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RISMEDIA, May 10, 2011—(MCT)—You know you’ve had it with drab days of winter when you find yourself out in the dark with a flashlight scanning the beds, in search of the first dabs of green pushing through the thawing crust of old Mama Earth.

You know you are making the most of the bursting of spring when you never leave home without your trusted garden clippers—the better to bring home the beauty.

Well then, no wonder you’re breathless to learn the tricks of the trade for keeping those long-awaited stems fresh as a, er, daffodil.

We checked in with a bevy of folks who make it their business to keep blooms perky as long as possible. A favorite place to turn is Suzy Bales’ Garden Bouquets and Beyond (Rodale, $35). The headline here is that these vernal beauties—built to withstand sleet, snow, raging winds and whatever springtime hurls their way—are sturdy fellows, and don’t require too much primping and fussing.

Except for that odd exception (narcissus will do best with a bit of a presoak, and branches never mind a quick vertical snip to soak up extra-big gulps of water), spring bulbs are happy to get a simple dunk in a vase filled with cool water, kept fresh with a teaspoon of household bleach and a pinch or two of sugar.

Change the water every few days—or sooner if the water looks murky. (Rather than pulling the bouquet from the vase to change the water, simply hold the vase and flowers under the tap and flush till the water in the vase is clear.)

A few all-purpose pointers: Use clippers—not scissors, which will crush the stems and impede the uptake of water. Always strip away all foliage below the water line. Warm water perks up wilted flowers; hot water (110 degrees Fahrenheit) stands up floppy stems. And if you want to triple the shelf life of your bouquet, tuck the flowers in the fridge or a cool corner of the cellar (40 degrees Fahrenheit) for a good six hours before putting out to preen.

Here’s a handy chart to clip and store under your kitchen sink, when the urge to bring in the springtime simply cannot be quelled. It doesn’t matter whether you pluck ’em straight from the garden or pick up a bunch at the supermarket or your favorite flower shop. However, if you do snip from the garden, it’s wisest to cut in the morning, once the dew has dried. That’s when the stems are at their sturdiest, and filled with moisture, giving you the best chance for a protracted star turn.

When to harvest: When most of the flowers on the stem are open.
Vase life: 7 to 10 days.
Special attention: These beauties need nothing but a quick snip and time to inhale their olfactory glory.

Grape hyacinth (Muscari)
When to harvest: When blooms are half open.
Vase life: 5 to 7 days.
Special attention: None.

When to harvest: When fully open is best, though it’s lovely to have a spectrum of buds to blooms.
Vase life: 6 to 9 days—if you precondition (see below).
Special attention: Narcissi ooze a toxic sap; to keep from knocking off other blooms, presoak in cool water about six hours before adding to your mixed bouquet. If you have room, tuck in the fridge for the presoak. You don’t need floral preservative but be vigilant about changing the water.

When to harvest: When entire bud is flush with color.
Vase life: 6 to 10 days.
Special attention: Curious fellows, tulips will grow one to two inches even after they’re cut. So keep that in mind if you’re designing an arrangement and scale matters. Also, tulips will bend toward the sunlight, so be sure to twirl unless you want listing blooms.

When to harvest: As soon as buds show color.
Vase life: 5 to 7 days.
Special attention: None.

When to harvest: As soon as you can see a touch of color on some buds.
Vase life: 10 days to two weeks, even longer.
Special attention: None.

When to harvest: Once the bud is showing bright color, and petals can be seen.
Vase life: 5 to 8 days.
Special attention: As soon as you cut, place stems in warm water to increase water uptake. Be sure to shake off ants before bringing these perfumed clouds inside.

When to harvest: When half the flowers on the stem are open.
Vase life: 7 to 10 days.
Special attention: If you remember to keep recutting the stems, you can add an extra three days to the vase life.

Virginia bluebells
When to harvest: As soon as a few bells are open.
Vase life: 2 to 4 days, at best.
Special attention: A six-hour fridge visit is essential if you want these beauties to last past the next morning. They’ll do best if you trim either all the leaves, or all the flowers, going with one or the other per stem.

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