Hints and Tips for Flower Arranging

Here's a few hints and tips on using floral foam, and arranging flowers in general. Click on the headings below to jump to the appropriate section, or just scroll down the page and read it all! If you've got any special tips that you have found work well for you, I'd love to see them! Send them to me at TheGardener@btinternet.com, and who knows, I might include them on this page!!

  • Using Floral Foam Effectively
  • Making Flowers Last Longer
  • Arranging Fresh Flowers
  • Arranging Artificial or Dried Flowers

  • Using Floral Foam Effectively

    1)     Choose the right foam for the flowers you are using. Generally, green water-retaining foam is for fresh flowers and foliage and needs to be soaked in water, whilst the brown stiffer foam (dri-foam) is for dried or artificial flowers and does not hold water so doesn't need to be soaked.

    2)      If using fresh flowers (see tips for dried and artificial flowers below), always soak your (green) foam in a bucket or large bowl - never under the tap as this can leave dry spots inside the foam which can't be detected from the outside. This can cause stems to wilt. Fill your bucket or bowl with fresh water, then drop the foam onto the water. Allow it to take up the water naturally (this takes only around 20 seconds for today's modern foams). Do not push the foam under the water. When the top of the foam is level with the surface of the water, take it out immediately and allow it to drain. Oversoaking can cause the foam to break up in use.

    3)     For traditional arrangements, always cut your floral foam so that it is about 1" higher than the rim of your container. This allows plant material to be arranged more naturally, with some stems flowing down to the sides and front of the arrangement. If the foam is level with the rim of the container, then you can only arrange your stems sticking upwards, resulting in a stiff, unnatural look.

    4)     When pushing stems into the foam, make sure that the bottom of the stem stays in contact with it. This means that if you push a flower in too far, don’t just pull it up, as this will leave an air-pocket under the stem, causing it to wilt. Always start another hole.

    5)     Keep the foam supplied with water daily. Plant material uses the water stored in the foam, and once this has dried out, the flowers will wilt.

    6)     When using anchor tape to secure your foam into position, try squeezing it together as it passes over the foam - this will make it narrower and give you more room on the foam. How many times have you tried to insert a stem, only to find tape?

    7)     If your floral foam fills the rim of the container, there will be no room to add water without it spilling over the edge of the container. You can get round this by cutting a V shaped notch in the foam before inserting it into the container. It will then be easy to pour water into the notch without it spilling over.

    8)     Although it's tempting, never re-use foam. If your foam already has holes from a previous arrangement, then you could be putting your stems into thin air! This will create an air lock under the stem, causing it to wilt.

    9)     If you have soaked your foam, but find you have more than you need, then keep any left over foam in a plastic bag until you need it. Once soaked foam has dried out, it becomes very difficult to soak again. If you're really desperate, then soaking the foam in very hot water will help it to take up the water again.

    There are several manufacturers of floral foam, but I suppose one of the best known is Oasis®. Details about Oasis products can be found here: http://www.oasisfloral.com/. This page will allow you to select your country and view information relevant to you.

    Oasis® has also brought out a range of coloured floral foam, called Rainbow Foam, which is suitable for fresh or dried flowers, and can also be used as a design element in its own right. There's some information about it on the Smithers-Oasis website on the link above. You can see an example of this foam in use in a couple of my designs, Design 86, and Design 112.

    Making Flowers Last Longer

    1)      Always use clean vases or containers.

    2)      Remove all leaves which will be under water in the vase. Submerged leaves will rot and create bacteria, shortening the life of your flowers.

    3)      Always add cut flower food, obtained from your florist, to the vase water - it really does make a difference. Change the vase water (and flower food) every three to four days. Use the cut flower food mixture to top up containers using floral foam too, as this will help to prolong the life of the flowers.

    4)     Always condition your plant material correctly, according to its stem type (see conditioning page for how to do this.)

    5)     Most flowers should be picked when they are in bud or half open. You will then have the pleasure of seeing them slowly open up. The colour of the petals should be starting to show. If picked too tightly in bud, they may never open. This is especially true of Tulips, Irises, Daffodils and Roses. Gladioli should be picked when the bottom three or four florets are open and the top florets are still in bud.

    6)     Don't place your finished arangement in full sun, over a radiator, or in a draught. This will cause excess water loss from the flowers, and they will wilt very quickly. A cool room is the best place to put your flowers for maximum life.

    7)     Use a container in proportion to the amount of flowers you are using. Too small a container will not hold sufficient water, and may dry out before you realise it.

    8)     Lightly spray your finished arrangement with clear water from time to time, to create a humid atmosphere around the flowers. (Don't spray the flowers near furnishings or electrical appliances though - move the arrangement first!)

    Arranging Fresh Flowers

    1)     Choose the right foam for the flowers you are using. Generally, green water-retaining foam is for fresh flowers and foliage, whilst the brown stiffer foam (dri-foam) is for dried or artificial flowers.

    2)     Think about the size of the space in which your arrangement will be placed, and choose the size of your container and flowers accordingly. A huge vase and lots of flowers will look overcrowded on a small side table, and equally, a small vase and a few flowers would be completely lost in a large area such as a Church.

    3)     When making an arrangement for a dining table, keep it low (no more than 9" high at its highest point) so that guests can converse with each other across the table without having to fight their way through the flowers!! However, if you are making an arrangement for a buffet table, always make the arrangement on a pedestal or in a tall vase to bring the flowers up and out of the way of the food.

