If you’ve just bought or received a bouquet of flowers, you’ll want to get them into water to make sure they last as long as they can. If you don’t get a food packet to go into the flower’s water to make them last longer, you can make your own flower food with a few simple ingredients you have on hand around your home. We’ll outline several different flower food recipes, tell you what the important ingredients found in traditional flower food packets are, give you some tips to help your plants last longer and more below.
Many people are surprised how easy and quick it is to make your own flower food from things you have around the house, and they work to perk your cut flowers up.
Flower Food Ingredients
One surprising fact about the flower food packets you get is that they have three main ingredients in them, including sugar, citric acid, and bleach. The packet was originally designed to help you flowers stay fresh for longer, and each element comes with properties that are supposed to preserve the flowers past their typical lifespans when they’re in plain water in a vase on your table.
The citric acid works to lower the water’s pH levels, and this can make it much more habitable for freshly cut flowers to thrive in. The sugar acts like the food since the flowers produce and use sugar during photosynthesis. Once you cut them, they can’t produce the sugar they need to grow. By adding sugar to the water, the flowers think they’re still getting to eat, and this keeps them looking nice. The bleach works like a disinfectant to the water and helps get rid of any potentially harmful bacteria that could cut down how long the flowers last.
Why Cut Flowers Need Food
Just like any living thing, flowers require food to live. If you think back to the science classes you had in school, you may remember that photosynthesis is a process that all plants use to make their own food. Since cut flowers don’t have any roots anymore, it’s not possible for them to do this. So, it’s important that you’re giving your plants enough food for them to thrive. If they don’t get any or very low amounts of food, they’ll quickly die.
Most people mistakenly assume that if you have a bouquet of flowers, the only thing you have to do is put them in water for them to survive. However, this is false and you’ll constantly have flowers dying very quickly if you don’t make a point to feed them.
Tips for Preparing Cut Flowers for Food
When you buy cut flowers, there is a small packet of food that comes tied to the bottom of the stems or you’ll find it separately. You’ll learn that you don’t need these small food packets anymore as you can make your own flower food very quickly and easily with ingredients in your home. It’s not challenging to mix up, and it should only take a few minutes. We’re going to touch on several DIY flower food recipes that you can try and see which ones work best for you below. But first, we’ll go over how to properly prepare your cut flowers for their vase to ensure they live as long as possible.
Remove the Lower Leaves
There are several things you can do to keep your cut flowers perky and healthy, and this will help them last longer. One thing you want to avoid is mold, and this is why you need to remove the lower leaves on the plants. Due to the lower leaves sitting submerged in water for a long period, they’ll start to deteriorate very quickly and promote mold growth that can easily take over and kill the plants. As such, before you think about putting your cut flowers in the vase, you need to snip away the lower leaves that would end up below the waterline in the vase using a pair or sterilized scissors.
Trim the Stems
One of the things you want to do is to trim off the dried parts at the bottom of the plant stems. The reason you want to do this is because it opens the stems up to allow them to absorb water. You want the plants to take in as much water as you can to help them grow, and this is why you need to trim the stems before they go into the vase of water for the first time. While it’s true that a lot of people do this automatically, some people forget and just pop the uncut flower stems into the water.
The issue with doing this is that the ends can close up and get gummy, and this means that the flower doesn’t get the water or nutrients they need to thrive. Eventually, the flower will close up and die. So, you should trim the ends of your flowers every few days to roughly an inch. This should be enough to let the water through up to the rest of the flower.
Cutting the flowers off at an angle helps open up the stems and makes it easier for your flowers to absorb nutrients and water.
DIY Flower Food Recipe One
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon bleach
- 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
- 1 quart lukewarm water
- Measuring spoons
To start the process, pre-measure your bleach, sugar, and lime or lemon juice.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: Pay close attention to the measurements and don’t mix more than one batch of your flower food at a time. Alternating or increasing these measurements could cause a vapor to form that can irritate your respiratory system and your eyes. Discard any unused flower food by carefully pouring it down the drain.
