contradict the rest but where most people go wrong is that they fill the vase on day one, and then leave the flowers to slowly die. Part of the strength of each of these other additives is that you are generally instructed to change the vase every few days and re-cut the stems. If this is done, even with plain water, I guarantee you will see an increase in the vase life of your flowers.
  6. Aspirin – Crushed up aspirin tablets with an equal dose of sugar is a less effective method. The aspirin contains salicylic acid and will lower the pH.
  7. Vodka – Yes, you’ve heard that right, vodka can keep your flowers alive! A creative cocktail of vodka, water, and sugar (with the vodka diluted by at least half) keeps your blooms looking their best. Add a scoop of sugar and change the water every day.

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If like me, this sounds like a terrible waste of vodka, simply change the water in the vase and re-cut flower stems. Meanwhile pour equivalent measure of vodka into a glass, with a squeeze of lime and soda water to taste, sit down and rest your stems whilst enjoying the view!

Til next time

Fwf x



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