    4)     Use flowers in different stages of development, from bud to full bloom. Place the buds at the top and edges of the arrangement, and the largest fullest flowers in the centre of the arrangement, more towards the bottom of the design, to form the focal area. Half-open flowers can fall anywhere between these two.

    5)     Use flowers and foliage with different shapes, colours and textures, for a more interesting design. Generally, you need three sorts of shapes - line material (straight leaves, such as Iris leaves, Bear Grass, Phormium, and flowers such as Liatris, Foxtail Lilies, etc), generally used to form the outline shape of your design; rounded materials (such as Carnations, open Roses, Gerberas, etc.), generally used as the focal flowers; and intermediate or filler materials, (such as Gypsophila, Waxflower, small, ferny foliage) to act as stepping stones between the other materials, and to "fill in". Use different textured materials such as ferny, furry, bold, etc., which will reflect the light differently and give interest to the design. Try to incorporate different coloured foliage, according to your colour scheme, which again will add interest to the design.

    6)     When using open flowers such as Roses, Daffodils, Gerbera, etc., try to turn some of them at different angles to show a different shape. Never arrange all your flowers facing forwards - this is very boring!!

    7)     Always remove the stamens on Lilies. There are several reasons for this: a) LILY POLLEN CAN BE FATAL TO CATS. Cats probably won't try to eat Lilies, but if they brush past the flowers and get the pollen on their fur, they may ingest it whilst grooming. Don't risk it! b) the pollen will stain the flower; c) The pollen will stain any clothing or furnishings it may come into contact with; d) removing the stamens makes the flowers last a bit longer (this is because a flower which has been pollinated has completed its job in life, and therefore dies fairly soon after pollination - by removing the stamens, this is prevented, thus making the flower last longer). NEVER cut off the stamens with scissors. This is ugly, and unprofessional, and causes discolouration. Use your fingers to pull the stamens off, leaving a nice neat point which will not discolour.

    8)     Make sure that your colours are evenly balanced - this means not having more strong colours over one side of the arrangement than the other.

    9)     Always allow some space between the flowers to prevent a crowded effect. Constance Spry always said one should leave room for the butterflies!

    10)     Fillers such as sand, small stones or gravel can be used under the foam to raise it up so that you don't have to use so much in a deep container. This will also add weight to the container to make it more stable.

    11)     When using clear containers, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, or shells to hide the foam.

    12)     Position a container with three legs to show one leg directly in front. This will help the balance of the design, and prevent it from falling forward with the weight of the flowers.

    13)     Always check that baskets with waterproof linings do not leak before using them. Minute punctures in the plastic lining do not always show up, and can result in unexpected leaks. Fill the basket with water and leave for around half an hour, somewhere waterproof like a draining board or sink. By this time, any minute puncture in the lining will be leaking water, and you will know that the basket leaks. If in doubt, line the basket again with polythene, clingfilm or tinfoil.

    14)     Never place containers directly onto polished surfaces. Any unexpected water spillage can cause damage which may be difficult and expensive to rectify. Use a waterproof base under the container.

    15)     Never place your arrangement on top of electrical appliances. Any stray water or an unexpected leak can cause more damage than you had bargained for!

    Arranging Artificial or Dried Flowers

    Most of the above tips for fresh flowers will also apply to artificial and dried flowers, but here are some which are unique to artificial and dried flowers:

    1)     Artificial and dried materials and the brown dri-foam in which they are arranged are quite light in weight, so always weight your container with sand, pebbles or gravel at the bottom, to give greater stability. If using a clear container, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, or shells to hide the foam and give stability.

    2)     Use wire cutters to shorten stems of artificial flowers, as scissors may not be strong enough. Stems can be lengthened by using wooden floral picks (floral picks are wooden sticks that come in different lengths, and have wire loops at the top. By wrapping the wire loop around the short stem you have the additional length of the wooden stick to use as the flower stem) or use an offcut of another stem of similar thickness and colour. The offcut can be attached with a stub wire, then taped with green or brown floral tape (the crepe sort works best for this, as it tends to be stickier, and doesn't slip whilst you're working with it).

    3)     Never use bare stub wires in an arrangement. This looks very unprofessional. Use green annealed wires or tape the wire using florists' stem tape.

    4)     Artificial plants, pre-formed artificial bouquets and foliage can be split into single stems for individual arrangements, or smaller designs like corsages, headdresses and boutonnieres.

    5)     Think about the way each type of flower or foliage would usually grow, and gently arrange the stems of the flowers and leaves so that they look natural, before inserting them into the foam.

    6)     When using clear containers, add marbles, layers of interesting pebbles, shells, raffia, pot-pourri or moss (natural or dyed) to hide the foam.

    7)     If your arrangement is to be permanent, then dip stems in pan glue, white glue or hot glue before inserting them into the foam for greater stability and permanence.

    8)     Some artificial materials can be swished in warm soapy water to clean them, then rinsed in clear water, but to avoid any problems, and to save having to rearrange the design, regularly use a hairdryer on a low setting to blow off any dust from the arrangement. Don't dip dried flowers in water as this will ruin them. Just use a hairdryer on a low setting to blow away the dust before it builds up.



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