Pour a quart of water into the vase to start and get ready to add in your flower food mix. Get a large bowl and add the bleach, sugar, and lime or lemon juice together until the sugar looks like it almost dissolved in the bleach and juice mix. Stir this mix continuously and gently until the mix looks clear. Add the homemade flower food to the vase and give it a stir before immediately adding the fresh flowers. They should last upwards of a week or more.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Two
- 1-1.5 medicine droppers full of household bleach
- 1 12 fluid ounce can of regular citrus soda
- 36 fluid ounces water
Make sure to add your soda to the water and then add the bleach. Regular soda already has a decent sugar content, so you don’t need to add more to the recipe. You want to avoid diet soda because the artificial sugar won’t give your flowers any nutrients. This plant food recipe is ready to go as soon as you mix everything together and put it in the vase.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Three
- 1 quart water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 tablespoon bleach
Go in order and add the ingredients in the list to the water to create the flower food. Mix them very well to allow everything to dissolve and incorporate and then fill your vase. Floral arrangements have a range of sizes, so you may have to adjust the recipe and scale it down or up to suit your needs. Make sure you keep the ingredient ratios the same though. It’s best to make a fresh batch each day because the bleach tends to weaken after the first day due to the reaction with the acid. Make sure to label any leftover plant food as toxic and keep it away from pets or children.
- HappyDIYHome Tip: These solutions shouldn’t get used in metal containers as they can cause it to discolor. A chemical reaction with the metal can negatively affect the beneficial properties of the solution. The bleach can also cause flower stem discoloration.
There are variations of this recipe all over the internet. Instead of bleach, some flower food’s incorporate apple cider or white vinegar. You may also find recipes that use Sprite soda, vodka, apple cider vinegar with sugar, refrigeration, and aspirin.
Sugar with apple cider vinegar seems to be one of the best flower food mixes that helps preserve your flowers the best. Refrigerating your cut flower arrangement will help keep them fresh. You’ve most likely seen large refrigeration units in florist shops, and this makes a lot of sense. But, there are drawbacks associated with using apple cider vinegar in your flower food recipe, including:
- The flowers can take on a faint vinegar scent
- The brown color can tint the vase
- Antibacterial properties aren’t as good as bleach
Using white distilled vinegar as an alternative isn’t great either. It does have a clear color to it, but it has a stronger smell that may be off putting. The antibacterial properties aren’t as good as bleach either.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Four
Sugar is the main food source for both cut and uncut flowers, but vinegar works to stop bacterial growth in the water. They both help prepare the water to nourish the flowers and help preserve them for longer periods.
To start with this recipe, add one tablespoon of white vinegar with two tablespoons of sugar to a quart of water. Slowly stir the water until the ingredients start to dissolve. Add your freshly cut flowers to your prepared solution and make sure that the stems are covered with three to four inches of water.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Five
Simply adding lime soda and water to the vase can be very helpful for enhancing how your flowers look and how long they last. All you have to do is add water to fill a quarter of your vase and then add a quarter of lime soda. The lemon-lime soda already contains sugar, and this gives your flowers the required nutrients they need to live. The citric acid in the plant prepares the water for the flowers too.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Six
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 tablespoon epsom salts
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon of ammonia
For this flower food recipe, an old plastic milk jug will work well. Add all of the listed ingredients to your container and allow them to sit for 30 minutes. This gives your solid ingredients time to dissolve. Add plant food directly to the soil so that the root system can absorb the nutrients. Start using it by lightly topping the soil once a month and adjust how often you feed them based on how they respond.
All of these recipes have ingredients you should have around the house, and this makes them quick and easy to make.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Seven
- 1 gallon jug
- Baking soda
- Epsom salt
- Household ammonia
To start, measure out 1 ½ tablespoons of Epsom salt and pour into a clean gallon jug. A rinsed out plastic milk jug works well to store this plant food. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of baking soda to the plastic jug. Measure out ½ teaspoon of ammonia into the jug. Ideally, you’ll use less than ½ teaspoon. Don’t overdo it with the ammonia as a small amount goes a very long way.
Next, fill the rest of the jug with plain tap water, screw the lid on, and shake it well to combine everything. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes to let the Epsom salts dissolve. Label it and store the full container in a dry, cool spot until you’re ready to use it.
DIY Flower Food Recipe Eight
- 1 quart warm tap water
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon lemon powder
- ½ tsp bleach powder
Start by adding a quart of warm water to the vase and allow it to sit for two to three minutes to reduce the air bubbles. Then, you’ll add in the lemon juice, bleach powder, lemon powder and sugar before carefully stirring it. Cut the bottom of the flower stems off at a diagonal. Add the flowers to the vase and store them in the refrigerator at night. Swap the water out once a week and re-trim the ends less than an inch at a time each time you give them new water.
