How to Arrange Flowers, According to a Pro

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You'll be arranging flowers in no time.

I wake up thinking of flowers. It’s one of the reasons I created The Portable Garden, my floral design studio, many years ago. In addition to being beautiful, fresh flowers are scientifically proven to boost your mood! Here are some of my favorite pro tips so anyone can create fresh flower arrangements at home.

Arranging Flowers Like a Pro

The most important step? Start with healthy flowers, whether you’re plucking from the garden or buying grocery store flowers. Look for clean stems, strong necks and shiny green leaves.

If you’re planning to use many kinds of blooms, consider colors and combinations. Selecting monochromatic flowers makes arranging easier and creates a sleek-looking bouquet. If mixing colors, pick a dominant hue, another with contrast and “bridge flowers” that have both tones. Choosing seasonal flowers can also make a big statement.

Consider the vase shape, too. It should suit the flowers’ height and shape. Slim branches or calla lilies demand a tall, narrow vase. Blowsy roses and hydrangeas sit nicely in a lower bowl. If you need a specific shape of arrangement—for example, if you want low, small vases on a dinner table—then keep the vessel in mind when selecting blooms. Finally, unique vases draw the eye most effectively when holding understated arrangements, so be sure to pick your flowers accordingly.

Flower Arranging Tools

Having the right tools can elevate a casual floral arrangement to a pro-quality display.

  • Flower food: This is crucial. It keeps the water balanced and clean for healthy blooms.
  • Floral knife: Florists use this tool for making clean cuts that help flowers drink efficiently. For beginners, though, bypass shears are faster to master. It has super sharp overlapping blades for clean cuts.
  • Floral tape: Use this secret weapon to provide invisible support for flower arranging. You can also use chicken wire to keep stems in place. Both options let flowers drink freely.

Directions

Step 1: Prep the stems

Remove lower leaves from stems so they won’t degrade in the water, but leave some upper leaves if you want to see them in the arrangement. Then, to help flowers hydrate, cut 2 or 3 inches from the bottom of every stem at a 45-degree angle to create a bigger drinking surface.

Betsy’s Tip: Cut the stems at least several inches longer than the vase.

Step 2: Add support to the vase

There are several ways to create support in any kind of vase, but two of the best involve floral tape. In version one, crisscross clear floral tape across the opening of the vase in a grid pattern (think an exaggerated tic-tac-toe square). Run the tape around the edge of the vase to secure the grid.

In version two, combine coated chicken wire and waterproof Oasis tape. Cut a section of wire large enough to fold into a pillow matching the size of the container opening. Place the pillow within the lip of the vase and cross the tape in two directions to hold the wire in place.

Add room-temperature water with dissolved floral food to give those flowers extra staying power.

Step 3: Start with foliage

Foliage is the foundation of a strong flower arrangement. Great options for “greening in” include pittosporum, ruscus and eucalyptus. Insert around the edges at an angle, and scatter through the middle of the vase.

Step 4: Add the “benchmark” blooms

Add the biggest blooms first. Use one variety at a time. Peonies, dahlias and roses are all good examples of flowers to use in arrangements. Keep turning the vase to add blocks of color throughout, leaving space for smaller elements.

Step 5: Fill the gaps

Time to add finer flowers or groupings to the bouquet. Spray roses and tulips are lovely options. To keep the vase from crowding, stick with leaf-free lower stems.

Step 6: Create drama

A pro-style bouquet typically includes ephemeral accents. These add unexpected texture, color or shape to the arrangement. Hypericum berries, ranunculus and scabiosa are a few faves for texture and color. Vary the heights and angles to suggest movement.

How to Care for Your Arrangement

To protect your work, add water daily and keep flowers away from direct sun, heat and air conditioning. Every few days replace the water completely. If possible, recut the stems. Even if you don’t, as long as the flowers were prepped well, the bouquet will last just fine. Finally, never put the bouquet in a refrigerator at home—the temperature and humidity are better for groceries than flowers.

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Betsy Karetnick
Betsy Karetnick is a lifestyle and media expert. In 2004, she created The Portable Garden, a destination floral and event design company for corporate, nonprofit and personal events. Betsy is also an accomplished broadcaster, starting her career in financial journalism first at Dow Jones, then CBS Marketwatch and WNET. Hired by Martha Stewart for her expertise in food and flowers, Betsy worked exclusively as a host on the channel for its nearly eight-year tenure on SiriusXM. She writes about food, drink and the garden, including on dishtillery.substack.com, a newsletter she shares with her sister.