Long lasting and cut lilacs don’t go together, no matter what you do, but there are ways to have them look good for at least four or five days.
Start by getting up early — lilacs cut before the day warms last longest. Select flower trusses that are about half open, and use a very sharp pruner to cut just above a leaf node. [Note: for information on caring for your tools, see our previous blogpost]. Because next year’s flowers will form on this year’s terminal branches, try to leave as many of those as possible.
Cutting the highest flowers first will encourage a nice full shrub with lots of bloom down where you can enjoy it. Use a ladder if necessary.
Once back on the ground, remove lower leaves from the stems. Fill a vase with warm water and add commercial flower preservative.
Hold the bottom of the stems under warm water, and recut at a 45-degree angle. If the stems are thick and woody, use a sturdy knife to slit the bases a couple of times. Otherwise, just leave them as is. The smashing that many of us grew up learning to do is no longer recommended; badly crushed cells can’t take up water. Put the cut stems in the vase while they are still wet.
Display the lilacs in a cool place, out of direct sun and away from the fruit bowl (the ethylene gas given off by apples, bananas, tomatoes, and other fruits hastens the decay of flowers). If you have room in the refrigerator, store the bouquet in it each night when you go to bed.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the water level (lilacs drink a lot), and to change the water every other day so decay-causing bacteria won’t build up.