Processing Flowers Correctly

Before you order bulk wedding flowers to be delivered to your home, you need to understand how to correctly process and treat those flowers. It is important to track your order and be aware of when the flowers are expected to arrive at your house.

Having your work area prepared ahead of time saves precious time and creates a smooth process between delivery and design time.

Follow your order via Federal Express. Do this at FedEx Tracking . Call immediately at 1-800-881-5464 if your order does not arrive on the expected date. If the FedEx shipment has been delayed due to weather or trucking problems, we will have time to get another shipment out to you. This is why it's important to have the flowers arrive a couple days in advance.

Plan your work space and prepare your tools ahead of time BEFORE the flowers are delivered to you. Processing flowers takes time, so have your buckets scrubbed, rinsed with water that has been treated with a cap full of bleach and ready to fill. You can even add the water if convenient. (Note: if you need your flowers to open in a hurry, the water will need to be warm. If you have several days to allow them to open naturally, the water can be room temperature.) The buckets will be ready for you to add the flower food when it arrives with your order.

Don't skimp on ordering the flower food. Flowers are living things and need nourishment just like you do. Follow the directions. Too much flower food can be as bad as not enough. A five gallon bucket can hold three gallons of water and treat 4 or 5 bunches of flowers. Thus you need 2 ounces for every gallon. It will take an average of 6 oz for each 5 gallon bucket. Do the math and figure out how much you need. A small 8 oz bottle will do one 5 gallon bucket and another small container or two. If you are doing a large wedding, order a gallon. One gallon will do 21 (5 gallon) buckets of water holding 3 gallons each.

You'll probably need an assortment of containers. Short stemmed roses fit in a short storage container while long stemmed gladiolus and snapdragons need 5 gallon buckets. If you are doing bouquet work you can cut your stems shorter and save on space if needed.

Again - track your shipment and be prepared to receive it and process the flowers immediately. Before the FedEx truck leaves, count the boxes (they are numbered "1 of 5", "2 of 5" etc.) Counting saves a big headache instead of having your deliveryman head merrily down the road with a box of flowers you need!

Protect your floor surfaces if needed. Spread tarps, drop cloths or old sheets. FedEx boxes can be dirty (they've been sitting in a field warehouse before coming to you). Prepare!

Have a short, sharp knife handy for cutting open strapping tape and (later) cutting flowers.

Flowers arrive in a "dry pack" stasis. This means the flowers are "asleep" and need to be woken up. They may look crumpled and even wilted - but they are just waiting to be processed so they can open up to their full glory.

Carefully unpack all your products and compare what you received with your order sheet. Check off each product as you unpack it. Flowers will be protected by either cellophane sleeves or rolled cardboard sheets.

The boxes are thick and well insulated. You will find ice packs tucked here and there among the boxes. Save the ice packs and refreeze. They may come in handy to pack around your own delicate corsage or boutonniere work later.

Carefully unwrap and shake out all crumpled paper. It's easy to miss a box of corsage pins if you aren't searching carefully.

NOTE!! Don't pitch those boxes! You can use them for delivering your own arrangements in later.

Now you are ready to begin processing your flowers. Open your bottle of Quick Dip (rehydration solution) and pour into a non-metal container. Fill your sink or portable tub with cool water.

Use a sharp knife to carefully cut any rubber bands that bind the stems of each bunch of flowers. Don't accidentally slice into your flowers stems.

Use the same knife to carefully slit up the cellophane sleeve that is protecting your flowers.

After the bundle is opened, carefully pull the stems apart, separating the heads that may be intertwined.

Remove any debris or foliage that will fall below the water line in your buckets. Water can become contaminated quickly with dirt and leaves in it. Bacteria can quickly shorten the life of your flowers if you don't take care.

Be sure all the stems are below the water line in the sink or tub before cutting the stems.

Flowers are like people. Cutting them while in dry stasis makes them take a gulp. You want this to be a gulp of water - NOT AIR. Flowers drawing in air can create an air pocket (or bubble) that prevents water from drawing up to the flower head. This is what often causes the "bent neck" you see in grocery stores or gas stations. It's not that the flowers are old, but just cut improperly.

Use either Flower Shears , Bunch Cutters or a sharp knife to cut the stems underwater. Do NOT use kitchen shears or regular scissors. These utensils are not fashioned to cut flowers and can crush delicate stems, again, making it hard for the flower to draw water up to it's head.

Quick Dip is a professional flower product that is designed to revive flowers and quickly draw water up the stem. It's pretty cheap and well worth investing in. It's the use of flower food (in the proper amount), the rehydrator and the flower sealant that sets professionals apart from amateurs. Professional florists know that these products are invaluable in keeping the flowers at their peak for as long as possible.

Cut the stems underwater, lift out of the water and dip all of the stems at once in the container of Quick Dip.

Immediately drop the cut flowers into a bucket of water that has been treated with cut flower food.

A grid is nice for keeping the taller flowers apart. Flowers that are pressed together can cause bacteria to grow and the blooms may rot in that area. Spreading the stems apart prevents that and lets every bloom open to it's full beauty. This grid is actually part of an old snap together shoe rack found at the local GoodWill.

If you can't find anything like this to use, simply use florist greening tape to create your own grid around the mouth of the bucket.

Expect a few broken stems. These flowers have traveled a long way from field packers to a wholesale warehouse to your front door. Every flower can not be guaranteed to be perfect.

Set aside the broken stems in a glass of water to tuck into corsages, boutonnieres or hand bouquets.

Each five gallon bucket can generally hold 2 - 3 bunches of flowers. Just be sure not to overcrowd the flowers.

Pictured are all the flowers needed for a wedding for a bridal bouquet, two attendant bouquets, four large church arrangements and an assortment of corsages and boutonnieres. Note that all of it still fits in my compact kitchen area. Unless you're doing 40 centerpieces, the flowers you need for a standard wedding should fit comfortably into a small area. Do allow yourself room for a couple of large tables if you plan to have helpers around you when designing.

Handy access to water is a must!

Treat your fresh greenery with the same care as your flowers. Cut them and dip in Quick Dip before placing in a bucket of water.

Don't judge your roses to be bad if the outer petals are bruised or marked. This are referred to as "guard petals" and are deliberately left on to protect the inner rose petals.

Leave these petals in place until you are ready to design the flowers. Then you can peel them down to the unblemished portion of the rose.

As you can see, dry packed flowers tend to look crumpled and wilted.

You may need to set your flowers to rest near an open light if they need to open a bit. (I generally recommend keeping roses and fragile flowers away from the light. They generally open quickly anyway.) Stay away from too much heat, however. It should be a gentle warmth, as in an early morning sunlight.

After a short time, you can see the blooms respond to the warmth and open up beautifully.

Other tightly budded flowers, such as the gladiolus shown here, will respond to the warmth and light as well.

A short time later the blooms open and present a fully opened flower.

Ideally you should keep tender flowers (roses, freesia, gerberas) refrigerated if possible.

Be sure to mist well with a sealant since refrigerators and air conditioning tends to draw moisture out of the air (and out of the flower petals!). All the roses and freesia needed for the wedding flowers shown in this page fit on one of my fridge's shelves.

Dial the normal kitchen refrigerator up to a warmer setting. Regular refrigerators tend to be colder towards the back and can actually freeze your flowers.

Florist coolers are design to put humidity INTO the cooler. Help stop the moisture loss by misting well with Finishing Touch and laying plastic wrap gently on the flower heads.

If no refrigerator is available, simply store in a darkened room with the air conditioner on a very cool setting.

If you have a cool mist humidifier, run it near the flowers. With this, you can skip the plastic wrap. The flowers will draw moisture out of the air that is put there by the humidifier.

Please remember your flowers are a living product. Check on the level of water each day and add more if necessary. Make sure every stem is fully immersed so that the flower can get the water it needs. A limp flower generally means the stem has been out of the water. Caution - keep the water level in Gerbera Daisy buckets low - since sitting in water will soften the stems.

I highly recommend using a spray flower sealant such as Finishing Touch. I use this on every arrangement I design. It seals the petals and helps slow down petal transparency and lengthens the life of your flowers by sealing against moisture evaporation out through the petals.


Greenery should be cut under water, dipped into a re-hydrator (such as QuickDip) and placed immediately in buckets of plain water that has had one teaspoon of common household bleach per each gallon of water. The bleach keeps down the bacteria.

Do not use flower food in water intended for greenery. The formula can turn greenery yellow. To extend the life of greenery, simply use a plant polish such as LeafShine to seal the leaves and make them last longer.

Designing wedding flowers takes a dedication of your time, the forethought of planning out your work space and allowing yourself enough time to finish the designs. Using the right products can extend the life of your flowers. Since the labor markup on weddings can sometimes run 50% to a staggering 300% of the cost of the flowers, you can definitely help the wedding budget by designing your own flowers.

My advice is to always consider the amount of time you have to devote. Saving money is not worth it if you become frazzled and frustrated right before your wedding day. Relax, choose simple designs that are easy to create and you'll always have the joy of knowing that "you did it!"

Please send me photos . . . I always love seeing the beautiful creations of each of my customers!

Copyright© Floral and Photo Art by Louann
Located in Greater St. Louis Area, Illinois, United States