How to Make Your Own Fresh Cut Flower Food

Having cut flowers in the house creates a festive atmosphere.

Whether it’s a surprise birthday arrangement, impulse-purchase market bouquet, or an armload of cutting garden blooms, you’ll want to make it last as long as possible.

In our article on keeping fresh flowers fabulous, we offer guidance for keeping a floral arrangement attractive for a week or more.

We mention using the packet of floral food that generally comes with a bouquet, dish, or vase arrangement.

A vertical picture of a woman in a gray sweater arranging cut flowers on a wooden surface on a soft focus background. To the top and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

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In this article, we share two recipes for making your own preservative mixture, so you can nourish purchased blooms after the packet is used up, as well as your own fresh cut garden blossoms.

Fresh flowers are a joy to have in the house, so why not make them last as long as possible?

Long-Lasting Arrangements

When I get a market bouquet at the grocery store, there’s usually a damp little packet of crystals rubber-banded to the stems. I fill my vase with water, dump in the contents, and stir.

A close up of a woman dressed in a gray sweater using pruning shears to cut the bottom of the stems off from freshly cut flowers to place in a glass vase.

While the crystals are dissolving, I cut the leaves off the bottoms of the stems so they won’t rot in the water, give each stem a fresh cut on a 45° angle for optimal surface area to take up water, and plunk them in.

Arrangements should last a week or more.

Nurse them along by changing the water daily, giving all the stems a fresh cut so they drink well, trim low leaves to keep them out of the water, and remove any wilted material.

And, keep your lovelies out of direct sunlight.

All of these actions go a long way toward keeping them fresh for as long as possible. However, without a daily dose of food, even your best efforts may fail to produce optimal results.

Let’s find out what’s in flower food, and why it’s so beneficial.

The Essential Trio

Once flowers are cut, they begin to die. Placing them in water helps them to stay hydrated, but they also need food, just like us.

A vertical picture of a woman's hand from the left of the frame arranges white roses in a glass vase set on a wooden surface. To the left of the vase are red and purple flowers.

Floral food helps to preserve blooms with a trio of essential ingredients:

  • An acidifier to lower the pH of the water, enabling it to move quickly up freshly cut stems.
  • A bacteria and fungus inhibiting agent to help prevent stem rot (and resultant fouling of the water).
  • Sugar to provide energy that makes tight buds open, blossoms bright, and foliage plump.

Commercial products usually achieve the right mix with the following ingredients:

  • Citric acid
  • Bleach
  • Sugar

With the ready availability of these items, it’s not hard to make your own mixture.

How to Make Your Own Flower Food

You can replicate commercial flower food at home using some common household ingredients. According to Dr. Susan S. Han, professor at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, there are two easy ways to do this.

A vertical picture of a woman dressed in a gray sweater from the left of the frame arranges a glass vase with cut flowers, on a wooden surface and a white background.

Each recipe calls for slightly different ingredients in order to provide the three basic needs: acidity, a bacterial and fungal inhibitor, and sugar.

Flower Food Recipe #1

  • 1 12 fluid ounce can non-diet citrus soda
  • 36 fluid ounces water
  • 1.2 milliliters (1-1.5 medicine droppers full) household bleach

Make sure you add the soda to the water followed by the bleach. Because regular soda already contains sugar, you don’t need to add any extra for this recipe! Just be sure to avoid diet, because artificial sugar will not provide sustenance for your flowers.

The next recipe calls for lemon or lime juice, but if you have citric acid granules, you can dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid in 2 tablespoons of water, and use that solution instead.

Flower Food Recipe #2

  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon household bleach

Add the ingredients in order to the water. Mix them well and use the resulting solution to fill your vase, or dish arrangements that contain floral foam.

Floral arrangements vary in size, so you may have to adjust the recipe you choose down or up to suit your needs – make sure you keep the ratios of the ingredients the same.

It’s best to make a fresh batch of solution each day, as the bleach loses its oomph after that because of its reaction with the acid.

Be sure to label any leftover solution as “toxic” and keep it well out of reach of children and pets.

Please Note: These solutions are not recommended for use in metal containers, and they may cause discoloration. A chemical reaction with the metal can adversely affect the solution’s beneficial properties. In addition, bleach may cause stem discoloration.

There are variations of these recipes available on many websites. Instead of bleach, some tout the benefits of using white or apple cider vinegar.

For example, the floral pros at FTD conducted an experiment with cut flower preservation, in which they observed the benefits of vodka, Sprite soda, apple cider vinegar with sugar added, aspirin, and refrigeration.

They concluded that the apple cider vinegar and sugar combination helped with flower preservation. And, refrigerating an arrangement to which nothing has been added also helps to maintain freshness.

You’re probably noticed that florists often keep their cut flowers and arrangements in refrigerators prior to delivery, and this makes sense!