Nutrient Deficiencies and How to Address Them
Based on their appearance, your plants will show you what they’re lacking nutrient-wise. Stunted growth and yellow leaves are a couple of ways your plants indicate they need something. The following will outline the main nutrients your plants need and how to address them.
|Nutrient||Prevention and Treatment Measures|
|Boron (B)||Add diluted borax or boric acid to the mix|
|Calcium (Ca)||Use lime, calcium nitrate, crushed eggshells, or gypsum|
|Copper (Cu)||Dilute copper sulfate as a leaf spray|
|Iron (Fe)||Spraying the damaged leaves with diluted ferrous sulfate or iron chelate compounds|
|Magnesium (Mg)||Spray leaves with epsom salts for a short-term fix. Add dolomite to enrich the soil, and consider adding cow or composted turkey manure|
|Manganese (Mn)||Add manganese chelate or sulfate|
|Molybdenum (Mo)||Feed your plants with additives that contain molybdenum|
|Nitrogen (N)||Add organic matter, blood meal, or semi-liquid manure|
|Phosphorus (P)||Add superphosphate, bone meal, or phosphoric acid to fix these deficiencies|
|Potassium (K)||Add muriate/sulfate of potash, potassium hydroxide, or potassium nitrate. Add chicken manure, kelp, seaweed, or wood ash|
|Sulfur (S)||Add a sulfate of kieserite, potash, or ammonium sulfate. Composted mushrooms are popular to address sulfur deficiencies for organic farming|
|Zinc (Zn)||Treat damaged foliage with zinc chelate or sulfate|
Helpful Plant Tips
Homemade plant food is popular for use on indoor and outdoor plants since the application methods are relatively straightforward. Adding plant food to potted plants can be slightly messy, so be very careful when you apply your mix to your indoor plants or cut flowers.
Also, keep in mind that some of the ingredients, like ammonia can be very unpleasant to your nose or eyes, so double-check the ingredients and recipes before you start mixing them. You can buy most items at your local grocery story if you don’t have them on hand in your home.
The most accurate way to figure out nutrient deficiencies in your plants is to test the soil. You can buy an at-home soil testing kit from your local garden center to see if you need to add anything to the soil. If you want to test for a specific nutrient deficiency, you’ll want to get in touch with your local agricultural extension agency or get in touch with a commercial soil laboratory.
There are several small adjustments you can make to ensure that your cut flowers last longer and look vibrant once you get them.
Important Considerations for DIY Flower Food
Homemade flower food recipes usually have water as the base ingredient, but tap water from municipal water sources can increase the risk of fluoride toxicity to your cut flowers. Filtered water and rainwater are better choices. Some flowers are more prone to injuries from fluoride, including glads, mums, gerbera daisies, roses, and snapdragons.
Homemade formulas also get limited by the presence of ethylene gas, and ripening fruit produces this like bananas and apples. A cut flower arrangement on the table will go through a very quick death if you place them by your fruit bowls, even if you have a flower preservative.
Cut daffodils will bleed a very slimy sap that is toxic to flowers in mixed arrangements. The premature death of some of the flowers in the arrangements may be due to ineffective flower preservatives, but it’s actually due to the toxic daffodil sap. You should change out the water every day to maximize how potennt your flower food is.
Flower Food FAQs
There are many frequently asked questions when it comes to flower food, especially if you’re making it for the first time. We’ve picked out the biggest three and answered them for you below.
1. What are the benefits of making homeade flower food?
Since those packets are typically free, this is a great question. There are a few benefits of making your own flower food. One is that you have an endless supply on hand. Another benefit is that you can treat bigger amounts of fresh flowers. You can make a quart or scale the recipe up to make a gallon at a time if you have a bunch of flowers. If you have an event going on with a lot of leftover flowers, you can easily make your flower food to keep them all healthy.
2. Do you have to use powdered bleach?
If you have regular liquid bleach on hand, you can use this instead and get the same results. Powdered bleach can be much safer to use though. Powdered may keep things free of mold longer too.
3. Do you have to use lemon powder?
No, you can add a teaspoon of lime juice instead. However, lemon powder does have potassium that makes the blooms more vivid and healthier. It helps to use lemon powder, but you can cut it out if needed.
Now that you’ve learned a few recipes for flower food to feed your hungry plants, you want to keep a close eye on them in the following weeks to see how they respond. Adjust how much and how often you feed your plants until you get a good method. You may want to cycle through your flower food recipes and see which ones your plants seem to respond to the best.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.