Everything You Need to Know About Flower Food—Including How to Make Your Own

Keep your blooms healthy and vibrant for longer by making a DIY flower food formula.

Whether you're unwrapping a beautiful bouquet of flowers purchased from a florist or an arrangement shipped to your door, you're likely to find a small packet of white powder food tucked inside. Don't toss it aside—your blooms rely on this food to thrive and remain healthy.

"[Flower food] really does prolong the life of your flowers," says Emily Pinon, the creative director of New York City-based florist Ode à la Rose. Its myriad benefits include stimulating the opening of closed buds as well as preventing bacteria and fungi growth. "People often don't realize what a significant difference it will make in extending vase life," she says.

Ahead, floral experts help us understand the ingredients in this precious powder—and share a few ways to make your own at home and keep your bouquet blooming even after the packet is empty.

cut spring flowers in individual vases each with flower food


Why Flower Food Keeps a Bouquet Fresh

Flower food typically includes just three ingredients, says Valerie Ghitelman, the vice president of product development, design, and sourcing at 1-800-Flowers: sugar, citric acid, and bleach. The combination, which works for almost all varieties of cut flowers, is designed to nourish and hydrate the flowers while preventing bacteria from taking hold. Some food mixtures also contain chemicals known as "stem unpluggers," which drain bacteria buildup to allow stems to soak up water.

Sugar acts as a nutrient for the stems, the citric acid lowers the pH of the water in the vase, making it more acidic and improving the flowers' intake, and the bleach wards off bacteria. "Since sugar often invites the growth of unfriendly microorganisms, bleach counteracts this and keeps the water from clouding and giving off an unpleasant odor," says Ghitelman. "The food acts as a vitamin for your flowers, giving them nutrients for strength and longevity."

How to Make Flower Food at Home

While you can buy powdered food for cut flowers without also buying a bouquet, making an at-home liquid substitute is quick and easy. Mix up one of these three recipes before you drop in your flowers, says Ghitelman. If you're making liquid DIY flower food, you'll get the best results by mixing it up as needed, instead of in advance, she adds.

  • Mix together 1 part lemon-lime soda (fresh or flat) with 3 parts lukewarm water (this accounts for all the water in your vase, so add soda accordingly). You won't get the antibacterial assistance provided by bleach with this recipe, but the soda provides sugar and citric acid.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/4-tablespoon bleach; add to 1 quart lukewarm water and add flowers.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons white vinegar and 2 tablespoons sugar; add to 1 quart lukewarm water. In this recipe, the vinegar serves as the acid and helps prevent bacterial growth.

DIY Flower Food Alternatives

If you don't have the products required for liquid flower food, try using a few common baking pantry items to extend the life of your blooms, suggests Ghitelman.

  • Alum powder: "Before placing a fresh-cut stem into water, simply dip the edge of the stem into alum powder first," she says. "This will help the flower draw water up the stem."
  • Baking soda: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda to a vase of fresh water.
  • Sugar: Dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in a vase of lukewarm water. "While this is found in many DIY flower food recipes, sugar alone can extend the life of a bouquet, especially if you don’t have the other ingredients available to you," says Ghitelman.
cutting flower stems

Elva Etienne / GETTY IMAGES

How to Get the Best Results From Flower Food

While flower food is a key component to achieving a long-lasting floral arrangement, this step-by-step routine for basic cut flower care will allow the food to work more effectively.

  1. Start by cutting stems at an angle, 1 to 2 inches from the bottom, to ensure proper water intake.
  2. Remove any leaves touching the water; these will promote bacterial growth.
  3. Always use a clean vase to help prevent bacteria from attacking your bouquet.
  4. Change the water every two to three days, adding additional flower food in the process.
  5. Prevent arrangements from drying out by keeping them away from direct sunlight or heating and cooling vents.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles