How to Make a Centerpiece

Step 1: Wake up early. While your coffee is brewing, fill a plastic pail with lukewarm water; grab a sharp knife, shears, or clippers; and walk out to your garden. Collecting flowers in the early morning, when the stems are fully hydrated and the blooms and leaves are dewy, is the key to a healthy, long-lasting arrangement. A note of warning: No matter how beautiful your neighbor’s garden is, stay on your own side of the hedge. Stolen flowers don’t smell nearly as sweet.

Step 2: Select your harvest. If the bloom grows on a single stem, like a sunflower or dahlia, make sure it’s fully open before you snip it. (Otherwise it may not open at all once you get it inside.) If a bunch of flowers grow along a single stem, like lilacs or snapdragons, make sure at least one flower or cluster is beginning to open and all are in full color.

Step 3: Make the cut. Holding your shears at a 45-degree angle, clip the stem about an inch from its bottom and immediately put the flower in your bucket. Repeat until you have as many flowers as you’d like. Don’t feel bad about cutting them either. Trimming your flowers every once in a while helps your plants produce more blooms.

Step 4: Bring your flowers inside and select your vase(s). You can use anything from old milk bottles and mason jars to cups or out-of-use watering cans.

Step 5: Fill your pitchers with some homemade flower preservative. Mix 1 quart lukewarm water either with 1 teaspoon each of sugar and bleach and 2 teaspoons lemon juice; or with 2 teaspoons each of sugar and white vinegar. The only exception: Droop-prone flowers, like tulips and irises, prefer cold water to lukewarm water.

Step 6: Groom your stems. You never want your flowers to stand more than a third taller than your vase, or your arrangement may tip, so shorten them as necessary. Strip away any leaves that will sit underwater. Then, encourage them to drink by following these snipping rules:

For regular stems, cut at a 45-degree angle. For woody stems, like roses and lilacs, split the bottom inch of the stem by making a vertical cut into it. (Never smash.) Trim hollowstemmed flowers, like delphiniums and Gerber daisies, straight across, then flip them upside down, fill them with water, cover the bottom with your thumb, plunk them in your water-filled vase, and then remove your thumb.

Step 7: Arrange your flowers on angles, working from the outside of the vase in, making sure it looks even from all sides. Finish with the center flower.

Step 8: Place your blooms where they’ll bring you the most good cheer, but away from sunlight and drafts. Now, go see if your coffee is ready and enjoy your day!

More tips:

  • Change your water at least every other day.
  • When your blooms begin to wilt, cut them again and transfer to shorter vases.
  • Don’t overcrowd your flowers. If you have leftover blooms, put them in single vases throughout your house or, better yet, give them to a neighbor or someone you love.

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