But there are three drawbacks to using apple cider vinegar in your flower food:

  • Its brown color may tint vase water.
  • Your arrangements may smell faintly of vinegar.
  • The antibacterial properties are inferior to those of bleach.

Using white distilled vinegar as an alternative is not much better. It has a clear color, but its stronger smell may put you off, and its antibacterial properties are also inferior to bleach.

You may have read about adding pennies or vitamin C to vase water to increase the acidity of the water. Results are unsubstantiated, and in the absence of sugar and an adequate bacterial and fungal inhibitor, these are unlikely to have much of an effect anyway.

A Note of Caution:

Exercise extreme caution when using bleach, as the fumes may irritate the respiratory system, and contact with the skin may cause burning and scarring.

When using citric acid, lemon juice, or diet soda, make sure that you mix these ingredients into the water, before adding the bleach. Do not add bleach directly.

NEVER mix vinegar and bleach together. The result is a dangerous cloud of toxic chlorine gas, which can be deadly at high concentrations.

If You Feed Them, They Will Last

It’s amazing that with a little citrus to acidify and promote water uptake, sugar for carbohydrate energy, and bleach to deter bacteria and fungi, cut flowers may never know they’ve left the ground!

Now that you know how to whip up your own flower food, you can rest assured that your blooms will put on a spectacular show.

Go ahead and order that stunning arrangement, add an adorable market bouquet to your grocery order, or pick whatever’s growing out back, and enjoy well-fed, long-lasting, fresh cut flowers every day!

A close up of a fresh bouquet of cut flowers with a woman in a gray sweater in soft focus in the background.

Here’s a bonus tip:

Cut your own or purchase blooms in the bud stage for the longest vase life. When provided with nourishment, they will open just as they would have in nature.

What concoctions have you tried for keeping fresh blooms lovely? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Did you find this article informative? If so, find more design inspiration from these guides next:

Photo of author


Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!

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Tracey Wehr Harrell
Tracey Wehr Harrell (@guest_8370)
3 years ago

Thanks Nan- I knew there was a homemade recipe out there! I’m an avid gardener but never thought about making flower food until recently. I now live in a townhome and do not have a yard anymore -but do a lot of container gardening. Of course I have a lot of flowers to cut and ran out of the powdered stuff we get from the grocery store with our flower arrangements! This has been so helpful! Thank you for sharing!

Deborah Pynnonen
Deborah Pynnonen (@guest_10801)
3 years ago

Thank you so much for the encouragement to go and buy some flowers now. I’ll use the recipe and I didn’t know to replace the water daily!

Cindy (@guest_11331)
3 years ago

Thank you for your expertise. I do enjoy having fresh flowers in our home during the cold Ohio months. I cut and change water daily and run out of food early. This is so helpful.

Paul (@guest_11822)
3 years ago

I use colloidal silver instead of bleach.

Mary (@guest_12397)
2 years ago

Thank you for this! Can you use bottled fresh lemon or lime juice (ReaLemon brand)?

Jimbo (@guest_12603)
2 years ago

Acid to lower pH, then bleach?! They will cancel out and make chlorine gas. WTAF?

Clare Groom
Clare Groom(@clareg)
Reply to  Jimbo
2 years ago

Hi Jimbo, thank you for your comment. It’s very important to stick to the quantities listed in the recipes above. Note that we mix a small amount of bleach and lemon juice in a quart of water. As mentioned in the article, always exercise extreme caution when using bleach.

Bob (@guest_12711)
Reply to  Clare Groom
2 years ago

So, we will just make a small amount of chlorine gas?? Putting acid and base in any quantity of water doesn’t change what will happen. The two are going to find each other and neutralize until only one is left. The volume of water is irrelevant to this. Is the intent here to create a lemon-bleach buffer solution? That would be cool if so, but I don’t see that mentioned in the article. With the quantities involved it seems like 100% bleach will totally neutralize out and won’t have any germ fighting power. Why not skip adding the base and… Read more »

Mike (@guest_12710)
2 years ago

You say the acid lowers the pH…ok, fine, but the bleach neutralizes the acid (thus raises the pH back) and makes deadly choline gas.

With the bleach neutralized, there is no longer any germ/fungus killing power.

Please explain this nonsense!

Christine (@guest_15683)
2 years ago

You mention using apple cider vinegar and sugar but not the ratio. And where/how can I purchase bleach without added detergent? Every brand I’ve tried has detergent to reduce splashing.

Juanjo (@guest_15951)
2 years ago

I have got three weeks out of lilies of the Incas like you have in your pictures by using the packets of powder like come with cut flowers. Even though the packets are proven to work, I am going to try Mountian Dew and thymol instead. I think that thymol might be longer lasting than bleach. The only thing is that I have to guess on the amount of thymol to use.