CUT FLOWERS early in the morning or in the evening when the environment is cooler and the water content in stems is greatest.

TAKE TOOLS WITH YOU for cutting flowers: Sharp, clean pruners or a small kitchen knife and a bucket half-filled with tepid water. To the water, add floral preservative, available from flower sellers and crafts stores, following package instructions. The powder is scientifically formulated to minimize bacterial growth in vase water and help extend the life of fresh-cut flowers; it is not reliably substituted.

PICK FLOWERS at their most appropriate stage for cutting to maximize their vase life. Spiky flowers with multiple flowers on the stem (including delphinium, larkspur, salvia, snapdragon, stock) and cluster flowers (such as agapanthus, baby's breath, phlox, Queen Anne's lace, verbena, and yarrow) are best cut when at least one bud shows color and one bud is starting to open. Flowers that grow on individual stems (calendula, chrysanthemum, dahlia, marigold, sunflower, and zinnia) are best cut when fully open. Flowers that keep best when cut in their bud stage include iris, peony, poppy, and tulip.

CUT STEMS AS LONG AS POSSIBLE to the nearest branching stem or main stem to facilitate arranging.

CUT EACH STEM AT AN ANGLE to help it absorb more water. As soon as it is cut, place the stem in water.

LOOK BEYOND BLOOMS for bouquet materials. Foliage adds lushness, depth, and balance to arrangements; branches and seed heads add structure and texture; berries, hips, and other fruit add unexpected accents. Cut stems of herbs, scented geraniums, or other fragrant plants to enhance the scent of bouquets.

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